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Fundraising Challenge: Residential Children’s Homes

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Background: Most residential children’s homes began operations as orphanages, many at the turn of the 19th century. Adapting to tighter state children welfare laws in the 1940s and 1950s, these orphanages grew to encompass other services, contracting with government agencies to provide services such as adoption, foster care and mental health services.

However, with greater reliance on contracted service revenue from government sources, sustainability became a major concern for many residential children’s homes. Those that succeeded in developing endowments and working capital during healthier economic times are much better positioned to sustain the downturn, which has greatly affected contracted revenue from state and local sources. In most cases, residential children’s homes are looking to increase contributed revenue as the ground shifts sector-wide.

Fundraising Case – PROS:

  • With more than a century of programming and community engagement, many residential children’s homes have generations of alumni and connectivity with an area’s founding families.
  • The emotional case for support is easy to make – the stories of the children served in these environments are heartbreaking, and evoke a paternal instinct in donor populations.
  • The faith-based roots of many residential children’s homes connect individuals to the mission within their houses of worship.

Fundraising Case – CONS:

  • Some question the impact of residential children’s homes, particularly those that stray from evidenced-based programming.
  • Prospective donors may mistake the prominent, sizable property owned by many residential children’s homes as reflecting an asset base from which to draw – “they just don’t look like they need it.”
  • Too often, residential children’s homes lack the sort of community collaborations that demonstrate dollar leveraging to donors.


  1. How can residential children’s homes draw upon the latent donor potential in their vast histories – generations of impact!
  2. At the same time, how can they reflect a sense of “right now,” engaging new donors who want to effect change?
  3. If the sector is facing more questions than answers, how can a single organization demonstrate vision?