It’s no secret I’m critical of advertising. Two things really set me off, though. One is advertising that is stupid or demeaning of someone. The other is advertising “overkill” – seeing the same or similar ads from the same company constantly.
There was a time when Christian Children’s Fund advertising did neither of these, at least for me. I believed their claim that $ .80 of every dollar you gave went directly into services for the child. The had a good reputation in among those who monitor charitable giving. But my opinion has changed.
I can’t turn anywhere these days without see advertising for the CCF. It’s on TV at several time slots every day. It’s in print magazines that I receive. It’s even on the internet! I have no idea how much internet advertising costs, but they must be floating a bundle on it. Every time I play a game, I get to see these sweet, begging faces of children asking for help. Often when I search or investigate family history. I feel like I’m drowning in the sea of their ads. Same things, over and over and over . . .
If I seem a little annoyed, it’s because I am. Not just because of the constant nature of the ads, but because they are advertising a group that I have had negative dealings with.
Please understand, I don’t want to trash this group. I suspect they do good work elsewhere in the world. But my experience with them was unpleasant and negative. CCF is the vehicle by which I first became acquainted with the Pine Ridge Reservation. I am grateful for that. But their rules and attitude became a bone of contention.
They did not want sponsors to exchange phone numbers or addresses with the children/families they sponsored. You had to send letters or gifts to their local office, which would be screened and have any identifying information removed. Kind of like getting a letter from a soldier in a war zone – censored mail for national security. They said this was to protect the sponsor. After all, you didn’t want these people just showing up on your doorstep (not sure how they’d get their with no vehicle and almost 2000 miles to cover). And you didn’t want them calling you to ask for money and things all the time (I realize some folks don’t know how to say “NO” but I do). They tell you you’ll get letters from your child – I’ve even seen some from African children over the years. But it doesn’t happen in Pine Ridge.
What I also discovered along the way was that the information that was contained in the few letters we received contained incorrect sizes, incorrect interests and needs and worst of all, wasn’t always written by the child.
I discovered these things because I visited the family a couple of years ago at Christmas time. The sponsor coordinator sat with us for a long time before the first visit. She explained the RULES. No unchaperoned visits. Don’t worry about offending them by doing or saying something. Don’t give them any personal information. She was from Rosebud Reservation herself and told us how the folks over there look down on Pine Ridgers. Say what? That’s really Christian.
Our first visit was Christmas shopping. I had suggested we split up – myself with the teen girls, my husband with the parents – so they could shop for each other and have the feel of Christmas shopping for real, rather than just a couple of white folks buying them stuff. Of course, that meant 2 chaperones. We had a blast and really connected to the family. We followed that with lunch and returned to the CCF office for present wrapping. Then the family left to return to the rez. They had managed to slip us their phone number.
The second visit was a visit to the CCF sponsored site. It was a small community center that had seen better days. It did have a huge, big screen TV. Most of the games and such were broken or missing pieces. Good thing we had brought books and games for the center. We talked with the director and her family before the family arrived. She told us the center had about 800 children enrolled, with after school programs and such. Not all of them came every day (good thing, because the building could hold maybe 50), partly because of transportation issues (no cars in the family, no buses on the rez). She said they did family visits to keep up with the needs and concerns of the children. The family arrived after that and we visited and played games. They did not recognize the program director and had to be introduced to her. Hmmm…. They also invited us to Christmas dinner (when there was no one eavesdropping, of course). We said it wasn’t allowed. The girls looked very disappointed.
We talked about it while driving back from the rez to our hotel in Rapid City. All the secrecy and hands off approach seemed contrary to what the ads from CCF portray. What kind of Christian program was this that seemed designed to make the givers feel superior and in peril of being taken advantage of? What kind of Christian program was this that made the recipients feel like beggars and not as good as the people who were sharing their blessings with them? It wasn’t the kind of Christians we were!
So when we got back, we broke the rules. We called our family and accepted their invitation to eat Christmas dinner and attend church with them on Christmas. The hard part was asking the girls not to tell CCF personnel that we had done that. Or that we would be able to stay in touch by e-mail. We discovered that we were not sponsoring strangers but friends we didn’t know we had before. We really liked each other. We learned so much about the Lakota and rez life on that day. It was a true blessing. I’ve written about it before.
We also learned that what we had been told about frequent home visits and other benefits from the CCF sponsorship was somewhat exaggerated. The only things they got from the group were the items we sent specifically for them – in addition to paying our monthly fee. And they weren’t delivered. They got a phone call and had to go to the center to pick up a package (which of course had been opened and searched for contraband, like addresses). No car? Oh well, come in when you can. A winter coat I’d sent for one girl was never worn (and likely given away) because the size information they gave me was wrong. Can you imagine her disappointment?
Of course, it got back to the center personnel that we were in touch. They were upset. I was glad they knew. I was surprised by their reactions – and threats. If we insisted on doing this, they would drop us as sponsors AND kick the child out of the program! I decided to write and complain to the national office. I calculated the amount of money collected for that site alone if 800 children were enrolled at a fee of $24/month (that’s over $230,000 a year for those without calculators handy). There was no evidence of that amount of money being used for these children. Oh wait, the commercials say $ .80 of every dollar you give goes directly to the child in some way. That’s still over $184,000. The response from the national office was nasty and threatening.
I didn’t need that non-Christian attitude. So I told them to drop me from their sponsor program. No, this was a matter of “if we can’t do it my way, I’m going to pick up my toys and go home.” This was a matter of personal integrity. It was a matter of how I was willing to be treated by an organization that was taking my money and not using it wisely.
Now the $288 per year that went to the CCF organization goes directly to the family in addition to the gifts and other items we used to send through CCF. That means extra food on the table, clothes that are the right size, needs that are met as they arise. It also means FRIENDS, not charity cases. I realize not everyone can do it this way, for whatever reason. My Lakota friend told of one daughter’s CCF sponsor (a doctor) who sent the girl $25 at her birthday and Christmas. Otherwise, they never heard from him. I wonder if $288 to CCF was basically just a tax deduction for the doctor? He obviously played by the rules. She pulled all her girls out of the CCF program. Maybe the CCF program works overseas, but it was definitely not doing much good on the rez.
I’m spouting off about CCF today because they keep throwing their commercials in my face. It made me wonder how much of every dollar is going into advertising to get more sponsors and more money. At least I know they aren’t spending my money on all that advertising!! I just wish there was a way to put a filter on my computer that would block all CCF advertising so I wouldn’t have to look at it. It puts a bit of a burr under my saddle.
If anyone knows of a way to do this, I’d love to hear it. But I doubt anyone will. I wish someone would really investigate how much of every dollar really does do some good for the children in a direct way. The $ .80 per dollar figure has been the same in their advertising since I was young, and we all know that’s long, long ago. With the state of the economy and the “falling” dollar, it’s hard to see how it could be.
Anyway, if you want a tax deduction and don’t really care how your money gets used, I guess CCF is as good as any others. But if you truly care about individuals (especially in the USA) who are living like those in third world nations, CCF is not for you. This world will never be changed by good people throwing money at a problem. The change will come when good people become part of the solution in a direct and concrete way.
And for now, will someone toss me a life preserver? I think the tide is rising . . .