The Red Double Cross?
September 25, 2005 5:28 PM   Subscribe

Now that every MeFite and their dog have contributed to the Red Cross for Hurricane Relief, here's a semi-reluctant criticism of the Big Red from the head of (IMUDO*) another worthy organization.
*In My Usually Disregarded Opinion
Before anybody goes nuclear, Operation USA has absolutely NO connection to the infamous Operation Blessing.

posted by wendell (20 comments total)
For the record, I just contributed twenty dollars MORE to OpUSA than I had previously given the Red Crossers.

Beloved toonblogger Mark Evanier has a good basic banner for OpUSA that I've copied to my own space:

posted by wendell at 5:33 PM on September 25, 2005

damn. just thought of a more appropriate title for this post: The Red Green Show?
posted by wendell at 5:42 PM on September 25, 2005

My cousin, who lives in Gulfport Mississippi, says that FEMA and The Red Cross have done NOTHING, and the churches have really come through.
posted by Oyéah at 5:54 PM on September 25, 2005

FWIW, my mother was National Head of Labor Relations for the American Red Cross during WWII. She always said the leadership were con artists and made all us kids promise never to give them a dime.

ARC and United Way are PR firms and not much more.
posted by words1 at 6:10 PM on September 25, 2005

This sort of thing isn't nearly well-known enough. There are certianly good charities out there, but the 'big' ones are generally just con artist assholes who drive cars nicer than you, have a bigger house, and make more money than you'll ever see.

posted by zerolives at 6:19 PM on September 25, 2005

The CEO of Red Cross makes close to $500K a year, right? Bleaugh.
posted by tristeza at 6:34 PM on September 25, 2005

I've pretty much accepted that the Red Cross is a scam, which is a shame (and rather embarassing). Most folks I know donated to Modest Needs or Habitat for Humanity. They seem slightly more on the up and up. (though probably not going to have as much of an immediate impact as churches and local orgs in an emergency situation)

It's nice to know that the churches are doing good work. I'm not opposed to churches or organized religion helping out, but given all of the horrible "mission" work they do in other parts of the world, I'm not certain that a donation to a church or religious org would be any better than donating to the Red Cross in the long run. (I certainly wouldn't want my donation funding a trip to X country to convert X indigenous population to Christianity.)

Thanks for the heads up, wendell. I'm going to investigate Operation USA and consider them for my next donation.
posted by shoepal at 7:04 PM on September 25, 2005

I've kind of picked up by reading the internets that liberals tend to donate to the Red Cross while conservatives prefer the Salvation Army. This is based on some cursory scanning of Free Republic and a few other sites where the Red Cross was foo-foo'd while the Salvation Army was heaped loads of Freeper praise.
posted by wfrgms at 7:13 PM on September 25, 2005

a semi-reluctant criticism of the Big Red

Let's leave Cornell University out of this, okay?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:22 PM on September 25, 2005

I live in New Orleans and evacuated. I was finally able to get back home (I live in Algiers) and I have been trying for days to get through on the Red Cross' financial assistance line and it is constantly busy. I have tried at all hours of the day and night, heck I have been getting up at 3AM to see if I can get through. Why they will not allow people to apply via the internets is beyond my comprehension. I used to donate to the Red Cross though my job but not anymore. I just need some money to keep me afloat and even though it isn't much that the Red Cross is giving out any little bit helps.
posted by govtdrone at 8:40 PM on September 25, 2005

When my house burned down, it was the Red Cross that was there before the flames were under control making sure I had somewhere to sleep that night, somewhere to stay until I could find new permanent housing and vouchers for food and new clothes.

I didn't take them up on any of it (other than losing all my stuff I was otherwise in good shape moneywise) but it did to a lot to raise their esteem in my eyes.

This kind of thing is always a catch 22 for people. When this stuff happens, we always have an impusle to give and to help and at the same time every talking head reminds us to make sure we don't give to some shady organization.

It is much easier to give to one of the big names. And any organization, when it receives more money than it can reasonably spend in response to a given disaster is going to want to shift the excess to other responses rather than spend it frivolously (if the SPCA received $200 million to rescue abandoned pets in in the Katrina area, what are they supposed to do when the job is accomplished for $100 million - decide on their own what other charity to give it to, use the money to rescue animals in other locations, or spend the other $100 million in New Orleans rescuing animals that don't need rescue?
posted by obfusciatrist at 8:47 PM on September 25, 2005

This is one of the "friend of a friend" stories, so take it with a grain of salt. In discussions about Katrina relief with some of my neighbors, one of them said that after seeing the Red Cross operate in the small southern coastal town where he was raised, he would never have anything to do with them. Apparently, the Red Cross now owns about half of the property in the town. To get aid, a fair number of citizens, many of whom can't read and are afraid of the legal system for one reason or another, were coerced into signing over their property rights when they die. Again, I haven't been able to verify this yet, but I am current doing research to try to prove or disprove the story. If true, it's a huge, huge story.

Also, every volunteer for the American Red Cross is required to sign on to an agreement that covers things like proper conduct, confidentiality, and includes a requirement for all volunteers to sign over all copyright/trademark/patent rights in any work-related writing, art and inventions come up with during their term, and for a full year afterward.
posted by dejah420 at 8:50 PM on September 25, 2005

I used to volunteer for the Canadian Red Cross, giving presentations to high school students on natural disasters. My impression of the Red Cross and its work was overwhelmingly positive--we received very thorough training, and the political neutrality of the Red Cross was strongly emphasized.

As I understand it, Walden's main point is that many agencies do excellent work, and there's nothing wrong with giving charitable donations to a wider range of agencies. This is absolutely true.

Giving so high a percentage of all donations to one agency that defines itself only as a first-responder and not a rebuilder is not the wisest choice. Americans ought to give a much larger share of their generous charity to community foundations, grass-roots nonprofit groups based in the affected communities and a large number of international "brand name" relief agencies with decades of expertise in rebuilding communities after disasters.

I'm not so certain that Walden's specific criticisms of the American Red Cross as a "money pit" are justified. I did a search to find out what the overhead is for the American Red Cross, and found a report from the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. According to the report, 91% of expenses are for program services ($2.9 billion), 3% for fundraising ($111 million), 5% for administration ($174 million).

I did a quick check on Operation USA and found that it appears to be a worthwhile agency as well--as Operation California, it received a President's Service Award in 1983.

Disclaimer: this is my personal opinion only, I'm not speaking as a representative of the Red Cross. (I haven't volunteered with them for a while.)
posted by russilwvong at 10:15 PM on September 25, 2005

For reference, the federal charter of the American Red Cross. The mission statement is defined by law (technically it's a "treaty obligation organization, through the Geneva Conventions), and disaster relief comes 4th:

(4) to carry out a system of national and international relief in time of peace, and to apply that system in mitigating the suffering caused by pestilence, famine, fire, floods, and other great national calamities, and to devise and carry out measures for preventing those calamities.

There's an annual mandated audit, by the Secretary of Defense .. startling but it makes sense given the primary mission.

I think the criticisms make a certain sense. The problem here may be simply in the definition of "relief" (the US Code does not define it), given that it appears to be something like "immediate emergency services" (cuppa joe and take yer name), while a group such as Operation USA defines relief broadly and longitudinally during the period of disaster recovery. On the other hand, looking at that Wise Giving report, less than 10% of their expenses are for domestic disaster relief -- yet that is almost unquestionably the focus of their fundraising campaigns. I doubt that they would show a person wrapped in a blanket and put a headline like "8 cents of every dollar you give goes to help". 2/3 of the expenses are for "biomedical" services, which are probably mostly the collection, transport, and storage of blood. That's not sexy.

I'm not sure what the proper resolution is.
posted by dhartung at 11:14 PM on September 25, 2005

Oh, I hate follow-up posts. But that report also shows that biomedical pays for itself. The corporate and individual giving covers roughly the amount spent on disaster relief, so it isn't precisely fair to say 8 cents as I did.
posted by dhartung at 11:17 PM on September 25, 2005

On the subject of worthy charities, Modest Needs is another good one that's worth a look.
posted by Jatayu das at 3:03 AM on September 26, 2005

I donate exclusively to Oxfam. As a rule, they generally do not participate in disaster relief efforts in the US, but it seems they've made an exception for Katrina:

With huge gaps in aid delivery and coordination apparent in the days following the storm’s Aug. 30 landfall, Oxfam America has made an exception to its policy of expecting that well-resourced governments, such as ours, will effectively respond to their own crises.
posted by emmastory at 3:17 AM on September 26, 2005

For what it's worth, I have a friend with family in Haiti who loves Habitat for Humanity. She said after last year's hurricane in Haiti they built a lot of houses very fast.
posted by maggiemaggie at 5:22 AM on September 26, 2005

The Red Cross did nothing in our county after Hurricane Rita sent us thousands of evacuees.
posted by rolypolyman at 7:01 PM on September 26, 2005

The Red Cross was doing a hell of a lot of good for the evacuees I met while volunteering at the Austin Convention Center. I don't know how much the CEO makes, but I know a lot of people were getting money for rent and assistance with FEMA, as well as medical care, counseling and a comfortable place to eat and sleep. There was a lot of red tape and back-and-forth to deal with, but I think that's just the nature of the beast. Your donations weren't a complete waste.
posted by blendor at 7:54 PM on September 26, 2005

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