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Operation Smile FAQ


The following information is provided to help answer some of the most commonly asked questions. 

Cleft lip & cleft palate
Operation Smile medical programs
Treating cleft conditions in the U.S.
Financial stewardship
Student Programs
Donor Services
Smile Ambassadors

Cleft lip & cleft palate

What is a cleft lip and cleft palate?
A cleft is a gap in the mouth that didn't close during the early stages of pregnancy. As a result, children born with a cleft condition may have an opening in the lip or the roof of their mouth – or both. Children can have a unilateral cleft condition, meaning one side of their mouth is affected, or they can have a bilateral cleft condition where both sides of the mouth are affected. 


Operation Smile medical programs

How does Operation Smile differ in their approach to treating children with cleft conditions around the world?
Not every country or community around the world is the same. That's why we work with local medical professionals, governments, hospitals and other NGOs to create various models of surgical care. Together, we determine which solutions work best in order to reach as many children as possible wherever we work. And we’re going to keep doing this and refining our approach as we move forward. All with the goal to give the most effective surgical care to patients worldwide. 

First and foremost, we bring the highest quality of care to every child, every time. We were the first cleft organization to support the World Health Organization's Safe Surgery Saves Lives initiative. Our Global Standards of Care is our commitment to ensuring that every patient cared for by Operation Smile will benefit from the same sophisticated equipment, procedures and highly trained, credentialed medical professionals, no matter where they receive treatment.

What does it cost to provide a surgery for a child with a cleft condition?
As little as $240 helps provide surgery to a child with a cleft condition. This is possible thanks to the generous contributions of medical professionals who volunteer their time, as well as corporations that donate critical supplies and equipment necessary for safe surgery. This cost includes expenses incurred for essential medical team members to be at a medical mission, the expenses for additional required supplies and shipping cargo costs.

Do all surgeries cost $240?
Operation Smile conducts hundreds of medical missions in locations around the world. Every one of those locations is unique. Sometimes we have to import medical equipment and/or import medical expertise which can make providing free surgeries more costly.  We work with local medical professionals, governments, hospitals and other NGOs to create various models of surgical care. Together, we determine which solutions work best in order to reach as many children as possible wherever we work. We have the same goal: improve how surgical care is delivered while empowering local communities. As a result of these efforts, Operation Smile’s surgeries are performed by local medical professionals at a greatly reduced cost.

Treating cleft conditions in the U.S.

Do you do any work in the United States to assist people born with cleft conditions?
Our U.S. Care Network referral service is available to families in the United States, so they may find the help they need for their children. There are three components: A list of referral websites about facial deformities, a physician resource list that includes the names of doctors who are available to review a case and an Operation Smile representative who can provide guidance. 

I live in the United States. Why have I never seen a child with a cleft here?
Cleft conditions (orofacial defects) are one of the four most common birth defects in the United States according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. However, most clefts are repaired during early childhood in the U.S. 

CleftProud is an emotional and educational resource for anyone affected by Cleft Lip and/or Palate to connect, support, and share with one another. You can find CleftProud on all social media platforms by searching @CleftProud.”

Financial stewardship

How do I know my money is being used responsibly? 
According to BBB standards, “The effectiveness of a charity in achieving its mission is of the utmost importance. It’s key that potential donors know that when they give to a charity, their money is going to have an impact.” Operation Smile meets all standards that require our organization to assess performance and effectiveness, and reporting of our progress for delivering safe surgery to children and families worldwide. Additionally, Operation Smile meets all BBB standards that establish financial transparency and the spending of funds in accordance with our mission and donor expectations. 

In the U.S., three leading sources of information about charities encourage donors to consider the big picture rather than what is often referred to as the overhead myth. The cost of overhead expenses (e.g. salaries, offices and administration) as the predominant measure of our performance is not a fair assessment of our impact. 

Beyond financial donations, contributed services and gifts-in-kind are tremendously helpful and have a great impact on our financial stewardship. The less we have to pay for these services and products, the more we can place toward the care of patients and effective medical programs.

We encourage you to read our Annual Report and Financial Statements to see the impact of your donations and our work. Operation Smile provides a financial statement from a certified independent auditor, KPMG LLP, every year as a part of its annual reporting. Operation Smile is deeply committed to being the best steward of your gifts. We value the trust you place in our work and our ability to optimize resources and direct funds to programs that will help us care for children suffering from facial deformities. 



How can I support Operation Smile beyond just donating money?
You can help change a child's life by becoming a medical or local community volunteer. 

How can I get involved if I live outside the United States?
You can share your time, talent and resources no matter where you live. We need your help by volunteering with your closest Operation Smile Foundation to advocate for our cause, assist your local Foundation and raise funds so that more children can receive safe, free surgery from our Operation Smile medical volunteers. Here are a few ways you can become involved:

  • Become a medical volunteer
  • Help assist at a local medical mission as a translator or medical record specialist
  • Share Operation Smile with friends, family and colleagues by hosting a fundraising and awareness event in your local community
  • Help start a local student club
  • Provide local administrative support

Student Programs

I'm still in school. I'd love to get involved with Operation Smile. How can I help?
There are great opportunities for students of all grade levels – from elementary school through college. Operation Smile Student Programs empowers youth, creating a global movement for positive change through four pillars of philanthropy: Leadership, Education, Service and Awareness. Hundreds of Operation Smile Student Clubs and associations around the globe build awareness, raise funds and educate students about Operation Smile's core values of commitment, leadership and volunteerism. When students help children in need, they learn firsthand how they can make an impact on the world and help heal humanity.

Donor Services

It seems that the mailings I receive from Operation Smile may be costly. Why not use that money for the surgical programs and only send me email?
Thank you for expressing your concerns about the cost of the mailings you have received. In fact, the cost can be as little as a postage stamp. We have found that corresponding with our donors through the mail is an effective way to reach a wide variety of people, educate them about our programs and increase donations so that Operation Smile can provide free surgery for even more children in need.

I make a one-time gift each year. I would prefer to not receive any calls or mailings. How can I do this?
We will gladly meet your request and update your communication preferences. Our mailing schedule can be customized to meet your individual needs and you can let us know exactly how you wish to be contacted. Please note that due to our mail production schedule it may take up to 6-8 weeks for this request to take effect.

I would prefer not to receive so many paper mailings – can I sign up for email instead?
We are happy to help you with your request and can assist you with updating your communication preferences. Please note that due to our mail production schedule it may take up to 6-8 weeks for this request to take effect.

I would like to upgrade or change my monthly Smile Partner donation. How do I make that change?
Thank you for your generosity and desire to help more children. If you currently receive our monthly statement in the mail, please contact us for assistance with your donation. If you are receiving your monthly statements by e-mail, you can log in to update your gift profile.

We are getting married and we would like to make a donation of a smile in lieu of favors. Is there something we can receive to share with the wedding guests?
Congratulations and thank you for so generously giving new smiles as part of the wedding celebration. We have special materials that can be customized and printed for your event. 

Can I restrict my donation to certain regions or countries?
We appreciate your interest in supporting specific programs and areas. To help the most children, we ask that you contribute unrestricted funding. While it is possible to have your gift directed toward a certain region or country where we are currently working, we may not have a current need in that area. By not restricting your contribution for a specific project, you will enable us to allocate our resources more efficiently and help children in areas where the need is greatest.

It would be nice to know, for sure, exactly which child I helped. Is there any way I can stay in touch with the child I have assisted?
Operation Smile's goal is to provide life-changing surgery for children suffering from cleft lip and cleft palate in remote locations around the world. We focus on the delivery of free surgery to children, rather than incurring the administrative costs of tracking and following individuals over an extended period of time. To receive treatment, children and families travel great distances to visit our medical mission sites and year-round centers. Our post-operative program goes to great lengths to check on the progress of children in the year following their surgery. It is during these visits that we are able to capture the photos and stories of how your donations have made a difference. We share these stories in as many ways as possible so that you can feel connected to the children who have received new hope because you care.

Is Operation Smile a religious or faith-based organization?
Operation Smile is an international medical charity which provides services to children of all faiths. Our medical volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds and personal beliefs.

Corporate Ambassadors

How can my organization help support Operation Smile?
Operation Smile has partnered with leading corporations around the world and is ready to develop an integrated campaign that fits your business strategy. There are many ways to partner with us. We customize each unique partnership and strive for long-term relationships. 

How can my organization donate supplies to Operation Smile?
The hospitals where we work often don’t have the basic necessities to carry out successful surgery – equipment like oxygen monitors and anesthesia units. There might not be any antibiotics or pain medication. And essentials like sanitary masks, gloves and gowns are unavailable. But because of generous partners and donors who are moved to help children around the world, we’re able to bring everything needed for safe surgery – from sterile operating room towels to IV kits, anesthesia and much more. Operation Smile adheres to standards set forth by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as follows safety measures and universal equipment requirements. 

Celebrity Smile Ambassadors

I see that Operation Smile has many celebrity Smile Ambassadors. How can I get involved?
Our Smile Ambassadors have demonstrated a history of support through their advocacy and fundraising. They not only bring awareness to our cause, but they do it from the heart. 

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