Sunday, October 29, 2006

International Children's Surgical Foundation

Two good friends both suggested that I look into International Children's Surgical Foundation (ICSF), started by their physician friend Geoff Williams, a true idealist.

Since ICSF is not tracked by Charity Navigator, I'll use Charity Navigator's framework for Evaluating Charities Not Currently Rated by Charity Navigator:

1. Is it legit? I was unable to find ICSF at GuideStar.org or in IRS Publication 78. According to Charity Navigator, one could check with a charity directly and ask to see a copy of their letter certifying non-profit status (ICSF's web site states that "ICSF is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 Public Charity"). Even if that works for some people, I personally would want to see ICSF in Guidestar.org and/or IRS Publication 78 before donating. Click here for 10 reasons for charities to register with GuideStar, and click here to learn how apply for tax exempt status for your charity.

2. Is it efficient? Although I could not find ICSF at GuideStar or in Publication 78, I could always contact a charity directly to request their Form 990. According to Charity Navigator, "Charities are required by law to provide copies of their three most recent filings to anyone making a request in person or in writing." According to ICSF's web site, "More than 95 cents out of every dollar donated to ICSF is spent directly on surgical missions and providing free surgery to suffering children. This is made possible by ICSF having an all volunteer staff with very little overhead cost." If substantiated, ICSF is very efficient, indeed.

3. Is it sustainable? Historical Form 990s, which could be requested from the organization (or which, ideally, would be available on GuideStar) would show revenue and expense trends. Upon further review of ICSF's web site, the foundation was created in 2005, so the newness of the organization could explain the lack of availability of information. It appears that until the foundation was formed, funding came primarily from Dr. Williams' personal savings. Since I'm uncertain of how much he has saved over the years and how much others are now donating, I cannot say whether efforts are sustainable in the long-run. It's just too early to predict.

4. Is it effective? ICSF's mission is to provide free corrective surgery to poor third-world children suffering with correctable deformities—and to exponentially magnify this effort by teaching and training the doctors in these countries to adequately care for their own patients and train their own students. Dr. Williams currently volunteers full-time, splitting his time between Mexico, Vietnam, Peru, Pakistan, China, Bolivia, Philippines, and Kenya. According to a news article posted on the site, Dr. Williams helped at least 170 third-world children during the past year. At least one doctor in Vietnam has been trained by Dr. Williams to do surgery on her own, and I'm guessing there are others. My belief, based on what I've read and pictures I've seen on the web site, is that ICSF is effective. Going back to the efficiency question, if there are 260 working days and Dr. Williams currently does only 170 surgeries, it appears he probably has open capacity that could either be used to do more free surgeries or to do paid cases that give him and his organization the financial wherewithal to expand operations.

5. Is it committed to the rights of donors? I did not find a stated privacy policy on ICSF's web site.

My takeaways: Geoff Williams is passionate about helping others, and he is one who has acted on his idealism. To increase funding opportunities, he should ensure potential donors are able to find his foundation in IRS Publication 78 and at GuideStar.org. Furthermore, reviewing his schedule with a businessperson who has operational expertise would help him better determine the appropriate mix of paid and unpaid cases and any logistical changes that would allow him to serve as many third-world children as possible.

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