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Conversations with Jim

Entered in Single Post or Activation


At Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft charity, we pride ourselves on our sustainable model of empowering local healthcare workers to make free, high-quality cleft care available in their own communities. However, this proved a challenge when we ventured into the new terrain of TikTok. Our traditional voice and content style, honed over a quarter-century, no longer resonated with this platform’s audience. Recognizing the need to adapt, we embarked on a journey to embrace new voices and forms of expression. 

For a nonprofit like Smile Train, this matters for reasons that go beyond brand identity or fundraising. A 2020 study found that fewer than 10% of Americans know that clefts can cause severe issues with eating, breathing, speaking, and hearing, and can even be deadly. Teaching the public the truth about clefts, therefore, is vital to our purpose as an organization.  

Moreover, our commitment to equity underscores the importance of inclusive communication. People with clefts face discrimination worldwide, necessitating a compassionate and respectful approach in our messaging.  

Enter TikTok–our opportunity to create a safe haven for the cleft community while educating and engaging a younger audience—a key organizational objective of ours, as our donors tend to be older. In crafting TikTok-specific content, we sought to amplify the voices within the cleft community, striking a balance between representing Smile Train as an organization and empowering individuals to share their authentic stories, creating an online space that encourages empathy, understanding, and growth.


Rather than employing a non-cleft-affected voice to explain the experiences of individuals with clefts, Smile Train chose to leverage the insights and perspectives of young Americans with clefts, like Jim Nowakowski, a professional ballet dancer. By doing so, we avoided the risk of "cleftsplaining" or oversimplifying the challenges faced by individuals with clefts.  

In the TikTok video, humor is employed as a powerful educational tool. Jim's conversation with himself in this post cleverly addresses common misconceptions and harmful stereotypes surrounding clefts, reclaiming the narrative and taking back the power of hurtful words. We hoped this would effectively educate viewers while maintaining a lighthearted and engaging tone. 

By creating content that is entertaining, relatable, and informative about clefts and the real-life people who have them, we aimed to capture the attention of users. This, in turn, would inspire our audience to get involved in a cause that is saving lives and expanding healthcare access around the world each day.


Jim's post quickly became our most successful post to date. It opened doors to a fresh audience and expanded our reach to a broader pool of individuals, namely, TikTok users. This shift didn't just translate into a surge in followers; it also sparked vibrant engagement and dialogue within the comments, fostering the emergence of a robust community: the video has garnered significant traction, amassing over 638,000 views (6,280% increase from our average), 7,000 likes (775% increase from average), 160 comments (1,900% increase from average) , 150 reposts (7,400% increase from average), and 500 saves (6,150% increase from average). Moreover, it has attracted over 400 new followers (a 13,233.3% increase from average), further amplifying our message.

Internally, these endeavors have also fostered a deeper connection to the core vision of Smile Train among both team members and community stakeholders. By tapping into the "why" behind what we do, we've cultivated a heightened awareness of the daily challenges faced by those with clefts, even in America, reinforcing the importance of our work around the globe.


Video for Conversations with Jim

Entrant Company / Organization Name

Smile Train


Entry Credits