August 31, 2017
Written by Carey Wedler
Though the Red Cross has a historical reputation for providing relief to victims of natural disasters and other emergencies, the organization’s practices have tarnished its name over the last few years.
Amid the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010, the Red Cross reportedly accepted nearly $500 million in relief money but built only six homes with the funds even though they claimed they had provided homes to 130,000 people. These failures prompted some Haitians to advise the world against donating funds to the Red Cross.
The organization was accused of diverting resources and supplies to bolster its public image during Hurricane Sandy. As an investigation by NPR and ProPublica found:
“The Red Cross national headquarters in Washington ‘diverted assets for public relations purposes.’ A former Red Cross official managing the Sandy effort says 40 percent of available trucks were assigned to serve as backdrops for news conferences.”
The outlets reported that “[d]istribution of relief was ‘politically driven instead of [Red Cross] planned,’” noting many organizational failures.
Further, a report released last year by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley found that 25% of funds donated to aid in relief for victims of the earthquake was actually spent on internal costs. That amounted to roughly $124 million.
Now, amid the hurricane in Texas, the Red Cross is admitting it currently doesn’t know how the funds it’s receiving are being spent. NPR’s Morning Edition interviewed Red Cross executive Brad Kieserman to ask how the funds will be distributed. Kieserman said that as of Wednesday morning, “had spent $50 million on Harvey relief, mainly on 232 shelters for 66,000 people.”
“Through donations, how much of every dollar goes to relief?” NPR’s Ailsa Chang asked him.
But he responded without actually providing an answer to her question:
“Yeah, I don’t think I know the answer to that any better than the chief fundraiser knows how many, how much it costs to put a volunteer downrange for a week and how many emergency response vehicles I have on the road today. So I think if he was on this interview and you were asking how many relief vehicles in Texas, I don’t think he’d know the answer and I don’t know the answer to the financial question I’m afraid.”
She pressed him about the Red Cross’ previous failures and misallocation of resources. According to NPR’s transcript:
“Is that still happening? Such a substantial percentage of donations going to internal administrative costs, rather than to relief?
“Kieserman: It’s not something I would have any visibility on. I can talk about what it costs to deliver certain relief services.
“Kieserman: But the way the internal revenue stream works, uhh …
“Chang: You don’t know what portion of that amount.
“Kieserman: Not really.
“Chang: You don’t know what portion of that total amount is for relief.
“Kieserman: No, I really don’t. I wish I could answer your question, but it’s not something I have visibility on in the role that I play in this organization.
The executive ultimately claimed that “The folks I work for are very, very attentive to cost effectiveness and cost efficiencies in making sure that as much as every dollar that we spend on an operation is client-facing.”
Slate reporter Jonathan Katz also reported the organization declined to disclose how much money they had spent or raised so far. Katz ultimately urged readers not to contribute to the Red Cross.
The Red Cross continues to face criticism and urgings for individuals who want to help to take their donations elsewhere. The Independent reports that over the weekend, Dan Gillmor, author and professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, advised against donating to the Red Cross. Many other social media users have expressed similar sentiments.
Despite the Red Cross’ failings, however, there are still many organizations doing important work.
The group A Just Harvey Recovery lists a number of local efforts accepting contributions. The Cajun Navy, a volunteer effort that previously rescued victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Louisiana floods last year, has also been working round the clock in Texas and is accepting donations. There are many organizations and shelters working locally to provide relief and essential services. If you would like to contribute or volunteer, you can find some of them here, here and here.