How the Red Cross Raised '$488 million' for Haiti ­and Built Six Homes
June 3, 2015 9:38 AM   Subscribe

How the Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars for Haiti ­and Built Six Homes. Even as the group has publicly celebrated its work, insider accounts detail a string of failures

Intriguingly, some of the comments are excellent.
posted by Blasdelb (53 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
This comment from last year's discussion of how badly the Red Cross botched the response to Sandy and Isaac has stuck with me ever since I read it. This is a seriously fucked up organization, and I'm glad someone is looking for the skeletons in the closet.
posted by Mayor West at 9:43 AM on June 3, 2015 [13 favorites]

Ever since I witnessed first-hand the complete lack of response in the areas worst affected by Hurricane Sandy (Red Hook, Coney Island and the Rockaways), coupled to a huge Sandy-labelled fundraising push and cosmetic "aid" appearances at the media-friendly (and wealthy) East Village, I've been telling everyone I know not to ever give money to them.

I suspect that at this point the organization has been completely captured by MBA types who use it as a vehicle to pay themselves very high salaries.
posted by overhauser at 9:48 AM on June 3, 2015 [13 favorites]

Really good reporting. Thanks for posting this.
posted by latkes at 9:49 AM on June 3, 2015

So the Red Cross was about as effective as the Church of Scientology in this instance. Good to know. (By the way, this may not be a surprise for anyone who read the last thread.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:55 AM on June 3, 2015

The irony is that the RC is one of the efficient ones, with less than 10% admin overhead. Imagine what a bad one must look like on the ground...
posted by jim in austin at 10:12 AM on June 3, 2015

But private charity will fulfill all of the necessary redistribution functions of government!
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:15 AM on June 3, 2015 [26 favorites]

And so it is!
posted by notyou at 10:19 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

The irony is that the RC is one of the efficient ones, with less than 10% admin overhead

The article presents evidence that this is far from true. My own years working in bookkeeping for nonprofits has taught me that even better nonprofits manipulate numbers to make their "overhead" appear to be programmatic work whenever there is the slightest ambiguity. I'm not sure that's all bad: it costs money to pay people and give them reasonable benefits and a livable wage should be part of the mission of a nonprofit. Red Cross however is one of the ultimate corporate nonprofits with it's higher up centralized corporate staff making absurd corporate salaries while Haitian citizens still wait for toilets.
posted by latkes at 10:19 AM on June 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

I was annoyed enough with the Red Cross after 9/11, when they promised not to send any mailings to donors and then promptly did, as well as selling my name and address to a junk mail list. I've had little reason since then for my opinion to improve.
posted by Foosnark at 10:24 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Poor ICRC and other Red Crosses around the world--the Americans are undermining their good work. Here in the US, people often conflate our Red Cross with the International. It's bad enough that they raise money for US disasters and are seen increasingly squander it, but doing so in other nations....
posted by Cassford at 10:31 AM on June 3, 2015 [11 favorites]

90% of my paper mail is now mailings from charities, and it's basically impossible to get off the lists. They have exemptions from junk mail and do-not-call legislation.
posted by scruss at 10:33 AM on June 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

From the article:
The USAID project’s collapse left the Red Cross grasping for ways to spend money earmarked for it.

“Any ideas on how to spend the rest of this?? (Besides the wonderful helicopter idea?),” [...]

It’s not clear what helicopter idea McGovern was referring to or if it was ever carried out.
I'm going to assume that the helicopter idea was a tongue-in-cheek proposal to take the cash up into a helicopter and just toss it out the window, a version of Milton Friedman's "helicopter drop".

While probably not a serious proposal, I can't help but wonder what would have happened if they just took that $500M and split it evenly among Haiti's 10M people (according to sources, this would be something like one or two months wages on average). Yes, yes inflation and all that (although the one-time nature of the cash might mitigate chain reactions but who knows) but I can't help but think that they couldn't have done much worse with a helicopter drop.
posted by mhum at 10:47 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

The article presents evidence that this is far from true. My own years working in bookkeeping for nonprofits has taught me that even better nonprofits manipulate numbers to make their "overhead" appear to be programmatic work whenever there is the slightest ambiguity.

I simply based my numbers on this analysis. I too was the financial administrator for a large religious non-profit and we averaged 99% overhead. Right, one cent out of every dollar ever made it to an external charity. It's called organized religion for a reason...
posted by jim in austin at 10:49 AM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

A few thoughts from somebody with a degree in non-profit management:

The Red Cross has long been recognized (for decades, actually) as an extraordinarily dysfunctional organization. Nothing about this is new or unusual. I wish it was, but that's not the case.

The reasons for this are many. As others have noted, the Red Cross is not exactly a "pure" non-profit. They are essentially a quasi-government agency and, consequently, have taken on some of the issues that you might expect from being a quasi-Federal agency: monstrous budgetary needs, massive (unlimited?) scope of operations, lack of qualified managers, lack (or total absence, in this case) of accountability/evaluation measures, etc.

I'll zero-in on a few pertinent issues:

1) Non-profits are supposed to be mission-driven organizations. That is, they don't exist to turn a profit, but to accomplish some sort of definable mission. In general, the more vague the mission ("save the Earth", for example) the more opportunities for chicanery exist. Non-profits with easily definable missions ("Distribute telescopes to young astronomy enthusiasts in developing countries") tend to be a little more transparent. It's easier to figure out if they're actually accomplishing their mission.

It's not 100% clear what the mission of the American Red Cross is. Their website has a page entitled "What We Do" -- but again, "What we do" is not the same thing as "What We Are Supposed To Do".

It's not immediately obvious, for example, what the American Red Cross was doing in Haiti. That seems, on the face of it, as a non-profit exceeding it's jurisdiction and capabilities. Lots of non-profits would probably be better poised to help in Haiti. So why does the ARC get involved?

The answer, ultimately, is money.

2) Once non-profits begin to lose sight of their mission, they tend to start focusing on fiscal security (i.e. profits). Many times in the industry (and yes, it is an "industry") you'll see non-profits accept grants that have virtually nothing to do with their mission. Cancer charities accepting grants to rehabilitate delinquent youths, delinquent youth programs accepting grants to help cancer patients with food security, food banks accepting grants to provide housing for the homeless, etc.

This seems crazy, and it is, but from the perspective of the non-profit managers, it all makes sense. The manager of the cancer charity accepts a grant to rehabilitate delinquent youths because "some cancer patients have troubled kids and somebody needs to take care of them, so naturally we can use this money and do good things with it". The manager of the delinquent youth program accepts a grant to help cancer patients with food security because "We can get some of our troubled kids to distribute food to needy cancer patients and that'll be good for both our kids and the patients!".

They're lying to themselves, of course. The real motivation here is money. They want money to expand their programs, their professional portfolios, their salaries, staffs, etc. They're willing to contort their thinking into logical pretzels to get more money. At this point, the mission of the organization becomes lost or sidelined. The organization grows, but without direction or purpose. It grows because money is available for growth.

3) This is where the American Red Cross comes in. It's an extremely well-funded, well-regarded and truly massive organization that has no easily-definable mission. It's basically the non-profit version of the Pentagon - gives us billions of dollars and we'll keep you safe. Don't ask too many questions.

It shares another quality with the Pentagon: it is politically untouchable. Criticism of the organization is seen by many as being borderline unpatriotic. Great efforts are expended to laud and valorize the people who dedicate their lives to this organization. Over and over again we are reminded of their great sacrifices and hardships. Efforts to reduce spending within this organization are met with dire warnings that losing a single penny could result in lives lost. Am I talking about the military or the Red Cross? You decide.

It's easy to criticize so I'll stop doing it now. I will offer the following suggestions, however: a better Red Cross would be a smaller Red Cross with a more easily definable mission. Spending and budgeting should be made public on a line-item basis, and this should likewise be done for every chapter in the country. The American Red Cross should fulfill only missions within it's geographic and cultural competence/jurisdiction, and should be held accountable for failures by an outside auditing agency.

Nonprofits can be good organizations. They can also be bad and dysfunctional too. Research before you give, and give to the ones that don't just exist to make money or "keep America safe".
posted by Avenger at 10:52 AM on June 3, 2015 [79 favorites]

I feel better now that I've switched my (admittedly meager) giving to Oxfam and Doctors without Borders.
posted by double block and bleed at 11:00 AM on June 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Welp. Other than mentioning the article doesn't render correctly in my Firefox install, all I have to say is that about 20 years ago when I was involved in an apartment fire, the Red Cross' extent of help was a baggie of travel toiletries and a booklet on cleaning fire damaged items. Never mind the fact I had nowhere to sleep that night.
posted by Samizdata at 11:04 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

SF writer Jerry Pournelle has described what he calls his Iron Law of Bureaucracy:
Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Second, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.
I think the Red Cross has passed the point at which a majority of employees are there in support of the mission, because it's apparent they aren't hiring the people they need to support it.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:11 AM on June 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

90% of my paper mail is now mailings from charities, and it's basically impossible to get off the lists. They have exemptions from junk mail and do-not-call legislation.

It bothers me to no end. I STILL get stuff from Save the Children after donating to them like 5 years ago as a gift to someone. I like them just fine but they don't make my finite list of charitable organizations I can give to, shrug.

But they've easily dwarfed the amount of my gift in this shit they mail me constantly. It's infuriating.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:16 AM on June 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

People talk about incompetence and corruption as if it's a thing that only happens in other countries. Corruption and graft and the lining of the pockets happens virtually everywhere, at every level.

If you wonder how we can put a man on the moon but can't fix a pothole, it's probably because there's someone -- or several someones -- at City Hall that are either phoning it in, or stealing outright. And the moon thing? Yeah, defense contractors lined their pockets there, too.

This was a great example in my city -- money for a program to help minority-owned small businesses get contracts from the school district ended up in some guy's pocket.

The Red Cross squanders a billion dollars. Why is anyone surprised? Is it the sheer size? Is it the heart-tugging Red Cross commercials with the artfully-lit footage of refugees? Why do you think the Red Cross is not run by human beings with the same vanities and venal greed as anybody else?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:02 PM on June 3, 2015

All of my own charitable giving goes to KMFA. A very simple mission: play classical music 24 hours a day for Austin, Texas and for anyone who listens over the web. As long as I can turn on the radio and hear the music (except perhaps during pledge drives) I don't worry about how the money is being spent (I am waiting for a wrecker as I write this to pick up a vehicle I am donating to the station)...
posted by jim in austin at 12:24 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I make contributions for disaster relief, I always give them to the Salvation Army. (Even though I'm an atheist.)

I lost all confidence in the American Red Cross in the months following 9/11 when vast sums of money poured in to help victims, and the ARC announced they were going to bank a lot of it for future disaster relief instead of giving it to the victims.

I don't believe in the Salvation Army's religion, but I know that they do believe in it, and they are working for rewards other than fat salaries.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:42 PM on June 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

I don' t think a big non-profits are a good donation opportunity compared to Givewell/Giving What We Can reccomended charities. but if you want to give to big disaster relief charities Medecine Sans Frontiers / Doctors Without Borders - seems to be the most transparent and dedicated one of the "biguns" as far as I can tell.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 12:57 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

The best thing the RC did with that money was give some of it to Partners In Health. Utterly different approach to aid.
posted by homerica at 1:13 PM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

The VICE report “Haitian Money Pit” really opened my eyes on this. It's shameful. There's a "debrief" on YouTube that gives a summary.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:13 PM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Although that report focuses on U.S.A.I.D. money, rather than the Red Cross.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:15 PM on June 3, 2015

People talk about blah, blah, blah...

Another fine contribution from the Indifferent Defenders of the Status Quo.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:25 PM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I give through Catholic Relief Services, which is widely regarded as one of the best at keeping their overhead down and passing the majority into their programs. I just give to their at-large fund, but you can also specify which projects you'd like to be funding.

Of course, I am relying on third parties to evaluate charities, just like everyone else, but I feel fairly confident I'm doing the best I can here.
posted by taterpie at 1:32 PM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I suspect that at this point the organization has been completely captured by MBA types who use it as a vehicle to pay themselves very high salaries.

Remind me again why this is supposed to be better than just giving money directly to people in need?
posted by marsha56 at 1:52 PM on June 3, 2015

> Here in the US, people often conflate our Red Cross with the International. It's bad enough that they raise money for US disasters and are seen increasingly squander it, but doing so in other nations....

"In America, Red Cross aids itself. In Soviet Russia, Red Cross aids you!"
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 1:59 PM on June 3, 2015

Wow, so you take $488 million, take out 9% overhead, grant it to someone else who takes out 26% overhead, they grant it to someone else at 24% overhead, and finally the Swiss and German volunteers do the work.

Teaching people construction techniques is great, but then counting that as constructing housing for them is shameless.

Thank you (I think?) for posting that utterly infuriating article.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:27 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

give a man a house, and he'll live in it forever, but teach a man how to build a house, and he'll, uh
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:32 PM on June 3, 2015

The Red Double Cross is heavily protected politically but their time is coming just as it did with FIFA.
posted by AGameOfMoans at 2:36 PM on June 3, 2015

But they've easily dwarfed the amount of my gift in this shit they mail me constantly. It's infuriating.

I have spent more than a decade working for nonprofits, specifically in fundraising. Please trust me that we'd (general we'd here) love to stop mailing you, but believe it or not, direct mail continues - for whatever reason - to be the best and most reliable way to get donors to give. I've spent the past year trying to convert some proportion of our current donor base at the org where I work now to web giving, but the wheel just won't turn. I can send out fifteen emails, and get the same response that I get with just one direct mail piece - even if the donors ultimately still give on line.

Because you are a recent prior donor (ie: within the last five years) you're still in the "likely givers" group, so you'll get mail. And, frankly, direct mail is surprisingly cheap these days. They'd be mailing to 250000 (or however many) names anyhow; its just that your name is being pulled in preference to someone who has an older/smaller/more dubious giving history than you do. Their goal is to basically harass or guilt you into giving at least three times - statistically, once you've made three gifts, you're about 80% likely to remain a steady annual donor for the next decade (and, ironically, then your mailings will decrease because you're a steady giver vs. a likely giver).

Honest question: have you written to them (not emailed, not called, but written directly) and requested to be flagged as "do not mail"? Because at any place I've ever worked, that should work.
posted by anastasiav at 2:37 PM on June 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

I'm not qualified to address the Red Cross's disaster relief activities, but I've donated gallons of blood to their blood drives. I know that they sell this blood to hospitals. Is that a big business? How does that work?
posted by Modest House at 2:57 PM on June 3, 2015

My rule of thumb is that if it is a registered charity it is going to siphon the money away from whatever it is supposedly fundraising for. The breast cancer organization that fund raises where I live relies entirely on unpaid volunteers who are ordered to volunteer by the corporations they work for with their work evaluations on the line. As far as I can determine all the money they raise goes to executive salaries and publicity. They are supposed to be supporting people who have breast cancer but but the only support they provide is to set up women with breast cancer with an unpaid volunteer who will do them up with face make up, using make up that the volunteer herself provides.

I only give money to people who are asking for it for themselves; the less deserving they look the better. If someone asks for a coffee - or appears to be panhandling outside of the coffee shop I will buy them coffee and food if they want it. If they admit to preferring cash I give them cash. I assume they will spend it on liquor and cigarettes which is fine with me. Those two substances are non-prescription mood-alterants and anti-depressants, although they have horrible side effects and don't work very well, but if that's what someone says they want I figure they know their situation better than I do.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:23 PM on June 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

So there are also local nonprofits that are very different from national and international ones. First off, if you're paying the salary of a local nonprofit worker, you are paying a local person, keeping them here in your local community. They will spend their money here, making the overall local economy stronger. Second, a local nonprofit answers to local needs, instead of how behemouth corporate outsider nonprofits project what they imagine to be needs onto local communities. There are plenty of disfunctional local nonprofts (I've worked for a lot of them), but there are many where you can see your donations make an immediate impact.

Recently, I gave to Cycles of Change for the first time. The other day, I saw one of them leading a group of high school kids on bikes, back into one of my local super underfunded schools, where gym classes probably don't exist because they have no gym. So I can see my donation making an immediate and measurable impact in my neighborhood, and that feels good and right.

Likewise, certain larger groups with clearly defined missions, such as the NLG (which notably operates as local chapters) is visibly supplying legal support at many of the demonstrations I go to. I see them doing their work in the community and it feels clear that their work supports local work, instead of taking the lead, but meanwhile is part of preserving a just legal system for our society as a whole.

I watched this TED Talk on effective altruism and I found it depressing. I had really liked Peter Singer in Examined Life, but in that talk his idea of an effective charity seems to simply boil down to how many children can the charity keep alive. I think that's a terrible way to decide who to give money to. I'd like to build a just society, where people have meaning and joy, and resources are distributed more evenly. I think if your idea of a good charity is simply a large scale organization designed to keep more people from being dead, you could expand your imagination a bit.
posted by latkes at 3:39 PM on June 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

  direct mail continues - for whatever reason - to be the best and most reliable way to get donors to give

[citation needed] — I hear this all the time from friends who work in non-profits, but they have no sources for the numbers. So, two independent sources please, and neither from orgs trying to sell direct-mail services.

To send them mail — to drop a buck on a stamp and an envelope, and likely $20 of my time to write the letter — is too much. I've sent them stuff back in the postage paid envelope, but that's the limit. I haven't yet sent them bricks or glitter, but am getting there. I'm so looking forward to household mail deliveries stopping in Canada, as it means I can dump this trash at source.

Do remember: charity means “love”. There is no guilt to love, but it is a gift given freely. If, however, you think it's okay to harass or guilt people, then I'm afraid you're merely in advertising, and I suggest you do something worthwhile with your life.
posted by scruss at 4:42 PM on June 3, 2015

[citation needed] — I hear this all the time from friends who work in non-profits, but they have no sources for the numbers. So, two independent sources please, and neither from orgs trying to sell direct-mail services.

You probably won't find any cites because it's so true as to be unremarkable and unresearched. I work in communications, and have worked in NGOs as well - you've got to understand that 1) the large majority of people are not "digital natives" and engage better through other mediums. We spend so much time in a web savvy and saturated world that it's easy to forget it's not universal, but it really isn't. The way you (probably) or I engage with websites and emails is not at all representative of the broader population, esp donor populations which tend to skew older.

and 2) click through rates are fucking abysmal. It is challenging to describe how low engagement via emails (and social media for that matter is). It's orders of magnitude lower than hard copy, sadly.

From a resource perspective, you can pull together a mail out that will get say 25k responses. To get that same number from email, you'd have to put together like 50 newsletters - and you'd piss a whole bunch of people off with so many contact points. It is much, much more work for an organisation to engage consistently well digitally - which is why a lot of the basically send out soft copy version of their hard copy newsletters instead of comms optimised for web/screen.

The other thing is, aside from donations, digital gives you a tonne more metrics, and most of them are not very positive. It's difficult to pitch to non-digital native execs and boards that a 50% open rate is good, an a 5% click rate is not to be sniffed at. They see those numbers and think they are terrible. You can't get any figures on mailouts beyond numbers sent and donations. Thus I believe there is a cultural/unconscious bias against relying heavily on these platforms (likewise, execs are wowed by the most irrelevant of numbers like twitter followers and garbage shit like that, sigh).
posted by smoke at 5:04 PM on June 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

Thank you so much for posting this. The law firm for which I work announced a few weeks ago that it would match any employee contributions to the American Red Cross for aid to Nepal, and also said that they would consider matching employee donations to other aid organizations if we preferred to give elsewhere. I was, like, awesome! and sent a copy of my receipt for contribution to Seva.

I have real confidence in Seva and, although their current mission has been the treatment of curable blindness, they've been on the ground in Nepal for decades, so I checked their website, and they were indeed focusing on earthquake relief for the foreseeable future, so they got my donation. And they are very transparent with how they use money.

A few days later, the firm contacted me to let me know that my donation had been approved for matching --- by a contribution to the red cross.

I sent a link to the story you posted to the woman who collected information on the "alternative" donees. While she doesn't make decisions, she does have the ear of those who do. She called me after receiving it and we talked for 35 minutes. I know that the powers that be will hear about this article.

Thanks again!
posted by janey47 at 5:07 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

[citation needed] — I hear this all the time from friends who work in non-profits, but they have no sources for the numbers.

My citation is my personal experience. This year, one of my major projects was to try and convert 5% of our roughly 2000 annual fund gifts from direct mail to web gifts. That's around 100 gifts. Even with a brand new, very savvy marketing person, a ton of support for our web efforts, and an email list that is really, really good (active opt in all collected or confirmed within the past 24 months) I got a better response with one mail piece than I had with (literally) 15 emails over the prior three months. And this was a population who had given a significant gift ($25 or more) every single year for at least the past five years.

Email is great for engagement. Its ok for one-time "urgent" things (like a kickstarter type campaign that is being pitched to you by a peer). It completely sucks for your everyday fundraising.
posted by anastasiav at 6:29 PM on June 3, 2015 [10 favorites]

I feel better now that I've switched my (admittedly meager) giving to Oxfam and Doctors without Borders.

Perhaps my sarcasm meter is too broken to tell, but from my personal experience with Oxfam they are just as bad.
posted by DreamerFi at 12:29 AM on June 4, 2015

There's a guy that comes around my house every now and then and asks for money. I know for a fact that every cent I give him ends up where it's supposed to.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:54 AM on June 4, 2015

Avenger, and any other non-profit staff who feel comfortable answering this, does the bad reputation of the American Red Cross extend to the international Red Crosses? I donate to the Aussie one but if they're anything like what's in the FPP I have other charities I'd prefer to send the money to.
posted by harriet vane at 5:42 AM on June 4, 2015

Just a reminder that you can donate blood directly to your hospital's blood donation center.
posted by bobobox at 1:10 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Harriet they are completely different, different programs and focus, too. Some people would undoubtedly botch about them, but I find some people complain about any charity. They are okay in my book, indeed a couple years ago I went for a job interview with them.
posted by smoke at 2:41 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

The mail vs. email donation discrepancy is probably generational. Are the majority of donors older? The elderly people I know are generally distrustful of online payments, and do weird stuff like reading and responding to bulk mailings instead of immediately tossing them unopened into the recycling bin.
posted by Vulgar Euphemism at 2:54 PM on June 4, 2015

The mail vs. email donation discrepancy is probably generational. Are the majority of donors older?

This is true of my org to a certain extent and I know it's even more true for other orgs I've worked for. I have a similar experience as anastasiav, though my organization has a large digital team so we're able to do better with online fundraising. But still, direct mail is the most cost-effective source of donations for us, when you take into account things like staff time and other costs. One thing you may not realize is that nonprofits get to send mail for practically nothing.

Also, people develop a certain comfort with giving in a certain way and are unlikely to veer from that. Way back in the day when I was in college, I used to fundraise door-to-door for an environmental nonprofit. We would get little cards telling us who had donated in the neighborhood and how (door, phone, mail - this was before online giving). In retrospect, it was stunning the number of people who would give the same amount, every year, to the kid who came to their door, and not through any other means. You'd see a card where someone had given every year for ten years except one, and you could pretty much figure that they just hadn't been home that year when the kid came by. At one point I switched organizations, and occasionally would canvass the same neighborhood I had for the other organization. It was pretty much all the same people who would give.

To send them mail — to drop a buck on a stamp and an envelope, and likely $20 of my time to write the letter — is too much.

You can also call them.

I haven't yet sent them bricks or glitter, but am getting there.

I know (hope?) you're joking, but don't do this. The people who will open these letters are junior admin staff who don't get paid enough to deal with this and don't make these decisions. Not to mention, they're probably junior admin staff who took this lower-paying job because they want to do something to make the world a better place. They don't need glitter bombs. Seriously, just call them and ask nicely to be taken off their list.
posted by lunasol at 8:26 PM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks smoke, that's good to know. I'm in a place in my life good enough to share the bounty, but not so good that I can afford to fling cash around to any old cause!
posted by harriet vane at 4:50 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Red Cross has now responded with the weight of the documentation they can produce,
Statement by the American Red Cross

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, almost five and a half years after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the American Red Cross has made a difference in the lives of millions of Haitians who desperately needed help and humanitarian assistance.

These funds have helped build and operate eight hospitals and clinics, stem a deadly cholera outbreak, provide clean water and sanitation, and move more than 100,000 people out of make-shift tents into safe and improved housing. When land was not available for new homes, the Red Cross provided a range of housing solutions including rental subsidies, repairs and retrofitting of existing structures, fulfilling our promise to ensure tens of thousands of Haitians are back in homes. We also built and repaired schools, roadways and water distribution points vital to neighborhoods.

Despite the most challenging conditions, including changes in government, lack of land for housing, and civil unrest, our hardworking staff—90 percent of whom are Haitians—continue to meet the long-term needs of the Haitian people. While the pace of progress is never as fast as we would like, Haiti is better off today than it was five years ago.

The Red Cross is disappointed, once again, by the lack of balance, context and accuracy in the most recent reporting by ProPublica/NPR, which follows the pattern of all their previous Red Cross stories. It is particularly disappointing to see our work misrepresented considering we answered more than 100 questions in writing and provided an interview with the head of our international programs.

To learn the facts about our recovery program in Haiti and to hear from those we have helped and continue to help, please visit We have also published 13 Facts about the Red Cross Response in Haiti which directly addresses the numerous inaccuracies in the ProPublica/NPR coverage.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:03 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ugh. They had me until the "NPR hates us!" crap.
posted by Etrigan at 7:17 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

They don't make a single, data based point. "We provided housing vouchers for x number of people for an average of x days" would provide some kind of actual, reviewable evidence that they housed people. "We employee x percent of Haitians in our Haiti-based management or leadership positions" would convince me of their commitment to employing Haitians.

Even on their "facts" link, everything stays super vague. What does it mean to say, "4.5 million people have been helped through our disease prevention programs." How would one even demonstrate that? Does that mean they placed an ad on Haitian TV explaining how to filter your water to avoid cholera?

Somehow, this "fact" is the most pathetic to me:

The Red Cross declined to show us projects in Haiti.
• The Red Cross often arranges interviews for U.S. based media when they are visiting Haiti.
• Other media outlets routinely provide us with several days of notice before visiting because they understand that our staff members have to stop their work to accommodate journalists.
• We denied the request of ProPublica and NPR after they showed up in Haiti without making arrangements ahead of time.

If you had projects that actually existed, you could easily show them without notice. Give the address to the wastewater treatment plant you supposedly helped build. Let the media interview the management there. What do you have to hide?
posted by latkes at 7:32 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

It gets better.

The Red Cross takes overhead, then grants money to partners who also take overhead.
• 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends goes to our humanitarian programs and services.
• We partner with organizations that also keep their expenses low.
• It is more cost effective to rely on the expertise of partners than if we tried to build and staff these programs from scratch.

So the fact is that you take 9% overhead, and then "partner with"/"grant money to" other partners who also take overhead. Sounds like the myth was spot on...
posted by RedOrGreen at 7:57 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

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