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My parents have always given me a hard time about not smiling enough.  I don't smile often in pictures, and generally just walk around with a "normal" expression on my face.  It doesn't mean I'm unhappy, for whatever reason I'm not much of a smiler.  As I was walking out of my local big box store today (I bought a sandwich at their deli) I saw a table set up in the parking log for a charitable organization called "Operation Smile."  I had never heard of them personally (though I'm sure many of you good Kossacks have) so I decided to stop and ask them some questions.  My adventures with charity and chicanery after the jump.

There were two young ladies running the Operation Smile table.  The store had two entrances and I could see a similar table at the far entrance.  It was clear that they had some sort of arrangement with the store to setup outside.

"Hey there, mister cool guy!" said the more energetic of the two young ladies at the table. "Would you like to support Operation Smile?"

As I said before, I'd never heard of it.  It sounded like some kind of hippie feelgood project.  But instead of just saying no I asked what it is.

"Oh it's great," she assured me.  "They help pay for children born with facial deformities like cleft lip get surgery so that they can smile!"  

She showed me some before and after pictures and I was convinced.  This was a good thing.  I imagine the kids would have to undergo a childhood of mocking in addition to having a difficult time communicating without the surgeries, so if this organization is helping them out, I'm all for it.  I opened my wallet though, and I didn't have any cash!

"It's OK," the girl bounced.  "We take cash, check, or charge."

"Great!  I'd like to donate $5.00."

A momentary flash of panic crossed her face.  She had skipped a part of her speech!

"Operation smile has partnered with Victoria Jackson for this fundraiser," she said.  "You can get anything on the table here."

I had just assumed that the stuff on the table was literature.  But looking down it wasn't.  There were makeup kits, small black bags, and other various things I'd expect to see in a ladies purse.  Many of them had "Victoria Jackson" emblazoned on them in white letters.

"Man," I said.  "She really has turned that walking on her hands thing into a cottage industry."

"Oh it's not that Victoria Jackson," the girl assured me.  "Not the one from Saturday Night Live.  This is Victoria Jackson the famous makeup artist to the stars.  And I bet you could use some makeup for your lovely lady at home."

"My lovely lady at home is named Marcos, and if he starts wearing makeup again I'm probably going to ask him to move out."

"Oh... Well... what about your mother?"

She can buy her own makeup and anyway I don't know what famous star she'd most want to look like.  I'd just like to give $5.00 to the charity."

Another brief flash of panic.

"We're merchandise based," she said.  "You can get anything on the table here."

"But I don't understand.  Isn't it better for the charity if I just give you money and DON'T take anything from you?  Less overhead?"

"That's probably true," she said.  "But you can't really do that anymore since 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.  A lot of those so called 'charity' operations turned out to be scams.  So we have to give you merchandise in exchange for your donation."

That's when it dawned on me.

"And exactly how much of this 'donation' does Operation Smile get?"

She faltered a bit in saying, "Five Percent."

This was not--in fact--a charity operation at all.  This was basically Avon.  Yes, they were giving five percent of their procedes to charity, and I think that's cool, but... NINETY FIVE percent of it WAS NOT going to charity, and yet they were using these beautiful stories and pictures to get people to buy the makeup.  For me the bottom line is this.  If Victoria Jackson wants to donate five percent of her income to Operation Smile for a month, that's the coolest thing ever.  But for her to USE Operation Smile specifically TO sell makeup... I think that's wrong.  And the reason I think it's wrong is that anybody who is willing to shell out $20 for a little black bag secure in the knowledge that $1.00 of that will go to charity is PROBABLY just as willing to give $20 to the charity in the first place... and this Big Box Store sanctioned Victoria Jackson fundraiser had no mechanism for doing so.

So I gave the young lady my word that when I got back to work I would head on over to and donate $5.00 directly to them.  She sort of smiled weakly and shrugged in an, "It's all the same," kind of way.  But it really isn't all the same.

I suppose on some level I should be thankful.  Now by donating $5.00 to operation smile, I'm actually doing them A HUNDRED TIMES more good than if I had bought the stupid compact cozy.  

And just imagine the implications if twenty or thirty of my fellow Kossacks were suddenly moved to do the same.  It would be two or three thousand times more good!

So anyhow the point of this diary is twofold:  First off in case you hadn't heard of operation smile, now you have.  And it sounds like a great cause.  SECOND off is this.  If you are IN THE MARKET for makeup (or some other product) and you see that one brand donates X% to a charity you believe in, by all means buy that brand.

But if you are in the market for donating to charity, go RIGHT TO that charity and donate to them.  Even though the magazine subscriptions and makeup kits that get sold DO do some good, they do MORE good for the company that is 'partnered' with the charity in question.  If you feel like doing a $100.00 worth of good, why settle for $5.00?

Originally posted to Speculation & Conjecture on Tue Jun 17, 2008 at 11:17 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Is that why your name is (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      historys mysteries, soms


      My parents have always given me a hard time about not smiling enough.  I don't smile often in pictures, and generally just walk around with a "normal" expression on my face.  It doesn't mean I'm unhappy, for whatever reason I'm not much of a smiler.

      Sorry, too good to pass up!

      Who was Bush_Horror2004, anyway?

      by Dartagnan on Tue Jun 17, 2008 at 11:20:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Cindy McCain & Donald Trump are Directors and (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      before donating to any charity, one should look at their financial statements to see what percentage actually goes to charity.  Operation Smile, while it looks like a worthy cause, appears to have a high percentage of its income going to administration and fundraising costs as opposed to program costs.  Does anyone know more about this group?

      •  Is 27% High? (0+ / 0-)

        It didn't actually sound like that much to me.  If you look at "fundraising and administration" costs as "an investment" thats still a 300% ROI.  Pretty good for charity I think.

        ---- now they sit and rattle their bones and think of their bloodstone days...

        by TooFolkGR on Tue Jun 17, 2008 at 12:05:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  27% is high and that's not all... (0+ / 0-)

          Operation smile does not meet 1 of the better business bureau's 20 standards for charity accountablity.  Namely, the criteria that says the chairman of the board and the treasurer should not be compensated.


          1. Not more than one or 10% (whichever is greater) directly or indirectly compensated person(s) serving as voting member(s) of the board. Compensated members shall not serve as the board's chair or treasurer.

          Always look into a charity before you give. Giving to a responsible charity that does the most good for your money is easy. and are great tools for this.

          "They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it is not half so bad as a lot of ignorance." - Terry Pratchett

          by st minutia on Tue Jun 17, 2008 at 09:07:23 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Direct link to BBB's Charity Rating & Others ... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            J Royce, BYw

            Here's the direct link to Better Business Bureau's charity evaluation section:

            BBB Charities

            It's pretty intuitive for navigation, but to save time here's their report on Operation Smile

            BBB on Operation Smile

            As mentioned, Charity Navigator is pretty good, also, but seems to have a limited database - some pretty common charities aren't covered.

            Guide Star is good, but you have to register and login to get their info - always a pain, to my mind.  But it does provide TIN (Tax Identification Number) or EIN (Employee Identification Number) that every charity is assigned, and critical for legal issues (like naming a charity as a beneficiary).

            To be fairly complete on charity ratings, I'll add the American Institute of Philanthropy.  Also limited database, and it tends to favor conservative charities.  Like it has NO links or reports on ACLU Foundation, Doctors Without Borders USA, People for the American Way Foundation, etc.

          •  That's Actually Not The Part They Don't Meet (0+ / 0-)

            Their chairman and treasurer are not compensated, but three of their ten board members are "Indirectly Compensated."  My guess is that means they have a car they drive around for charity business or something.

            I really have to say, that doesn't sound bad to me in light of the fact that they are spending three dollars on helping people for every one dollar on everything else.  SIXTEEN dollars for every administration dollar.

            I think these guidelines are really great, but I also think that the specific "non-compliance" here doesn't make this a "bad" charity.

            ---- now they sit and rattle their bones and think of their bloodstone days...

            by TooFolkGR on Wed Jun 18, 2008 at 06:02:44 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  They spend a LOT on ads (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        J Royce

        their ads are all over the place.

        •  I Understand But The Way I Read Their Finances (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          For every dollar they spend on administration and ads, they spend three dollars fixing smiles.  I know that it would be way better if it were a hundred to one or fifty to one... but isn't this still good???

          ---- now they sit and rattle their bones and think of their bloodstone days...

          by TooFolkGR on Wed Jun 18, 2008 at 06:00:14 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Well, it's not simple (0+ / 0-)

            Certainly, any charity has to spend something on administration and ads.... or they won't get more money (ads) or spend it sensibly (admin).  

            Certainly there are lots of good charities competing for our money.

            Where to give?

            Some people base it partly on the proportion of the money that goes to the services.   That makes sense to me.

            OTOH, I, like many, mostly base it on personal interest... I give mostly to environmental concerns and political concerns and concerns about learning disabilities.

            I think a lot of people base it on personal experience; I give to stuff about learning disabilities because I am LD, myself.

  •  Same principle as giving money to the homeless. (4+ / 0-)

    Well, sort of anyway.  If you do it directly, you don't know how much gets leeched off by their habits and how much actually goes toward life necessities.  So I just make a mental note every time somebody hits me up on the street, and write a monthly check to the NYC Coalition for the Homeless.

    Their number is negligible and they are stupid. -- Eisenhower

    by Pegasus on Tue Jun 17, 2008 at 11:24:15 AM PDT

  •  You made me spit my Coke (10+ / 0-)

    on this one:

    "My lovely lady at home is named Marcos, and if he starts wearing makeup again I'm probably going to ask him to move out."

    Poor Marcos ;)

  •  This is the Jessica Simpson 'charity' (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I guess this explains a lot.

    •  Well the ACTUAL Charity is OK (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      homogenius, J Royce, BYw

      I just didn't like the setup where you had to buy makeup.  I really think this was just a partnership the charity entered into, I don't think they're a front for makeup companies.

      ---- now they sit and rattle their bones and think of their bloodstone days...

      by TooFolkGR on Tue Jun 17, 2008 at 11:53:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I believe Cindy McCain is involved (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    with this charity and the Arizona beverage Company is a major sponsor.

  •  I've already donated to Operation Smile, but (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    homogenius, Pluto, Albatross, Amber6541

    thanks for the guilt-inducing reminder to contribute again, which I just did.  

  •  Link for one charity rating site: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    I believe there are other, similar sites, but I had this link readily available.

    The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think. Gregory Bateson

    by Amber6541 on Tue Jun 17, 2008 at 12:04:22 PM PDT

  •  This is a tricky one. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Certainly it's better to give directly to a charity that follows best practices and delivers the most to the intended recipients.

    There are a lot of high-profile efforts out there. I think the question is, are they really tapping new sources of donors and raising awareness, or are they cannibalizing existing streams of contribution and diverting it to commercial interests.

    I don't have an easy answer for this. I know some people who work for one of the brands participating in Bono's Product (Red) and I know how much pride they take in what they are doing, especially where it relates to supporting workers in developing countries.

    I have read several articles in major trade publications that debate this rather bluntly. It may be that there are many layers to this. Direct giving to responsible NGOs is by far the best thing to do. I don't know if these product-based schemes are effective or if they do more harm than good. I certainly think it's worth monitoring.

    If all they do is offer "cheap grace" to people to have a feel good moment and not really accomplish anything, then it's a net loss. But if they really are raising awareness, reaching new donors, and generating additional funds, then it's a good thing.

    Well Dayum! The Fat Lady just sang her tits right off!

    by homogenius on Tue Jun 17, 2008 at 09:39:54 PM PDT

  •  I added the 'teaching' tag (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and will include this in "Daily Kos University" which goes up at 9AM Eastern every Saturday, but stays open all week.

    No tests, no fees, no grades, just learning.

    Stop on by

  •  book scam (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There's a big scam that's apparently been going on for years, Books for Africa. I saw a bin for contributing book donations to Africa in a church five years ago, and now I understand they have bins in universities, too.

    Donors assume their books are going directly to poor African countries for their schools and libraries, but actually the books are put on sale at Amazon, etc., and some small percentage of the profit is contributed. The collection bins are just for the company to get free stock to sell.

  •  another smile organization... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    A friend of ours believes very strongly in the work which is being done by Smile Train:

    It sounds as though the two organizations have basically the same mission...I don't know which of them is more efficient with donor dollars.  

    Be kinder than necessary.

    by worriedgranny on Wed Jun 18, 2008 at 08:11:48 AM PDT

  •  OpSmile (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    OpSmile is an amazing organization whose impact is a truly life-changing event for these 3rd world kids w/ facial deformities. I have met the founders Drs. Magee, i know several doctors who have volunteered their surgical skills for trips, i know attorneys who have volunteered their time to address the legal and logistical hurdles that are present with each mission.  Prospective kids w/ facial deformities and their families will walk for days to meet an OpSmile advance team in the hopes of being selected for an operation.  Hundreds will be turned away. There are literally thousands of high school groups who raise money for missions.  Granted this "victoria jackson" tie-in is sad if in fact that "five percent" split is accurate. But i find that hard to believe.  Regardless, i am surprised you were not aware of OpSmile before this unfortunate misadventure. But i think your diary minimizes an incredible organization by focusing on this singular victoria jackson event. I was fortunate to attend their 25th anniversay event and it was one of the most moving experiences i have encountered.

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