The GiveWell Blog

Smile Train in its own words

We recently argued that Smile Train has “more dollars than doctors” for its core program. In that light, yesterday’s Virginian-Pilot article (which quotes me) is interesting:

  • The main story is that Smile Train has been trying to make substantial and unrestricted grants to another major cleft surgery charity, Operation Smile. This despite the fact that Smile Train has in the past raised concerns about Operation Smile (“intentionally fabricated tens of thousand of surgeries… distorted its financial reporting… squandered millions of dollars… provided shoddy medical care….”)
  • The story quotes Smile Train’s President as appearing to explicitly support the “more dollars than doctors” idea: “Smile Train focused on funding operations by doctors in the countries in need … Mullaney concedes, though, that in some countries, such as Somalia and Haiti, the need outstrips the number of surgeons available to do the work.”

It’s hard to make sense of Smile Train’s wish to make unrestricted grants to Operation Smile, except by accepting that Smile Train is out of room for more funding in its core program.

Possibly, Smile Train’s concerns about Operation Smile have been addressed. Arguably, the decision to grant extra funds to other organizations is admirable (we don’t know whether other charities respond to the same situation by simply piling up assets). But it certainly seems difficult to argue that Smile Train’s donors should think of themselves as funding more of the “$250 per surgery” core program.


  • smile train is a great organization and I urge anyone to donate towards its cause . It’s making a difference.

  • Gerrit on August 29, 2012 at 6:36 pm said:

    The concern does not seem to be that Smile Train is not a great organization or that it is not making a difference. Certainly they have a positive impact. I think the concern here is merely that, at this point, giving them MORE money will not really make MORE of a difference, since they already may be overfunded. Thus, it may make more sense to give money where it will directly make the most difference, which arguably is not here.

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