Monthly Archive for March, 2011

This is Africa: Headlamp Surgery

Practicing medicine in the jungles of Africa requires a certain flexibility that is hard to imagine here in the U.S. or western Europe.  However, thanks to the existence of youtube, we can see the challenges that face doctors in remote places all over the world.

This particular video brings back memories of the surgical marathon that went on in Maboye, Cameroon last summer. Dr. Bwelle slept about 8 hours for an entire 48 hour period and at one point the generator went out mid-operation.  Dr. Bwelle had us all turn our headlamps on to light the surgical field and on we continued as the generator was repaired.  That’s the way it goes in Africa.

Donations: Putting Your Money to Work

Many large nonprofit humanitarian organizations are fortunate enough to receive donations that cover their costs as well as pay employee salaries. While this is great for the organization, it isn’t necessarily ideal for donors because a major portion of your gift is paying for prime Manhattan office space or the CEOs salary.

One common metric used to evaluate nonprofits is called the program ratio, which is the percentage of an organization’s total expenditures that is devoted to programs and services. If as an organization you spend $80 to buy food for resettled refugees, and then pay people $20 to to hand it out – your program service ratio is 80% ($80 / ($80 + $20)). While not a perfect measuring stick, the program ratio is a decent gauge for the efficiency of a charity or non-profit.
Smaller organizations tend to have higher program ratios than larger organizations because larger nonprofits require a greater level of organization and administration. Let’s take a look at some examples of how some donations were used:

American Red Cross

In 2009, the American Red Cross took in about $3.3 billion. That year they spent a total of $3.4 billion in all: $1.7 billion (50%) on salaries and compensation, $600 million (12%) on “other expenses,” and the other $1.1 billion (33%) directly on programs. If you count salaries of employees as program expenses then their ratio was a very handsome 91%, but if you don’t, the ratio drops to about 33%. (Form 990)


MSF Financials

Medecins sans Frontiers, or Doctors without Borders, is an apolitical organization that seeks solely to provide medical care to those in dire need, not only those who are in need on the news. Although they are a smaller organization, their finances are more focused on the end beneficiary rather than the middle man. They took in $143 million in 2009, spent a total of $145 million: $112 million on programs (77%), $13 million on salaries and compensation (9%), $18 million on fundraising (13%), and $2.2 million on management and general (1.5%). Any way you look at it, at least 77% of the donations go directly to those in need. (Form 990)

Ascovime USA

Ascovime is small and entirely composed of volunteers so we have no administrative costs or salaries to pay out. In fact, Dr. Bwelle spends most of his salary to keep Ascovime going. 97% of donations go directly to program costs and Paypal gets their 3% cut, so ideally send a check to cut out that middle man. (Donate here) 

I’m not advocating for or against making a charitable donation, but merely trying to present what happens to the impact of your donation as the receiving organization increases with size.  Next time you consider making a donation to any organization, think about giving to smaller, local organizations because they will use more of your money to directly help the cause, whatever it may be.

Further reading

Drexel University Medical Team Headed to Africa with Ascovime

For the third year in a row, a team of students from Drexel University College of Medicine are embarking on volunteer mission with Ascovime to Cameroon. This summer they will work with humanitarian leader Dr. Georges Bwelle, who is a Cameroonian surgeon, to give free health care to over 2,000 patients in four rural villages in the jungles of Cameroon. Find out more about what they will be doing.

So far, the eight-member team has raised over $1000 in a few short weeks and has been tirelessly collecting supplies and medications from hospitals in the Philadelphia area. On April 17th, the volunteers will be holding an Art for Health fundraiser hosted by the Waterworks restaurant from 4-8pm. If you can, show up and make a donation to the great cause – overall, the team is shooting for a goal of $10,000 in donations before they leave for Cameroon in June.

If you can’t make it to this particular fundraiser, keep your eyes’ peeled or RSS feeds open for more events to come. In early May, likely the 7th, a Beef n’ Beer event is scheduled at a sports bar in Philadelphia so be on the lookout.

Best of luck to the fine medical students and humanitarians!

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Dick Gordon in The Story on Dr. Georges BwelleDr. Bwelle on NPR!

Dick Gordon of North Carolina Public Radio hosts a show called The Story and has done a piece on Dr. Georges Bwelle!!!

Click for more, the story, download mp3 …