Interview: Susannah Schaefer

The new chief executive of Smile Train Inc in the US, who is also a trustee of Smile Train UK, says the charity has moved on from recent difficulties and is looking to grow its operations

Susannah Schaefer says Smile Train UK is looking to venture into new channels and revenue streams
Susannah Schaefer says Smile Train UK is looking to venture into new channels and revenue streams

Susannah Schaefer became chief executive of Smile Train Inc in the US and a trustee of Smile Train UK last year. She is keen to move the charity forward and develop its UK operation after recent difficulties.

"Our plan is worldwide growth," she says. "We're looking to add staff in the UK as well as our international and New York operations. I spend at least 30 per cent of my time working with the staff here and we want to see it flourish and grow."

Smile Train funds cleft lip and palate surgery for children round the world. It is also developing its fundraising operations in Canada, Germany and India, but they raise much less than the UK. All funds are consolidated in the US and spent in 87 countries.

Smile Train UK opened in 2006 and initially had no full-time staff. Now it employs a fundraising director, a community and donor relations officer and a support officer. Schaefer describes Smile Train as "very lean", employing 67 employees worldwide and raising more than $100m (£60m) a year. Her salary has not yet been published, but is understood to be less than half of the $750,000 (£451,000) receieved by Brian Mullaney, who held the same two roles as Schaefer and was ordered to repay more than £633,000 to Smile Train UK after the charity won a High Court case against him.

STUK generated £10.7m in 2012, more than any other country outside the US. Of that sum, more than £7.2m was spent on charitable activities. About 24,000 of the 122,000 surgeries that year were UK-funded, and Schaefer says donors can decide where their money goes.

"If someone in the UK has given a restricted donation and they want the funds to go to a programme in India, China or Africa, we'll make sure that their funds go specifically to that programme," she says.

About £3.6m raised in 2012 went on generating funds through a mixture of techniques. The charity has traditionally relied on direct mail with emotive images of children with cleft lips, but Schaefer says it is now raising funds in other ways. "Direct marketing is becoming more costly, although it needs to be a part of the fundraising mix because there's a demographic that responds to it," she says. "But now we're looking to venture into new channels and revenue streams. Some of those are digitally based, such as email marketing and banner adverts." It also raises money from corporate partnerships - for example, with the chocolate-maker Thorntons. A child it helped tossed the coin at the men's singles final at Wimbledon last year.

Schaefer says STUK has worked cooperatively with the Charity Commission and strengthened its board. She and Robert Toth, Smile Train Inc's chief operating officer, now sit on the STUK board and there are two independent UK-based trustees. "The trustees are not paid," she says.

Given what has happened at Smile Train in recent years, can the public donate with confidence? "Absolutely," says Schaefer. "What happened was done by one person - we've moved on from that. We're helping children with cleft, and anyone who has supported us in the past should be assured that there's no concern now. We've moved on from those issues and the court has ruled in our favour."

- Read our analysis on how Smile Train UK ended up in court

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