February 2011

Charities Merge Differences, Controversy Ensues

(New York TimesSmile Train and Operation Smile–two charities that alleviate impoverished children born with cleft lips–are well-known in the nonprofit world, but what might be lesser known is their longlasting conflict. 

Smile Train was established by former board members of Operation Smile; the split occurred because of disagreements regarding Operation Smile’s medical practices.  Whereas Operation Smile flys doctors and supplies all over the world to perform procedures as needed, Smile Train trains doctors in the local regions where help is required, such as India and China. 

When it was announced at Smile Train’s February 8 board meeting that a merger would be taking place, some board members were shocked.  Mr. Charles Wang, co-founder of Smile Train, will have control over Smile Train’s $160 million in assets as well as half of the money raised from the merger in the next three years. 

Some donors are distressed by the news; actor Christopher Meloni said he doesn’t know details but that “it really sounds like the fox got loose in the chicken house.”  Carlyle Group Partner William Conway withdrew his position as advisory board member to Smile Train and requested that his past contributions be returned.

Assessing Swipegood: Will Small Change Make Big Change? 

(New York TimesSwipegood, a program that allows credit card users to donate change to charities, has been evaluated in Yale professor of economics Dean Karlan’s blog.  Swipegood users register their credit card of choice online, choose a favorite charity, and then the change from everyday purchases gets donated to that charity by the month’s end.  Buying a latte for 3.56, for instance, would mean a 44 cent donation, and so on.  The idea seems solid, but Professor Karlan worries that these small donations mean lesser big donations at the end of the year; the only way to evaluate how effective it is, he says, is to ” to run a randomized trial: encourage half of their constituents to sign up for Swipegood, and another half not, and follow them all over time to see which half ends up giving more in the long run.”


(Wall Street Journal) New York City’s own Mayor Bloomberg gave the second highest amount of money to charities in 2010.  Mr. Bloomberg focused his  $279.2 million in donations on arts, human services, and public affairs.

(The Chronicle of Philanthropy)  Charity effectiveness is a definite problem in the nonprofit community.  Many people have good intentions, but bringing about that positive change takes creativity and careful effort.  Hildy Gottlieb, host of Making Change via the Chronicle of Philanthropy, speaks to Rich Harwood, President of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, about meeting charitable missions.  The interview is available online in audio format.