"Didn't Lady Gaga just donate a million dollars to you guys?"
October 29, 2014 8:09 AM   Subscribe

The Red Cross' Secret Disaster — ProPublica and NPR report on the American Red Cross' poor responses to Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy.
In 2012, two massive storms pounded the United States, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless, hungry or without power for days and weeks.

Americans did what they so often do after disasters. They sent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Red Cross, confident their money would ease the suffering left behind by Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. They believed the charity was up to the job.

They were wrong.

The Red Cross botched key elements of its mission after Sandy and Isaac, leaving behind a trail of unmet needs and acrimony, according to an investigation by ProPublica and NPR. The charity's shortcomings were detailed in confidential reports and internal emails, as well as accounts from current and former disaster relief specialists.

What's more, Red Cross officials at national headquarters in Washington, D.C. compounded the charity's inability to provide relief by "diverting assets for public relations purposes," as one internal report puts it. Distribution of relief supplies, the report said, was "politically driven."

During Isaac, Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, "just to be seen," one of the drivers, Jim Dunham, recalls.

"We were sent way down on the Gulf with nothing to give," Dunham says. The Red Cross' relief effort was "worse than the storm."
posted by tonycpsu (96 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
After 9/11, there was a huge fund-raising drive to help victims of the attack and their families, and money poured into the Red Cross like a torrent. So much money, in fact, that the Red Cross announced they were going to redirect some of it into their general fund, even though the donors specifically intended the money for survivors etc.

There was a huge stink about that, and the Red Cross changed their minds after all the bad publicity and threats of congressional inquiry. And that's when I lost confidence in the organization. I no longer give them anything. When there's a disaster and I want to help, I give money to the Salvation Army (even though I'm an atheist).
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:43 AM on October 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


I remember at the time reading things by people in Occupy Sandy and just being completely shocked - I mean, also proud - that a constellation of Occupy folks could get stuff done when the Red Cross was just failing. It was really scary to read about how little help was given to very vulnerable people. Of course, any time there's big money, you get a bunch of [...Frowner spits] upper middle class professional non-profit managers who are spoiled and greedy and attention hogs and have never done without a damn thing* so they have no idea what it's like to be in want.

I heard a talk by one of the guys who founded the Common Ground collective after Katrina, Scott Crow, who wrote Black Flags And Windmills. Now, he struck me as the kind of guy who maybe gets cut a little too much slack in activist circles in terms of being charismatic, white, straight, good-looking, etc, but I felt like he was - unlike some guys like this in the movement - at least trying not to be as much of a movement star. But anyway, I don't have any particular reason to doubt his account, and it's very similar - that the official relief entities were often useless and sometimes actively corrupt. In the case of Common Ground, there was a lot of police brutality against both citizens and organizers and there was a huge attempt not to let Common Ground do perfectly ordinary safe things. (I mean, not reasonable attempts to keep people from doing foolhardy stuff that would make things worse, etc.) It's worth checking out.

But geez, it does make you realize that it's really true that charity is political and that - just as in Victorian Holocausts - a lot of the time it's rich people taking the opportunity of a disaster in order to screw the poor and advance their agendas.


*Take a look at that Red Cross CEO - she looks just like every gently raised "helpful" rich white lady of a certain age in build, features, hair and clothing.
posted by Frowner at 8:47 AM on October 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


McGovern had spent her career as an executive at AT&T and Fidelity and was teaching marketing at Harvard Business School. “This is a brand to die for,” she said in an early interview as the Red Cross’ chief executive.

Ugh. Why would you hire a marketing executive to run a charity that actually has to do stuff?
posted by octothorpe at 8:52 AM on October 29, 2014 [27 favorites]


Ugh. Why would you hire a marketing executive to run a charity that actually has to do stuff?

I bet she interviewed really well.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:57 AM on October 29, 2014 [35 favorites]


I've been hearing about the problems with the Red Cross for years. That's one of the reasons I contribute instead to Direct Relief International. They have a low-bureaucracy set-up designed both to maximize value for contributed dollars and to work with local agencies.

I admit I'm biased, because a friend of mine works for them, but they do good work.
posted by happyroach at 8:59 AM on October 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


After Sandy, I made a bunch of donations to local groups, some of them affiliated with OWS, because they seemed to be doing a lot more direct action.

That said, it's really disappointing to hear this about Red Cross.
posted by suelac at 9:05 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


The iconic charity has a government mandate to work alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency in relief efforts.

Lord, have mercy on us all.
posted by Melismata at 9:10 AM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Saw this from a reporter friend on Facebook: "Gail McGovern, CEO of the Red Cross, made 622,000 total compensation in 2013, according to their 990 tax form."
posted by Clustercuss at 9:15 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


The more I think about it, the more I wonder....every change in the world is an opportunity to make money, right? Every big change is a new frontier, disaster capitalism, etc.

Now obviously, no one seeks to rise in the ranks of a disaster relief charity thinking "aha, I will get rich off the various disasters that are sure to happen with global warming and rising global inequality"...For one thing, you don't get that rich. (But rich enough - and respected.) And of course, the people who are getting really rich off disasters are regular old capitalists, not non-profit directors.

But despite the unconsciousness of the process, this is what's happening - we're getting more disasters and more need for large-scale disaster relief, and what that means is enhanced professional opportunities for the upper middle classes. And that means that at least part of the logic of all these disaster-relief projects will be to provide a bunch of attractive, well-remunerated jobs for senior staff, particularly senior staff who do the marketing and speak at conferences. The actual on-the-ground staff will be decimated and see their conditions worsen just like other working class people.

My point being that in order to understand these entities, we need to understand them as part of capitalism in its standard disaster-mode rather than outside it due to their nonprofit status.
posted by Frowner at 9:18 AM on October 29, 2014 [22 favorites]


Working in philanthropy has been one of the most unpleasantly eye-opening experiences of my entire life. There are very few organizations I have reasonable confidence in; most of those are small local organizations with annual budgets around 100-150k. Out of all the huge international organizations we've worked with, there is only one I would personally support. Maybe 2.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:18 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


re: Red Cross salaries

In FY12 they paid out $1,772,593,711 in "salaries, employee benefits, and other compensation" to 28,973 employees.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:23 AM on October 29, 2014


I know this can't be right, because I've been told private initiative is always better than government initiative.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:24 AM on October 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


Now obviously, no one seeks to rise in the ranks of a disaster relief charity thinking "aha, I will get rich off the various disasters that are sure to happen with global warming and rising global inequality"

McGovern is on the board of DTE Energy, which operates 8,000 megawatts-worth of coal-fired power plants. She might be playing that angle after all.
posted by theodolite at 9:25 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I know this can't be right, because I've been told private initiative is always better than government initiative.

Only if it's meant to make money for a few people.
posted by entropone at 9:26 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


In FY12 they paid out $1,772,593,711 in "salaries, employee benefits, and other compensation" to 28,973 employees.

Well, if that meant that everyone from the lowliest regional administrative assistant to the office grants manager up to the senior people was making....oh, let's say between $35,000 and $75,000 with good benefits (which should about add up to that), we wouldn't need to be concerned, right? But of course big chunks are lumped up at the top.
posted by Frowner at 9:31 AM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Top staff salary was 4.5 mil, I think? Between 5-6 people.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:33 AM on October 29, 2014


Why would you hire a marketing executive to run a charity that actually has to do stuff?

To be a little bit fair one of a charity's primary responsibilities is to raise funds. A charity that doesn't raise funds can't do anything else.
posted by leopard at 9:35 AM on October 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


McGovern initiated a series of changes inside the organization that roiled the venerable charity. She executed layoffs and reorganizations that closed local chapters and centralized power at national headquarters in Washington.

Because, the last thing an organization established to respond quickly to regional disasters needs is a bunch of local offices cluttering-up the org chart.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:36 AM on October 29, 2014 [14 favorites]


Mental Wimp: I know this can't be right, because I've been told private initiative is always better than government initiative.

I totally get where you're coming from on this, but the confounding variable is that the ARC is quasi-governmental in a way, chartered by Congress through Title 36 of the U.S. Code. Now, it's mostly sort of a ceremonial/honorific designation, but the fact that they have a government mandate to work with FEMA demonstrates that there's at least some governmental influence on their operations.

The thing most people recognize about the private sector is that competition, while not a panacea, can often lead to better outcomes, so having one private non-profit officially sanctioned by the government seems like a risky proposition to me. There should, at the very least, be a way for other organizations to compete for the designation as the "Official Private Charity Partner for Disaster Recovery." Of course the fact that the ARC ties into the ICRC and various international organizations complicates that somewhat, so I don't know if that's even practical.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:36 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, if that meant that everyone from the lowliest regional administrative assistant to the office grants manager up to the senior people was making....oh, let's say between $35,000 and $75,000 with good benefits (which should about add up to that), we wouldn't need to be concerned, right? But of course big chunks are lumped up at the top.

This isn't a direct response to you, but more of a general one directed at the whole topic of executive compensation -

So, it's pretty obvious that there's some leadership Clusterfuckery at the Red Cross that led to, well, such a clusterfuck of decision-making based on image and not effectiveness ("what a brand!").

When there's bad leadership among nonprofit organizations, people often criticize their executives' salaries. And this is often done under the mistaken assumption that a non-profit organization should somehow be staffed entirely by people who are so altrustic that they don't expect to be compensated for their skills.

However, in this case, you've got a major national organization with a multi-billion dollar budget and 30,000 employees. You're never going to get leaders who can manage that scope on a professor's salary.

The fact that the organization's founding paperwork has a nonredistrubutive clause is beside the point. Criticize leadership, especially in this case. But criticizing salary is obfuscating the point.
posted by entropone at 9:39 AM on October 29, 2014 [25 favorites]


entropone: However, in this case, you've got a major national organization with a multi-billion dollar budget and 30,000 employees. You're never going to get leaders who can manage that scope on a professor's salary.

I think there's room between "a professor's salary" and >$600k. The President of the United States oversees multi-trillion budget and 4 million employees, and he "only" makes $400k
posted by tonycpsu at 9:43 AM on October 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


I do get your larger point, though -- we need to pay people working at non-profits for their skills and not expect them to work dirt cheap because the work makes them feel good.... I just feel like it's not out of bounds to ask if $600k is the right salary for someone who's doing a pretty terrible job.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:44 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wow. Whatever the Red Cross' transgressions may end up being—and I'm familar with charitable orgs. that carry a high admin:charity budget ratio—there's a nasty streak of classism and reverse racism so far in this thread, along with a fair amount of knee-jerking, not to mention naïvete, regarding how much people "should" be earning to do nonprofit work.
posted by the sobsister at 9:48 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


The thing most people recognize about the private sector is that competition, while not a panacea, can often lead to better outcomes

Even when it works, the mechanism of competition alone doesn't "lead to better outcomes," it's a simple mechanism for eliminating competitors. That's pure competition's only function by definition. If there are no competitors providing the ideal services, then it will select the currently best competitor in the pool and eliminate any service providers that can't compete with that top competitor.

Pure competition doesn't functionally have any mechanism for creating anything--whether better outcomes or new kinds of widgets--in it. Determining what we're trying to use competition to accomplish is a social and political process external to the mechanism of competition itself, isn't it?

The actual process of competition literally does nothing but filter out options given whatever pool of competitors exist at the time. Sure, people might look at the markets and how some competitors have fared and then decide to try to bring something new to market, but it's not the competitive survival threat that competition offers that motivates that--whether or not someone wants to bring something new to market is about basic human interest and social values, not competition. Competition is really all about reducing diversity of goods and services and consolidating markets.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:50 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I do get your larger point, though -- we need to pay people working at non-profits for their skills and not expect them to work dirt cheap because the work makes them feel good.... I just feel like it's not out of bounds to ask if $600k is the right salary for someone who's doing a pretty terrible job.

Sort of. It's important to ask if the job is right for somebody who's doing a terrible job - not so much important to ask whether a competitive salary is appropriate for a complex job.
posted by entropone at 9:55 AM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


If the org were running well, I'd say she earned that big salary. Running something that massive is a hell of a job. And apparently very easy to screw up.

But clearly it's not, she isn't, and the problems go deep. The real question is: what's the alternative?
posted by emjaybee at 9:57 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Don't even get me started on the Red Cross.

Ok, do. And I will. Only because I feel strongly that the ARC does not deserve your support. Shift your efforts elsewhere.

I was involved in the post-Sandy relief efforts with the ARC. I went as a physician, but told everyone from the local chapter on up that I just wanted to be used for my body: send me anywhere. I'll do anything. I've got time off from work. Use me.

Why not FEMA? Well, I've got a bone to pick with FEMA as well, stemming from Katrina. Why not other organizations? Well, essentially, they're all fucked, and run by fuckwits. But I'm not gonna talk about them right now, because I have direct experience with the ARC.

From the beginning it was a clusterfuck. All the local chapters wanted to do was gain local notoriety and say "Oh, hey people of the city, we're sending volunteers up to New York!" Which is fine and dandy, but most of the folks wanted the fame and glory for themselves and their friends, so the people who were able to go, who had time to go, and had a good skillset were left on the back burner.

Fine. So I skip the local chapter and go to another one, a bit further west, that served a smaller population. They don't get much support, and they seemed genuinely grateful to get another volunteer, and they didn't seem in it for themselves. They got all the paperwork completed with little effort, and BLAMMO: I've set for a plane ride up to White Plains, NY.

I get a nice little debit card. It's pre-loaded with $600. Use it for incidentals. Save the receipts. Just call this number to reload it. I don't use it.

From White Plains, we're shuttled to some... place. I can't remember. It's in my notes at home somewhere. It's a crazy, shitty Command HQ, with people running all around, and notes, and post-it boards. All I know is that there are shuttles coming to pick people up to go to... where? Everyone had destinations all over the place, and there were supposed to be rental cars for most. No one could find the keys or the cars the keys belonged to.

People were organized into different teams and areas of expertise. No one knew what to do with me. I had some paperwork, and there was some e-mail from some head honcho in DC, but it didn't say much else apart from introductions.

I waited for the better part of the day before I said "fukkit," and hitched a ride to Manhattan.

Get to the HQ in Hell's Kitchen. It's a zoo, but it seems like it's being run better. Lady in charge there knew of me, told me to sit tight while they got something together for me. Hours pass. I ask if there were any updates, and she apologized and said she wanted to find something to utilize my skillset. I said Ok, but really, I'll do whatever you folks want me to do. She said ok. More hours pass. It gets dark. I've had a lot of shitty coffee and sandwiches, and decide to call my brother who lives in Harlem.

We go out for noodles and get drunk on Calpico Sours.


Oh, right. So I walk around midtown, trying to find the hotel that the lady at HQ told me about. She said there was a room for me there. There wasn't. There weren't rooms anywhere. Every damn hotel was taken up by ARC, FEMA, local gov. officials. Nice hotels. So I wander around drunk, before I drunkenly walked into the W on Times Square (yeah, Times Square. Drunk. Post-Sandy. Times Square. Fuck!). I ask if there are any rooms available, and the lady said no, they're all full.

I call upon experience and ask to use their phone, please. It's toll-free. I call SPG. I give my SPG number. I have points, ma'am. Lady on the phone says there's a room for me. I say really. I give the phone back over to the woman at the front desk. I pay with points. I sleep well.

Wake. Go back to HQ. Sit around for hours again. Keep my ears peeled and eyes open, and hear about some crazy shit going on in Long Island. So I ask the lady in charge and she said they're not sure what's going on, that they're trying to get in touch with the lady in charge of Long Island, and that anyway, there's no way to get out there because all the rental cars are in FUCKING WHITE PLAINS, NY.

I overhear a group of nurses saying that there was a van going to Long Island downstairs, and I asked if I could hitch a ride. They said yes. We squeeze in. There was a man who was with us, oh, we'll call him Bill, because that's his motherfucking real name and he's a dick. He's a retired firefighter from Florida. He loves traveling. He has a lot of money, and hey, check out his cool jacket. He just got it. Yeah. The Red Cross paid for it. Actually, he got two. And then he reloaded his card. Because he needed it, because it doesn't get cold in Florida, and he's cold up here. Anyway, fuck Bill.


We get to Long Island's HQ in Mineola. No one seems to be around. We sit down. We go over roles. I don't have my notes on me, but I think there were something around eight shelters open, the largest being the auditorium at Nassau College. They were consolidating shelters. There were rumors of the shits going around. Cool. Oh, and hey, bedding assignments will be made by 4pm.

Lady at Mineola HQ has no idea what to do with me. I tell her: look, how bout I just roll around the shelters, chat with folks, and see what's shakin? I'll report to her every evening. She says ok. I'll need a car, I say, and she replies: no problem, we've got, like 40 cars here.

Why do have so many cars?
"I don't know."
Where did they all come from?"
"White Plains."
...

So I get a car. I drive around to all the shelters. They closed some, and smashed some together. I'll try to keep this part short, because I've got to get back to work: norovirus outbreak. All over the place. New shelters being built up. Shit all over the place. FEMA, ARC, DMAT, it doesn't matter: none of them know what to do, or have adequate protective gear. DMAT staff were the worst: smug, dismissive, "oh, we're fine, we haven't seen any diarrhea around." I say: "oh, you'll see shit REAL soon."

Reports. Graphs. Numbers. People in the larger shelters hiding symptoms because they don't want to get kicked out. Undocumented citizens who don't want to get kicked out. Migrant people who don't want to be tracked, and just go in and out of shelters to check on their houses. It's impossible to get an accurate census at Nassau Community College. Impossible.

I pull together a team of people I could trust. Nurses, young and old. Bill tried to take charge. We ignored him. He got angry. I reported him. Fuck Bill. We quickly institute policy, go out and get supplies from local hardware and drugstores. Keep track of the shelter clients and staff.

More reports. One grand report. Some conference call with the heads of the organizations and Obama or something. I wanted to be no part of it, because fuck that shit. I've got shit to do. Apparently, some head honcho for the ARC read my report. Someone asked her who wrote it, because they knew she didn't. And my name got thrown in the bucket, which is why I think I get calls and e-mails from different orgs anytime there's some Big Crazy Stupid Thing going on, even when I tell them to fuck off. Nicely, of course.

People eating out at places that're pretty darn fancy. People openly admitting that they keep large blocks of their schedule open for ARC deployment opportunities because it's their vacation. Rental cars going missing for days at a time and being found in different states. And the sleeping accommodations. Oh god.

I got set up in Garden City, at whatever the fancy hotel is in Garden City. I don't know. I've never been to Garden City. It's a nice hotel. I got a very large room. There were two queen beds. It was ridiculous. I go back to the front desk and ask if there are any other rooms available, because I don't need two beds, and besides, someone else could use them. No, dood says, running his finger down a list, they're full.

List reads with names of all the administrative folks and some other fuckers and Bill. Not the volunteers who actually get shit done. Not the nurses with 40+ years of experience. No: they're all sleeping in fucking cots in a church 15 miles away without any transportation but for shuttle buses in the morning and at night.

I call up the lady in charge and say, look, this is ridiculous. She tells me she appreciated my help and wants me to have a favorable experience with the Red Cross. I ask if I could give up my room. She demurs and says that everyone would want that room. I hang up and drive out and hang out with my team.

Anyway, everyone cycles through that hotel room. It had nice beds, privacy, and hot water. The church? Fuck the church. There were sheets dividing men and women, and creepy men, like Bill, only without $300 jackets.

Went out on some truck rides (you know, the fun Disaster Relief trucks). Served meals. Somewhere in the repeated announcement, the driver says "we have corn... and a doctor."


I wish I could say it was a rewarding experience. I think there's a great chunk of people who actually do good. The team I worked with certainly did a lot of good. We squashed the squits epidemic and set good policy. But there was so much goddamn waste and disorganization. There are odd power dynamics, and a lot of abuse and misogyny, which I reported, because no one else felt like they could: they didn't want to get sent home or kicked out. And there's a lot of "who's got the biggest [flag]" contest: NY gov't vs FEMA vs ARC vs whomever: who can handle this post-9/11 disaster?

Well, none of them could. None of them played nice with the others. They were all fucked up.


I will never, ever give any money or time to the American Red Cross again. I will do favors for this local chapter and the people who work there, which is not the one that's immediately local to me.

Seriously. Fuck them as an organization. And Bill: fuck you, too.
posted by herrdoktor at 9:59 AM on October 29, 2014 [281 favorites]


I just feel like it's not out of bounds to ask if $600k is the right salary for someone who's doing a pretty terrible job.

I have worked in nonprofits for over 15 years and I have strong feelings about this -- moreso since the nonprofit I formerly worked for went through a string of particularly bad CEOs simply because we were unable to pay the kind of salary that were being asked by the truly great candidates.

I haven't read the article and I don't want to comment on the action or inaction of the Red Cross specifically, but in general I think we as a society need to get to the point where we don't feel bad for paying people who work in NPOs at all levels a good, living, competitive wage. Because the good feeling we get from doing the work we do doesn't pay the oil bill or get my kid winter boots. Still, now, at a director level position with an NPO that raised well over $1M last year I need to work a second job to make sure my family has a little bit more than the minimum necessary to survive. And I'm not the only one -- until recently, for example, our grant writer was also working at the supermarket deli, and another member of the leadership team was waiting tables on weekends.

A CEO like the Red Cross CEO is expected to do certain things -- she's expected to interact with very high level donors in ways that will require her to look and dress a certain way. She likely works very long hours and travels a great deal, which means that she'll need to be able to afford to hire help to do things like clean her house or take care of her kids (if she has any). She's also expected to channel a decent proportion of her salary back to the NPO as a donation (a "leadership gift"). Plus, in this case, she's living in DC, which is (I understand) a fairly pricey housing market. (Sure, POTUS only makes $400k, but he also gets housing in the deal.) Given the demands of the job, I don't think her salary is out of line.

Now, if she's doing a measurably bad job, then the issue becomes "is this job the right fit for her" but that is a different thing. And, should they need to replace her, presumably they'll need to continue to pay a reasonable executive salary in order to attract a competent candidate.
posted by anastasiav at 10:00 AM on October 29, 2014 [22 favorites]


classism and reverse racism so far in this thread

I am absolutely biased against rich privileged parasites who don't understand that their incompetence is costing working people their lives. I make no apologies and reject that this is "classism" or "reverse racism."
posted by 1adam12 at 10:00 AM on October 29, 2014 [34 favorites]


$600k is chicken feed for the top spot at an org that size. We are unlikely to change CEO-culture in America by picking on a non-profit's director, and indeed, his Top/Bottom salary ratio is probably better than any business with a comparable headcount by an order of millions of dollars.

The issue isn't his salary, it's his incompetence - which is a hazard when you're paying chickenfeed for top managers.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:02 AM on October 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


PS: whenever I see something like "Lady Gaga gave a million dollars" I think to myself "Oh, it's a multi year pledge". Unless it's a bequest, it would be pretty unusual for that much cash to come in as a lump sum. Much more likely it's spaced out over a period of years, for tax reasons.
posted by anastasiav at 10:02 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


When there's a disaster and I want to help, I give money to the Salvation Army (even though I'm an atheist)

They've been too antigay to get my money.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:04 AM on October 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


Why would you hire a marketing executive to run a charity that actually has to do stuff?

I used to work for the Red Cross.

There are two separate organizations under the Red Cross name. One is disaster services and the other is blood services. The Red Cross is arguably best known for collecting blood and selling it to hospitals at cost. Here is where a marketing exec could be crucial. If you look at the people who donate and donate regularly they are getting older and older. Sure, they can get some high schoolers to donate once. But the donors who give most by volume are 60+ years old. They come in every time they are eligible and one over a lifetime has donated more than the biggest of high schools can give in a blood drive. The Red Cross has, among others, an aging demographic problem.

Partially because of this the Red Cross has lost considerable market share over the last 15 years. They once supplied over 80% of the nation’s blood and now supply around 45%, by my recollection. Someone with marketing experience can be a huge asset. Blood and disaster services share facilities and equipment. As blood services covers less and less area and has fewer assets, disaster services too covers less area and has fewer assets.

That is why they are concerned about brand and desperately need to rebrand. Has Gail McGovern been able to do that? I don't think so personally. But hiring a marketing exec isn't exactly coocoo bananas in this context.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:07 AM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


They've been too antigay to get my money.

Yeah, they've got a disgusting reputation for turning trans women of color out of their shelters, iirc.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:08 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


saulgoodman: Even when it works, the mechanism of competition alone doesn't "lead to better outcomes,"

Contrary to your very selective quoting, I didn't say or imply that it always or even usually leads to better outcomes, I said it *can* lead to better outcomes. You're correct that if all market participants are fine half-assing it, then competition will do nothing to improve this, but my point was that as long as the ARC has sort of a special relationship with the government and is seen as the de facto place to send money, regardless of how they're performing, no positive change can occur, and that forcing multiple non-profits to compete for (perhaps multiple) designations as the groups that FEMA, the National Guard, etc. work alongside for disaster recovery is likely to have a positive impact on our overall ability to respond to these events.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:12 AM on October 29, 2014


anastasiav: Given the demands of the job, I don't think her salary is out of line.

Now, if she's doing a measurably bad job, then the issue becomes "is this job the right fit for her" but that is a different thing. And, should they need to replace her, presumably they'll need to continue to pay a reasonable executive salary in order to attract a competent candidate.


You're absolutely right, and I was 100% wrong to make it about the salary rather than the terrible job she's doing. I do think that once you hit $1 million or so, anything above that should be totally based on incentives / measurable competence rather than a straight salary, but $600k is totally fair by the standards of what CEOs make today.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:21 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Contrary to your very selective quoting,

I didn't mean to quote you selectively for any malicious/critical intent, tonycpsu. Sorry about that. That was just carelessness on my part. I do very strongly believe that we'd all benefit from thinking more concretely about how economic competition actually functions and what it's limits are and I sometimes get overeager to make that point again. I trust that you get this stuff, actually. But it seems to me we all of us have a certain habit of talking very vaguely about what competition is and how it functions and what it does and I think that's a big part of the cultural dimension of our current problems.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:23 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


However, in this case, you've got a major national organization with a multi-billion dollar budget and 30,000 employees. You're never going to get leaders who can manage that scope on a professor's salary.

I always wonder about this. I know many capable, educated people with broad-based nonprofit experience who would be thrilled and delighted to manage on a "professor's salary" of $75,000 a year and benefits. Could any of them, tomorrow, step into running a national organization as large as the Red Cross? Probably not, but I know several people who make less than $75,000/year and who do run very large organizations - people who would be able to take second-tier roles in the Red Cross and do it well.

Also, the idea that nonprofit directors need to be paid competitively with the less-well-compensated kind of CEO gives all kinds of mistaken impressions. It's not that people should work for pennies in nonprofits (which is why I was suggesting $35,000 and benefits for a secretarial salary - I know someone who was directing a big regional transit project, flying out to DC monthly and making about $45,000/year and sort of crap benefits....and as to anyone who is answering phones, they're on poverty wages.)

It's always interesting to me that "we need to pay enough to attract competent people" only applies to upper middle class jobs - no one says "we need to pay enough to attract competent admins or grantwriters or regional directors", those people are always getting screwed.

And it leads to this absurd process where people can't rise in the ranks - the progression very often isn't "entry level job, local directorship, regional directorship, big cheese job"; it's "entry level job, slightly better job, full stop", while someone with a PhD in management or something gets recruited from the outside at a high salary. And this has the effect of whitening top nonprofit positions - talented working class people of color can't work their way up the ranks because there is little internal hiring for high-level jobs. Not to mention working class white people.

So you have these organizations which purport to help working class and poor people, and the people with the decision-making capacity often have very little experience in the organization, let alone among the people the organization purports to help. And they have no skin in the game - they're rich, they've always been rich, they'll always be rich.

Frankly, if we're recruiting the "best" by paying marketing CEOS $600,000 a year, perhaps we should have a shot at hiring some professors. At least a few of them will remember being starving graduate students.
posted by Frowner at 10:27 AM on October 29, 2014 [32 favorites]


So you have these organizations which purport to help working class and poor people

I might be wrong, but my understanding is that the ARC isn't there to help working class and poor people. It's there to help anyone who has a disaster strike their lives, whether that's an individual household or an entire region.

I have personal (indirect) experience with how the Red Cross steps in when there is a house fire and helps provide shelter and clothing and food. This is not a service based on income, it's a service based on sudden disaster striking. They didn't provide long-term support for any of those I've known who had their houses burn down, but they did provide the necessary bridge to help those people get from "I've lost everything" to "I'm starting to rebuild".
posted by hippybear at 10:35 AM on October 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


And it leads to this absurd process where people can't rise in the ranks - the progression very often isn't "entry level job, local directorship, regional directorship, big cheese job"; it's "entry level job, slightly better job, full stop", while someone with a PhD in management or something gets recruited from the outside at a high salary.

Frowner, I do totally agree with you, but my personal experience with mission based NPOs has been that the "rank and file" often don't rise in the ranks not because the NPO felt compelled to bring in "someone from the outside" but because the lower level employees are almost always specialized professionals who do certain things (in my personal experience things like "teach kids with autism" or "write grants" or "connect with homeless populations) extremely well but who don't have the background or experience needed to effectively manage an org with a lot of moving parts.

(And, yeah, teacher of preschool kids with autism -- terribly hard job, terribly compensated. Which is a big problem.)
posted by anastasiav at 10:35 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


My mom actually worked for the Red Cross for twenty-five years and was pretty unhappy about the way that the organization changed in the last few years before she retired. She hated Liddy Dole, who was CEO in the 90's, how she consolidated power to the central organization and applied conservative ideology to the AIDS education programs. The local AIDS program was a big focus of Mom's in the eighties and early nineties and Dole came in and gutted it. Mom was going into women's shelters and county jails to talk about condom use and clean needles and wasn't about to tell those women to "just say no".
posted by octothorpe at 10:36 AM on October 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


(I have personal (indirect) experience with how the Red Cross steps in when there is a house fire and helps provide shelter and clothing and food. This is not a service based on income, it's a service based on sudden disaster striking. They didn't provide long-term support for any of those I've known who had their houses burn down, but they did provide the necessary bridge to help those people get from "I've lost everything" to "I'm starting to rebuild".

My thought on the Red Cross was much more that in a disaster situation, the well-off are much more likely to have evacuated, be able to evacuate, have alternate places to stay, have more ready cash for food/replacement clothes/etc...So while the Red Cross provides aid to anyone in need, the neediest people (this was certainly how it seemed after Sandy) were more likely to be working people rather than the wealthy.)
posted by Frowner at 10:42 AM on October 29, 2014


Gail J.McGovern (born 1952) is an American business person

Command-W.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:43 AM on October 29, 2014


My point being that in order to understand these entities, we need to understand them as part of capitalism in its standard disaster-mode rather than outside it due to their nonprofit status.

I am not going to hold it against the CEO for making 600k/yr. That puts her in the same category as a particularly ambitious but not top-of-the-field surgical specialist or one of the managers a couple levels up from me.

But one of the things facing the Red Cross and other large organizations is that they have to solve very large organizational issues. The reason middle management exists is simply because it is difficult to scale large organizations. And sometimes, size is necessary.

The problem is that the people who "know" how to handle these problems are MBA-trained people whose experience is in the corporate world about improving productivity, workflows, outsourcing support roles, spinning off assets, etc. The reward and incentive structure is focused on doing things that satisfy shareholders. A lot of this doesn't apply to an ostensibly charitable organization that is supposed to help people.
posted by deanc at 10:43 AM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Frowner, I do totally agree with you, but my personal experience with mission based NPOs has been that the "rank and file" often don't rise in the ranks not because the NPO felt compelled to bring in "someone from the outside" but because the lower level employees are almost always specialized professionals who do certain things (in my personal experience things like "teach kids with autism" or "write grants" or "connect with homeless populations) extremely well but who don't have the background or experience needed to effectively manage an org with a lot of moving parts.

What I've seen is that there is very little effort to train or move people up internally - sometimes that is because they have a specialized skill that doesn't transfer at all, but often it seems to me because the assumption is that someone can't go from working on the ground to managing to directing to Big Cheese...I also know several people in the private sector who really did do the whole "Joe Schmoe (not Joe Connections) goes from the mailroom to a senior administrative position" thing, but I don't know anyone in the nonprofit world who has done this. I tend to believe that it's a cultural problem rather than an ability problem, although I'm sure it varies by organization and sector.
posted by Frowner at 10:46 AM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


(And I add that we don't seem to be getting fabulous results with MBAs hired externally, because they bring MBA values with them...so I find myself wondering if there is a way to, perhaps, get people the kinds of training and experience they need in order to run an organization without insisting that they go through the MBA/corporate mill to get there.)
posted by Frowner at 10:49 AM on October 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


My thought on the Red Cross was much more that in a disaster situation, the well-off are much more likely to have evacuated, be able to evacuate, have alternate places to stay, have more ready cash for food/replacement clothes/etc...So while the Red Cross provides aid to anyone in need, the neediest people (this was certainly how it seemed after Sandy) were more likely to be working people rather than the wealthy.)

Disasters don't have to be mammoth like Hurricane Sandy. House fires are just as devastating as a hurricane for the individual household involved. And "well-off" is a relative term. I know plenty of upper-middle-class and lower-upper-class families who don't have a second home stocked with everything they need to continue their lives. The Red Cross provides regardless of the scale of the disaster or the income of those affected, and I think that's awesome.
posted by hippybear at 10:50 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


herrdoktor: I got set up in Garden City, at whatever the fancy hotel is in Garden City. I don't know. I've never been to Garden City. It's a nice hotel.

Appropriately enough, it's called the Garden City Hotel. At four bills a night, it sure beats motel six.
posted by dr_dank at 10:51 AM on October 29, 2014


What I've seen is that there is very little effort to train or move people up internally - sometimes that is because they have a specialized skill that doesn't transfer at all, but often it seems to me because the assumption is that someone can't go from working on the ground to managing to directing to Big Cheese

This is another innovation of the post-1980 world. Part of it is that even in the white collar world we have divided people into he class of "staff" and the class of "leaders", and the managers are only hired from the latter class of people. The only way to cross over is to leave and somehow reinvent yourself to another employer. And no one wants to promote from within because that means having to pay that staffer more money and to fill the space the staffer vacated when there is likely another executive on the job market that can be brought it without having to bother with the promotion process. And the system reinforces itself because the executives they bring in from the outside have the same mentality.
posted by deanc at 11:02 AM on October 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


However, in this case, you've got a major national organization with a multi-billion dollar budget and 30,000 employees. You're never going to get leaders who can manage that scope on a professor's salary.

Well, not never. People running organizations that large and complex for the government or military don't make close to that. IE, the generals running divisions look to get about $200K salary+BAH, or ironically the kind of pay an in-demand full professor *might* make.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:04 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


poffin boffin: Working in philanthropy has been one of the most unpleasantly eye-opening experiences of my entire life. There are very few organizations I have reasonable confidence in; most of those are small local organizations with annual budgets around 100-150k. Out of all the huge international organizations we've worked with, there is only one I would personally support. Maybe 2.

Is Médecins Sans Frontières one of the good ones? I've always supported them, but I have no idea what's really going on behind the scenes.
posted by sobarel at 11:08 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


ROU_Xenophobic: Those generals' salaries are probably pretty close to the natural top-end of a salary scale that actually approaches a rational distribution of income. They aren't far off from where CEO and other top earner salaries end up in other Western countries with less gross inequality of opportunity. What we get in the corporate world is not a natural state of affairs, IMO, but one that's been engineered (not necessarily with any deliberate conscious intent, just as a cumulative effect of bad, shortsighted policy and bad culture up and down the line.)
posted by saulgoodman at 11:13 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


And I add that we don't seem to be getting fabulous results with MBAs hired externally, because they bring MBA values with them...so I find myself wondering if there is a way to, perhaps, get people the kinds of training and experience they need in order to run an organization without insisting that they go through the MBA/corporate mill to get there.

I once worked for a company based in Sweden, and all management hires were required to work an entire year in a number of front-line, bottom-level employee positions for the division they were being recruited for. The company is an international monster, so it seems to work pretty well.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:16 AM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


If the executive leadership of these NPOs were drawn from the staff, the organizations could probably get away with lower managerial salaries, but the costs of training and education for the staff would be higher. Avoiding internal training and education falls within the goal of "minimizing staff costs" while paying lots of money on executives is just considered "the cost of doing business."
posted by deanc at 11:19 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Is Médecins Sans Frontières one of the good ones?

We haven't ever worked with them for reasons which are both too stupid and too easily-identifiable for me to discuss here, but I think they do good work and have thus far not heard any criticism of them which I would consider legitimate.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:25 AM on October 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


deanc: This is another innovation of the post-1980 world.

Is this true? It conforms to my priors, but as a Gen X-er, I have no work experience other than in the "post-1980 world", so I wonder if this dynamic didn't exist prior to then. And if it is something (relatively) new, how did it come about?
posted by tonycpsu at 11:28 AM on October 29, 2014


there's a nasty streak of classism and reverse racism so far in this thread
posted by the sobsister at 9:48 AM on October 29


Whenever a disaster hits, it's always rich white executives who are hit the hardest, by being mildly criticized months or years later for contributing to the death toll though gross mismanagement while being chauffeured to various photo-ops in a helicopter paid for by taxpayers.

My condolences to you during this trying time.
posted by Awful Peice of Crap at 11:36 AM on October 29, 2014 [25 favorites]


After 9/11, there was a huge fund-raising drive to help victims of the attack and their families, and money poured into the Red Cross like a torrent. So much money, in fact, that the Red Cross announced they were going to redirect some of it into their general fund, even though the donors specifically intended the money for survivors etc.

I remember reading in The New Yorker in one of the post-9/11 issues - this would have been in The Talk of the Town section - that the American Red Cross had people just walking around Manhattan asking random people in the street if they wanted a check from their funds - there was no questions about whether they needed it or not or what their background was. So the piece was about how well-off professionals - bankers, lawyers etc. - were surprised to be asked if they wanted a Red Cross handout.
posted by Bwithh at 11:36 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's always interesting to me that "we need to pay enough to attract competent people" only applies to upper middle class jobs - no one says "we need to pay enough to attract competent admins or grantwriters or regional directors", those people are always getting screwed.


I don't know, I see pushback against the idea of altruistic nonprofit workers on Metafilter pretty frequently when it comes to judging the admin costs of charities. I also have never worked for or volunteered for a nonprofit that wasn't acutely aware of high staff turnover or the downsides to their staff composition because of salary issues. The last nonprofit I worked for did have pretty solid wages for the area, COL raises, and very good health care/benefits, and I don't think it's alone in that. (Not that I think all nonprofits try to balance out wage issues with development opportunities and benefits either.) I agree that it is still a major issue and one that many donors have a kneejerk reaction to, but I don't think it's the Issue That Is Never Raised. $600,000 does not seem to me out of line for a CEO managing the Red Cross based in an expensive region (or an upper tier college, or any of the other positions where this argument gets raised.)

In trying to find the demographics of the average non-profit, I did find this interesting round-up from 2013 on employment trends in the non-profit world, which notes that inclusiveness and diversity are an issue for many non-profits and one which many non-profits are trying to work on. I also came across this interesting piece on large nonprofits (25 million in assets) and the gender breakdown of their CEOs, which touches on some of the issues of frustration in the ranks at not having issues and the possible impact of boards on CEO hires.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:50 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


ROU_Xenophobic: Those generals' salaries are probably pretty close to the natural top-end of a salary scale that actually approaches a rational distribution of income. They aren't far off from where CEO and other top earner salaries end up in other Western countries with less gross inequality of opportunity. What we get in the corporate world is not a natural state of affairs, IMO, but one that's been engineered (not necessarily with any deliberate conscious intent, just as a cumulative effect of bad, shortsighted policy and bad culture up and down the line.)

$600K isn't really too far out of line from that though. The EPI says average CEO pay for the "top ~350 firms" in the US was $15.2 million (including capital gains) - a good 25 times what Ms. McGovern makes. I would be *very happy* to see that average approaching her salary.
posted by atoxyl at 11:52 AM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


She likely works very long hours and travels a great deal, which means that she'll need to be able to afford to hire help to do things like clean her house or take care of her kids (if she has any).

Again, this is the kind of thing we only say for upper middle class jobs. Sara Mae who works thirty hours at the Dunkin' Donuts and all the hours she can get in the next town over at Walmart? Well, no one is talking about how she needs to be paid well enough to hire a housekeeper and provide childcare. No one is talking about how she needs to be able to run a reliable car or maybe pay rent in an expensive place - because working class people do live in expensive places when that's where the jobs are.

What's more, no one in most nonprofits is saying "Well, Sara Mae the admin who is working twenty hours with us and thirty at the fabric store, we should pay her enough to get her apartment cleaned and hire a nanny, and she has to look a certain way to staff the front desk so we ought to pay her enough to shop at Banana Republic". If we're talking about paying the senior people enough to meet the needs of the job, why aren't we talking about paying staff enough to meet the needs of the job? It's a hell of a lot easier to get your house cleaned when you make $200,000 (instead of $600,000) than when you're scrambling to make $30,000.

Again, I'm not saying that people at nonprofits should have low salaries as a matter of principle - but if an organization is screwing its staff and talking about how it's so expensive to be a rich person so we need to pay them more - which most of the big ones do - well, that just seems like one more "poor people should put up with shit wages because they have no choice, but we need to cosset the rich because their discomfort is important".
posted by Frowner at 11:55 AM on October 29, 2014 [41 favorites]



Is this true? It conforms to my priors, but as a Gen X-er, I have no work experience other than in the "post-1980 world", so I wonder if this dynamic didn't exist prior to then. And if it is something (relatively) new, how did it come about?


As a Gen-X'er myself, I don't have any direct experience, but what I have heard is that the recessions of the 70s and 80s created a big shift I the mindset behind promotion, hiring, and recruiting. Whereas before corporations expected employees to be around for the long term and that new employees were generally new to the job market and needed to be trained in order to make them valuable over the long term, by the 80s, companies realized that if they needed new employees, there was a large pool of experienced job candidates who had been laid off from their previous jobs-- so suddenly there was no need to spend money on training or invest in personnel to promote from within.

When your NPO is bringing in executive management from the corporate world, they are bringing this perspective with them.
posted by deanc at 12:02 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


If we're talking about paying the senior people enough to meet the needs of the job, why aren't we talking about paying staff enough to meet the needs of the job? It's a hell of a lot easier to get your house cleaned when you make $200,000 (instead of $600,000) than when you're scrambling to make $30,000.

Well, we're not really talking about that in this thread because this thread was about fucked up leadership, and failures of leadership, not about failures of the footsoldiers of the nonprofit sector.

There's quite a bit of discussion in both Metafilter and The World At Large about raising compensation levels. For example here's a recent nytimes article about how fast food workers in Denmark have a living wage and how it could be a model for raising wages in the US. Briefly searching "living wage" and "minimum wage" here on Metafilter turns up threads on things like Live the Wage, giving workers a living wage, the minimum wage worker strikes back.

If you think that people aren't talking about the problem of low wages, then you're not paying attention. the paper of record is talking about it, the president is talking about it, the internet is talking about it, et cetera. Seems like every few weeks there's another moving expose on how impossible it is to live on minimum wage, that really "puts a face" on the discourse.

It's really important to talk about, and fortunately, a lot of people are talking about it.

It just happens to not be particularly relevant to this thread.
posted by entropone at 12:12 PM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Now, I just said that I'm not really outraged about the highest-paid employee of an organization getting $600,000. This isn't because I think anybody needs or deserves a $600k salary, but I know if I was getting $150k with experience that could get me millions (especially if I did work my way up) I'd absolutely look for a new job. And in an organization of 30,000, that's $20 out of everyone's pocket. Neither the real impact nor the symbolic impact of handing out that money make much of an impression on me, though obviously I am desensitized by just how bad things are on average. On the other hand, I'm pretty skeptical that big-time executives actually have such an irreplaceable skill set or that the average CEO makes or breaks their company - there are exceptions, micromanaging founders with a vision, but I'm talking about the "used to be the head of GM, now the head of GE" sort of guys who make up the pool of "proven leaders" for whatever reason. And I'm not sure that, barring said exceptional cases, it's a even a good idea to have one big boss at the top. And it seems like a company without shareholders would be a good place to experiment with things like decentralized leadership structures.
posted by atoxyl at 12:20 PM on October 29, 2014


So yeah, I've already said my piece about this multiple times in past Sandy threads as events were unfolding (only to be castigated by some commenters here telling me I was dead wrong and "the adults know what they're doing") but as part of Occupy Sandy relief in the hardest hit areas, The Red Cross was nowhere to be seen. We were surrounded by matters of life and death, we had hundreds of incapacitated elderly, housebound, people and families with disabled children stuck in project towers that rose up to 26th floors with no water, no food, no functioning toilets, no way to safely get downstairs (the stairwells were pitch black and slick with urine, feces, vomit, and spilled water. It was difficult enough for our able-bodied teams of three, equipped with glowsticks to light our way, to navigate the floors without falling. Those flashlights and batteries from a group like the Red Cross sure would have come in handy). Our groups spent days trying to map all of the people trapped, interview them to find out what their needs were and get them medical attention as needed, bring them food and water, and try to provide them with information from the outside world. Not one of the people I found, even three days later, had had any contact with anyone from The Red CRoss or Fema or any government agency. I didn't start seeing Red Cross volunteers wandering the streets until at least a week after the storm hit, and saw none of them venturing into the poorest areas that needed the most help- probably because they'd been advised it was "too dangerous". Occupy Sandy groups that were doing all of the canvassing had created maps of needs and pockets of areas still in the greatest distress but The Red Cross organization appeared to be entirely uninterested in that shared information or in even doing actual boots on the ground disaster relief . They did keep dumping off supplies of their emergency meals at our distribution points, which was ok except that the packages and meals were nearly impossible for some of the neediest people to properly open and prepare on their own. I also could go on and on, but I talked myself blue about this when it was happening and I'll stop now because the longer I type the angrier I get.
posted by stagewhisper at 12:22 PM on October 29, 2014 [25 favorites]


Hm, they also reimbursed their VP of Development Operations about 300k for moving expenses and closing costs wrt relocation to DC, which is listed as "standard red cross policy for executives to relocate". Mostly I just want to know how it costs someone even half that much money to move to DC.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:32 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


If you think that people aren't talking about the problem of low wages, then you're not paying attention. the paper of record is talking about it, the president is talking about it, the internet is talking about it, et cetera. Seems like every few weeks there's another moving expose on how impossible it is to live on minimum wage, that really "puts a face" on the discourse.

Okay, after this I'll knock it off. My point was specific to nonprofits - that upthread the rationale for highly compensated external corporate hires was "these people have so many expenses associated with the job, we have to pay them [X very large amount]". This is not the logic that is applied to regular non-profit staff, whose expenses not generally of interest when the budget is being drawn up. Thus, the interests of wealthy people-as-employees trump those of working people in nonprofits. (Raising the minimum wage isn't really germane since, to be fair to nonprofits, they tend to pay people above minimum.)

To continue: once this logic is accepted - that we need wealthy MBAs who must be paid competitively with corporate CEOs because no one else can be trained to do the job or will accept anything less than CEO wages to do the job - then we end up with people in charge of vast amounts of money and personnel whose education and values are corporate, wealthy and very often extremely white. And thus we get all kinds of nonsense, as anyone who has dealt with a reasonable sample size of nonprofits can tell you.

It would matter less if nonprofits weren't held up as better, more moral, more compassionate, etc than the state and industry - but they escape a lot of scrutiny because people believe good of them, and it is assumed that there is no other, better way to deliver what they deliver. I don't expect Creepy Corporate Entity to treat its workers well unless compelled by both law and the force implicit in the law; at this point I don't really expect large nonprofits to do any better, but I used to - like a lot of other people - be strongly affected by moral suasion on the subject.

It is especially frustrating when conversations about nonprofit compensation skew - just like the pay rates - to the tiny minority of wealthy nonprofit staff, so that if you say that paying a nonprofit director like she's the CEO of a corporation is bad, you're assumed to be saying that people who work for nonprofits should uniformly work for woodshavings and cast-off peanuts.

TL;DR: I think that the problems of large nonprofits are absolutely the problems of compensation, because compensation is a very good proxy for organizational values.


(I have lots of friends, as I said above, who work for a pretty wide range of non-profits. There are definitely some very good nonprofit organizations in town who really do try to pay and treat people fairly, even when they have very little money to go around. But I've seen good people - mid-career people with skills, too, not someone just out of college who is killing a year before going to grad school - get kicked around and treated in terrible, irresponsible, hardship-inducing ways. When I have been privy to the fine detail, it has almost always been because the people at the top making the decisions are very, very wealthy and have no notion of how work is experienced by people who have to live on low salaries, thus they are incredibly cavalier about budgets, contract end-dates, HR stuff generally and so on.)
posted by Frowner at 12:43 PM on October 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


I agree that a lot of times staff of nonprofits are underpaid out of this idea that there's something altruistic about the decision to work for a nonprofit [I think I've been all of the people you describe in your last paragraph, except for those 'at the top'].

I also think it's a pretty definitive derail of the thread, which isn't about nonprofit compensation, it's about the failure of leadership at one nonprofit.
posted by entropone at 12:51 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's weird the salary question is occupying so much space here, because there's so much more damning stuff about McGovern's incompetence. Seriously, I hope folks arguing the salary question are reading the link for things like this:

In early November, the Red Cross had a limited number of emergency response vehicles, or ERVs, active in the New York City area. But multiple officials complained that the vehicles, a crucial part of the relief efforts, were being tied up at press conferences. On Nov. 2, 2012, at the peak of the post-storm crisis, 15 were assigned to public relations duties, Rieckenberg says. Meanwhile, Sandy victims in neighborhoods along the beaches like the Rockaways couldn’t get food and drinkable water. Rieckenberg documented his concerns in an email on Nov. 18, 2012, to Riggen, the Red Cross executive in charge of disaster operations, and later mentioned it in a December email to other top Red Cross disaster volunteers.

Another Red Cross disaster response chief, Steve Ade, complained to a vice president, according to Rieckenberg and two other Red Cross officials. “I can’t afford to have my ERVs sitting around all morning,” Ade said.

“Stop right there,” a Red Cross executive from headquarters responded. “These are not your ERVs. They belong to Gail and she’s going to do whatever she wants with them,” referring to McGovern, the Red Cross chief executive.

posted by mediareport at 1:04 PM on October 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


You're never going to get leaders who can manage that scope on a professor's salary.

Phooey. Many professors can certainly do that kind of thing. Most of the stuff that these CEO-class "leaders" do day-to-day is, simply, no great shakes. Way too much veneration is done towards big name businesspeople.
posted by JHarris at 1:12 PM on October 29, 2014 [15 favorites]


Oh this one's great, too:

Bringing volunteers from places like Kansas and North Carolina to New York City, in some cases for the first time, led to problems. Muriente and others recall that Red Cross workers got lost driving around New York without GPS devices, trying to find devastated neighborhoods. In one previously unreported incident that became instantly notorious among Sandy responders, the Red Cross brought a truck full of pork lunches to a Jewish retirement high-rise.
posted by mediareport at 1:15 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Didn't Elizabeth Dole run the Red Cross for a while? I seem to recall that during her tenure, they were really shifty about what happened to a lot of the donations and so I've always given to MSF or MercyCorps when crises arise.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:24 PM on October 29, 2014


Yeah, there's been tons of reporting about Dole's competence and controversial decisions at the Red Cross, going back to the late 90s when she started positioning herself as a Presidential contender, and again when she was in the Senate. This 1999 Washington Post article, "Dole: Managing an Agency and an Image," covers the issues pretty well:

At times, Dole seemed more interested in her own image than that of the Red Cross, some observers inside and outside the charity say. Even in managing the crisis involving the safety of the Red Cross blood supply – which Dole cites as her greatest achievement – she first launched what federal regulators later viewed as a public relations effort and her reform proceeded at a slow and costly pace until a federal agency finally sued the Red Cross to force serious top-to-bottom change.

In a schedule laced with paid speeches to civic and political groups, Dole spent so much time on the road that she left herself open to criticism that no one was overseeing the organization's routine operations. A 1996 independent study of the Red Cross by KPMG Peat Marwick criticized Dole's management style and reliance on a "shadow staff" of consultants. Critics complained that she added her political allies to the payroll (including Mari Masing Will, the communications director for Robert J. Dole's 1996 presidential bid, who served as a consultant on the blood program). Dole also installed important GOP donors (such as Inez Andreas, the wife of agribusiness giant Dwayne Andreas, a longtime Dole supporter) on the Red Cross board of directors...

Another possible public relations disaster loomed last December, when Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III charged that the Red Cross had collected but not spent $4.3 million in disaster funds earmarked for the victims of 1997 floods in Minnesota and North Dakota. The Humphrey report criticized the Red Cross for refusing to answer queries from a state attorney general and hiding behind its special 1905 congressional charter.


More from The Nation in 2005: The Red Cross: A Question of Competence

Management problems and an emphasis on PR over actually serving people have been part of Red Cross culture for decades, if the accusations in those articles (and lots of others) are reliable. It's been an organization with huge issues for a long time.
posted by mediareport at 2:03 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


poffin boffin: In FY12 they paid out $1,772,593,711 in "salaries, employee benefits, and other compensation" to 28,973 employees.
That is a meaningless data dump. You didn't even bother to work out the average for non-mathy readers, much less find the median.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:06 PM on October 29, 2014


Frowner: What I've seen is that there is very little effort to train or move people up internally - sometimes that is because they have a specialized skill that doesn't transfer at all, but often it seems to me because the assumption is that someone can't go from working on the ground to managing to directing to Big Cheese.
If a teacher can become an effective principal - and AFAIK most principals started as teachers - an aid worker can become a top-notch charity CEO. So what's the difference? Well, for one: school principals don't generally go to gala charity functions. So if Mrs. Miles Blueblood (WHOOHOO REVERSE RACISM RIGHT HERE, BABY!), wife of the late Sen. Blueblood, wants to be known as a Force For Civic Improvement, does she (A) roll up her sleeves and apply for Superintendent of Schools in a mostly un-airconditioned school system rife with metal detectors, drug locker sweeps, teen pregnancy issues, and a falling budget, or (2) volunteer to head a high-profile charity for the low, low price of just a few $100k a year? (Complete with making heroic press statements at disasters and, of course, gala charity functions.)
Awful Peice of Crap: Whenever a disaster hits, it's always rich white executives who are hit the hardest, by being mildly criticized months or years later for contributing to the death toll though gross mismanagement while being chauffeured to various photo-ops in a helicopter paid for by taxpayers.
Please, won't you think of the rich white people? Your donation of just a few hundred dollars a month can help pay for this SUV trim upgrade.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:16 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I stopped giving money to the ARC, after they hired Elizabeth Dole in the early 90s. She's an all-around horrible human being, with a long history of denying people's personal dignity and human rights. I couldn't imagine any good reasons why the ARC would hire such an individual to run an organization once dedicated to helping people, other than to help her put a star on her political resume. No, thanks.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 2:34 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


[Comment removed. If you want to talk about the subject of the thread, that's fine; if you want to talk about Metafilter, probably the best thing to do is go to Metatalk and start a thread about it there. In any case, sarcastically complaining about sarcasm is not going to improve a thread.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:44 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've volunteered for smaller non-profits in post-Katrina and post-Sandy disaster areas; where the groups that I joined were more focused on direct action and servicing local communities and would try as well as they can to work in sync with larger orgs like Salvation Army, ARC, etc. I've also pitched in to Occupy Sandy from time to time. I don't have a particular horse to back or bias to push in this thread. I just want to help us figure out how to be prepared for the kinds of disasters that our world will visit upon us, and also help others.

From what I've seen, the smaller, more focused, local organizations are fantastic at their mission of showing up to help when they need help; but they will always be challenged with getting enough information to know who needs help and they will always be challenged with figuring out how to scale properly. Groups that parachute in like the LDS or Salvation Army don't know the communities and usually have to reach out to local community groups. Often, for example, these are churches, which are great for people who go to church, but shitty for people who don't go to church. When working in Mississippi post Katrina, our groups would just do daily walks through certain neighborhoods to talk to people and ask how they were doing. 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there. It was great. But, you know what? That means that one aid worker spent their entire afternoon talking to maybe 20 people. How do you scale that up to a disaster where tens of thousands are affected?

And, yeah, sure, one can give their money to Medecins Sans Frontiers so that they can ensure that their cash is being used effectively for medical care; but MSF doesn't help people who need food and shelter. The presence of MSF in a disaster zone is absolutely critical to saving lives, but their ability to help people beyond medical emergencies is extremely limited.

I always looked at national orgs like the ARC, Salvation Army and Feeding America as this sort of symbiotic partner that could pair up with smaller local teams and networks. The locals have the intelligence and connections to understand the context for who needs help. The nationals have the logistics and warehousing scale to hold all of the needed supplies or maintain specialized equipment that no city or town government could ever justify budget for. I'd see community centers in Staten Island or Long Island where the Red Cross deployed hot shower trucks to serve neighborhoods that didn't have working utilities yet. Those trucks were a godsend for people who just needed a bath to restore their dignity I would've loved if that was more of a reality, but it's seemed to have never gained that ideal. Often the nationals have their own agenda and don't bother to listen to the locals, or collaboration is very loosely coupled and spotty.

I continue to take the stance that leaders for national organizations like the Red Cross should be paid the same wage that a CEO or other executive should be paid. It doesn't matter if you're in charge of 20,000 employees at 400 stores in a nationwide retail chain or 20,000 staff at 400 offices in a nationwide social services operation. The logistics are complicated and somebody who knows how to build an efficient organization that can oversee those operations with a minimum of overhead or dysfunction is worth the money.

All the same, I don't think that the Red Cross is particularly well run, nor has it been effective at disasters like Sandy. I used to pipe in to threads encouraging people to stop donating to the ARC because I've seen the good that they've done on local events -- friends being burned out of apartments, small regional flooding response, etc. But I do absolutely think that they've been a consistent failure on large scale disaster response and they've had a free pass for too long of a time, so I've stopped trying to defend them.

Still, I don't know what the appropriate next phase in evolution should be. Part of me suspects that local ARC volunteers should just break away to form their own regional non-profits that work with their community CERT teams, but that's going to make things very patchwork and restrict the economies of scale that is still a strength of the Red Cross. Part of me suspects that firing and replacing the CEO will just be cutting the head on a hydra and if the problem is indeed systemic, then something within the system has to change.
posted by bl1nk at 3:21 PM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


I have had two interactions with the ARC.

The first one was second hand. My great aunt spent most of WWII coordinating relief efforts in the Pacific, and later in Europe and would spit obscenities about on just how shitty the Red Cross was. Hearing your 70 year old great aunty with an advanced degree call people "A pack of idiotic fucking assholes" was eye-opening.

Second one was working with someone on a media piece recently and she told me that the entire corporate environment was poisonous. You're either in for life, or you find something else really quickly.
posted by Sphinx at 4:15 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Second one was working with someone on a media piece recently and she told me that the entire corporate environment was poisonous. You're either in for life, or you find something else really quickly.

I have a friend that works in a law firm that represents the the ARC in some of their employee harassment and wrongful firing lawsuits in DC. They stay very busy.
posted by peeedro at 4:21 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


My thought on the Red Cross was much more that in a disaster situation, the well-off are much more likely to have evacuated, be able to evacuate, have alternate places to stay, have more ready cash for food/replacement clothes/etc...So while the Red Cross provides aid to anyone in need, the neediest people (this was certainly how it seemed after Sandy) were more likely to be working people rather than the wealthy.)

I worked with the ARC years ago, on a similarly large-scale disaster. After the first couple of days (when indeed the shelters were full of everyone, from lawyers to unemployed), anyone who was working class or above got a hotel room, moved in with family, or got their insurance claim approved. What was left were the long-term poor, and the Red Cross had pretty much only short term tools (food trucks, small debit cards, a few hotel vouchers) that were wildly inadequate for the need.

On top of that were the same organizational dysfunctions and wastefulness described in the FPP. The volunteers were mostly great (though also mostly low-skilled despite the mandatory trainings), but they were badly let down by the upper level staff who just weren't technically competent (or weren't given the tools and support to do their jobs by the top administration; it wasn't clear which was which from the ground).
posted by Dip Flash at 6:42 PM on October 29, 2014


> Take a look at that Red Cross CEO - she looks just like every gently raised "helpful" rich white lady of a certain age in build, features, hair and clothing.

O_o
You have plenty of well-founded criticisms of the Red Cross / CEO already so I'm surprised you threw that in there.
posted by Monochrome at 7:33 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


classism and reverse racism so far in this thread

I am absolutely biased against rich privileged parasites who don't understand that their incompetence is costing working people their lives. I make no apologies and reject that this is "classism" or "reverse racism."


No, that isn't reverse racism — I notice you left out "white." The comment by someone else, mocking the head of the Red Cross for being so white, was racist. You can say all you want about how this is somehow not offensive, but the fact is: when I see that someone's comment includes making fun of someone for their race, I discredit that person and move on to reading something else that's less racist. It's a counterproductive way to try to make one's point.
posted by John Cohen at 7:55 PM on October 29, 2014


The comment by someone else, mocking the head of the Red Cross for being so white, was racist

Maybe leaders within the white community should take a hard look at themselves and ask why it is that so many unskilled members of their community take it upon themselves to do "charity" work that ends up being counterproductive and work that they don't have the skills and background to engage in. If white leaders stopped blaming all their problems on supposed voter fraud from blacks and started taking the bad actors in their own communities to task, maybe travesties like the mess caused by the Red Cross wouldn't occur.
posted by deanc at 8:58 PM on October 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


I'm not a person who thinks "reverse racism " is a thing, but I will say that comment as a whole - basically just judging how this woman looks - doesn't quite sit right when all the real things she screwed up stand on their own.
posted by atoxyl at 12:03 AM on October 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


Didn't the Red Cross have similar issues post-Katrina?
posted by SisterHavana at 12:22 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Since I work in charity admin/fundraising myself I'm kind of biased, and I know that TED talks are not always well-received around here, but nevertheless I still pretty much agree with Dan Pallotta when he says that the way we think about charity is dead wrong. It is not inherently wrong for charities to spend money on fundraising, admin, marketing/awareness-raising, market-rate salaries, etc. It's necessary for an organisation to operate effectively, whether its goal is making more money, or helping people.

Having said that, there are of course inefficiencies baked into standard business practise/capitalist paradigm too, especially in terms of overcompensating the top and favouring the dominant demographic groups, and those are worth criticising within the charity sector just as much as elsewhere. But still, I'd caution against the thinking that says charities that don't meet some postulated, usually misinformed vision of efficiency and altruism, are necessarily terrible/corrupt/a waste of money/etc. The capitalist paradigm is not so easily opted out of.

Having said that... American Red Cross (as opposed to the ICRC i.e. the 'actual' Red Cross) is kind of notorious within the sector for being badly run, inefficient to the point of borderline corruption, patchily effective, and in general for giving charities a bad name. So I'm not here to defend them in particular. :P
posted by Drexen at 6:23 AM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


And about Frowner's comment (hopefully not opening too bad of a can of worms) I think it's a valid issue to raise, certainly. In my own organisation and most others I've worked with, the typical picture is a lot of relatively comfortable white people running things, especially at the top levels (disclaimer, I am white and kind of low-mid level in my org). Whereas we know that people from demographics closer to our service-users would often be great in these roles for a whole mess of reasons which should be obvious enough.

It's something that we and I think most organisations are working to improve but it's absolutely a conversation that needs to be had, and the more fluffy and whitebread and priveleged the powerful people in these orgs are, the more it needs to be said. Tbh I think flinching at the "reverse racism" (which is a dubious concept at best given that white people are typically not racially vulnerable in our societies) is counterproductive and counterprogressive.
posted by Drexen at 6:30 AM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm not a person who thinks "reverse racism " is a thing, but I will say that comment as a whole - basically just judging how this woman looks - doesn't quite sit right when all the real things she screwed up stand on their own.

I'll just pop back in since I made that comment, which I admit wasn't the fairest comment in the world. What motivated it was seeing the picture of the CEO standing at the microphone alongside other people - I noticed how her clothes, the way of being thin that she had*, the way of wearing her hair and her general expression, and how they were profoundly class-marked.

Class and race get written on the body. It was a derailing comment to make, I know. In the moment, it made me angry that this woman's body - this leader's body - once again bore the marks of wealth and power while she stood there talking about dishing out care to people whose bodies - once again - are marked by care, stress and deprivation that she will never endure.

If you ever have the chance to sit in a class-mixed room where adults from a lifetime of privilege addresses an adult audience of lower middle and working class people, pay attention to the clothes, expressions, bodies and air of health. With young people, mere youth disguises stuff, but by the time everyone is middle-aged, you can see the aggregate body advantage of wealth. I am in these rooms on a semi-regular basis and it fills me with more rage than anything I encounter on a daily basis, how powerfully and horribly inequality is inscribed on people's very bodies, and the gall and hubris of people who stand in front of audiences not noticing this.

*There's a world of difference in how you look (on average) if you're a thin rich person who has lots of money for the "right" food, time for the gym and a lifetime of lots of medical care versus how you look (again, on average) when you're a thin working class person.
posted by Frowner at 6:42 AM on October 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


(And, I mean, that isn't fair - it's not like even the best human being in the world could, like, give back a lifetime of medical care, etc...I'm not saying it was a fair remark. I plead emotional upset based on being in too many rooms with wealthy white people who get to make decisions for poorer people and who - like this woman - fuck it up.)
posted by Frowner at 6:54 AM on October 30, 2014


The comment by someone else, mocking the head of the Red Cross for being so white, was racist.

Yes, yes it is. In the most benign form possible: the powerless using race to criticize the powerful. What were we talking about again?
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:04 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


What were we talking about again?

Well, supposedly we were talking about the Red Cross being terribly ineffective at providing disaster relief at large-scale disaster but....CEO salaries proved more interesting?
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:20 PM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


What's more, no one in most nonprofits is saying "Well, Sara Mae the admin who is working twenty hours with us and thirty at the fabric store, we should pay her enough to get her apartment cleaned and hire a nanny, and she has to look a certain way to staff the front desk so we ought to pay her enough to shop at Banana Republic".

As someone who has staffed, volunteered, and been on the board of various nonprofits, let me respectfully say that you don't know what you're talking about.

Sara Mae the admin may be a great person. No one is saying she doesn't deserve all the goodness of the world. But in the cold calculus - the cold calculus that must be done in order to assist the population you serve - Sara Mae the admin is ultimately, replaceable. There are zero fucks given by grantors or donors if Sara Mae leaves, is fired, or spontaneously combusts at her desk. No one is going to pull out of co-hosting an event because Sara Mae flames out. Sara Mae's salary may matter a great deal in the "Human! Justice!" side, but actually matters very little to the purpose of the organization.

Funding and organizing in the nonprofit world largely takes place on the basis of relationships. Who has personal relationships with who? Who can make the phone calls and get results? Who is Big Donor Joe going to respond to? And the Executive Director is the face of the organization. She needs to be impeccably dressed, so that people even at the highest levels need to feel comfortable meeting with her. They need to feel she's "one of us us" so they feel comfortable donating truly enormous sums of money to the organization. Someone's 600K salary is a pittance, pragmatically speaking, if it brings in a single $10 million donation. When I was on the BoD, if I knew that paying 600K to the janitor would have brought me in $10 million, I would have done so. Because that $10 million dollars goes to the purposes of the organization, which if they matter, matter enough to give everything for.
posted by corb at 10:17 AM on November 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


(I feel like I've said my piece here, but I think there's pretty good historical traction for the whole "I don't want to be part of an organization which treats people unequally in the name of the greater good" line of reasoning. I've been part of and observed from the outside plenty of nonprofits that do exactly this, and not only do I find it deeply morally unappealing (especially since nonprofits are all about beating the morality drum) , but I think it tends to lead the organizations themselves astray from what they actually claim their missions to be.)
posted by Frowner at 12:58 PM on November 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


In some cases, absolutely - pro-union nonprofits that won't unionize their people, etc. But the Red Cross is not an organization whose mission is about inequality - it's purely about disaster relief. Inequality may be morally repelling to you - and that's fine! But that shouldn't be the standard to measure whether or not it has failed as a disaster relief charity.
posted by corb at 2:11 PM on November 6, 2014


Inequality may be morally repelling to you...

Ah, yes, the straw man is lit.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:26 AM on November 7, 2014


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