Head of Red Cross "resigns"
October 28, 2001 7:42 AM   Subscribe

Head of Red Cross "resigns" after the board forces her to step down in a vote of no confidence. Among her failings, the board says she was refusing to comingle 9/11 donations with the RC general fund. When I donated to the Red Cross, I was not aware that 15-25% of 9/11 donation monies would go to build up their telecommunications infrastructure. This also comes just a day after the RC called the US "deplorable" for bombing a food warehouse in Afghanistan. Coincidence? Here's the Red Cross's version.
posted by jessamyn (21 comments total)
I simply refuse to donate any money to the Red Cross, or United Way for that matter.
posted by fleener at 7:58 AM on October 28, 2001

I dunno. I like the Red Cross/Red Crescent, but what we're seeing is the kind of infighting that comes of an international organization trying to balance infrastructure needs against the provision of services to the needy. I don't object to monies being spent on infrastructure; that's what allows the Red Cross to function. We can't expect all money to go to the needy.

That said, I do question how the Red Cross collects funds. In most of their advertising it is implicit that funds will be used directly for the WTC victims and families. They need to make an explicit statement about where and how donations will be used.

I hope this doesn't put people off the Red Cross. They are a very worthy charity and do much good work in the world.
posted by mrmanley at 8:04 AM on October 28, 2001

I read somewhere that the RC is one of the few non-profits that really does get most of its donations out to the people and the places it's trying to help. A lot of non-profits spend a large portion of their money on administrative costs, and spend a minority of their funds on the populations their trying to serve. I think the Red Cross does its job well... they fill a health void that no one else is covering...
posted by gramcracker at 8:11 AM on October 28, 2001

The RC has to do a better job of explaining where the money is going.
posted by brucec at 8:39 AM on October 28, 2001

I was kinda afraid this was gonna happen. However I had hoped of all places, Red Cross would get the money where it was intended.

I mean when people gave money to the Red Cross after September 11th, did they think this money was going to go to improve Red Cross, or were they giving the money in hopes that money would get to the families of those we have lost? The intent of the donation appears to have been ignored by Bernadine Healy. Rightfully, from her perspective. Her job was not to just help those immediately affected by the WTC tragedy. Her job was to insure the Red Cross will be there tomorrow for those who need it. The Red Cross already has done its job for those people, answering above the call of duty. The Red Cross owes nothing more to those families. They've already done what they promise to do, and then some. Their purpose now is to be prepared and ready to answer the call if, God forbid, anything like this happens on our shores again, or anywhere on the planet.

Yet I'm still hearing reports that families who have lost loved ones, some cases losing the only income their family had, are getting little to no financial backing. Children without parents providing income. Recently widowed single parents who were housewives or househusbands, and the person who was bread and butter for the family no longer exists. So these people need to enter the job market. They need to be prepared, educated, and readied to handle these dramatic changes in their lives. Granted, people are dealing with such changes every day, but in the case of those affected by the WTC tragedy, is it improper to give them a little extra support?

Denis Leary's effort is the only one I've heard who has specifically set things up to get the money donated directly into the hands of those affected, but this effort only helps firefighters' families. I'm beginning to question the integrity of any of these "spirit of America" funds which have sprouted up, promising to help the families of the lost. Does the money go directly to those families or is it just all being donated to the Red Cross and the United Way?
posted by ZachsMind at 8:40 AM on October 28, 2001

While serving in the military, one of my guys house burned down. He had 7 children and lost 4 in the fire, he was burned over 80% of his body trying to rescue them. The Red Cross, when called in, showed up with 2 bags of groceries (most of which wasn't food, it was tinfoil, sandwich bags, garbage bags, and cool-aid) and left. Even when we tried to investigate why, the show us their disaster relief policy and told us that's all they were required to do.

Since then, I've never supported the Red Cross, or the United Way. Even when "forced" to donate by strong encouragement by my superiors. This compulsory voluntary type of donation practice was/is commonplace, not only in the military but, in the private sector too. While not donating wasn't exactly punishable, some privilege was associated with it. When you didn't donate, you lost out. Something I've been bitter about for years.

I was waiting for someone to start poking around the massive revenue stream these organizations were receiving. I'm not surprised to see controversy and negligence.
posted by Dean_Paxton at 9:33 AM on October 28, 2001

Actually, I think Healy was the one who was trying to get 9/11 money going only to WTC-related expenses -- separate from RC operating expenses -- and the board got all freaky over that and fired her.
posted by jessamyn at 9:39 AM on October 28, 2001

I refuse to donate to the red cross. I always have, they are glorified blood sellers. Only about 10% of proceeds go towards any relief efforts, the rest is operational.

I have thoght for weeks now that they had prolly raised more money than was needed, i mean, it's like each family member could be millionaires by now.

Red cross and the united way are both calamity profit mongers. My dad got haslsed for years by united way as a union rep and after seeing al the bullshit he got, I vowed never to donate tot hem either. I almost got fired for NOT donating to the united way while working my way through college due to seeing the troubles he had, FIRED - I mean my boss threathed to and I said DO IT I'll call the TV stations, they finally backed down.

In korea My father in law was in the hostial (a korean national decided to smoke while fueling my FIL
s truck - KABOOM! They never found the national) and while in the hospital the red cross brought cigarettes, delivered maila nd all theat, until they discoved my FIL had inherited some money, then they put the hammer on him to donate ) - all his money went to his povety striken Mississippi Mom, brothers and sisters -, then finally made him PAY for cigs and to GET HIS MAIL.

BUT shit, the red cross is a scam, they do a few nice things sometimes, but NOT worth the cost of thier guilt trips and financial misdoings for my taste.

i donate to more specific chairites I will do twin towers instead of red cross, or the fireman's fund or one of the other chairities, but not them.
posted by Dome-O-Rama at 10:53 AM on October 28, 2001

warning: long post.

I worked for a local United Way for almost 3 years (I was 2 wks away from my 3 year anniversary when I left, almost a year ago), and I worked for a couple other smaller nonprofits before that (6+ years total in nonprofit), and here's a few things that might be useful/interesting to know.

1) local red cross & united way outfits are that - local. I don't know about red cross, but local uw's have a surprising (if you don't know better) amount of autonomy. I could give the spiel from my days there, but I won't. (local board of directors, local panels that decide how to divvy the $, etc.) so if one "branch" dissed you, or did something craven, stupid, etc., that doesn't mean that the whole org was responsible. (this can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your pov)

2) donors are always cranky about you spending money on "administrative costs" and yet, w/out those costs, you couldn't do the things that you're supposed to do.

example: shitty infrastructure == bad communications == inablity to do what you're supposed to in a timely manner

3) that said, there's a lot of bs in the np sector, and after the time I spent there, it always seemed to come down to the same sorts of things.

- front-line people are always woefully underpaid & often have crappy benefits to boot. (my best friend worked in a group home for troubled girls, got paid $7/hour to be screamed at.) makes for lots of turnover, which I've always thought leads to....

- the people who've been "in the system" (which differs depending on your np) are either totally burnt out, a little crazy, or hopelessly corrupt. sometimes all three.

- the board and the paid leadership are often at odds. sometimes it's a "vision thing" - often just personality & the inherent goofiness of the situation. the board thinks the staff isn't doing as much as they could/what the board wants and the staff thinks the board doesn't know how things are in the trenches.

and these things seem to be just as true (sometimes more so) at smaller nonprofits.

I want to help my fellow humans, but after my experiences, I've very, very wary of nonprofits in general.
posted by epersonae at 11:26 AM on October 28, 2001

Lord, the knees are jerking right out of the woodwork today.

Dome, your "ten percent" figure is a gross lie. The rule of thumb for the non-profit industry is 70-90% of collected monies toward programs. The American Red Cross has received an "A" rating from Charity Watch (the Institute of Philanthropy). If you have a source for your figure, I insist that you provide it. Given that the American Red Cross has hundreds of localized and specialized programs I find that figure preposterous.

I don't know why people have a bug up their butt about groups like ARC or United Way. "Scam"? Dome, take a god damn chill pill. You're spewing nonsense. Maybe it's legitimate to object to giving to national-brand organizations out of union dues or as thinly-veiled pressure from your boss for a company-wide total, but that's an entirely different story. And I find the entitlement aspect ("they didn't help my friend as much as he thought they should") to be reprehensible. The fact that they limit who can get their services is a way of administering scarce funds.
posted by dhartung at 11:35 AM on October 28, 2001

oh, jessamyn, I didn't see anything about telecommunications infrastructure in that News Tribune link. (hey, that's my hometown paper!) got a better link?
posted by epersonae at 11:35 AM on October 28, 2001

thanks, dhartung. sometimes my cynicism carries me away. (did I say that my boss at a children's museum was allowed to "resign" rather than be exposed for stealing?)

a normal amount of admin costs is less than 15-20% - there's an established way of counting that too. I'd give a link, but I don't remember who sets that stuff. in my part of the world, the local red cross is one of the best in that arena - last I remember, less than 8%. and you can always ask; you can even ask to see the IRS 990 form, which has a lot of that stuff listed on it. (and you should, if you're thinking of giving to an org.)

despite what I said above, there are lots of smart, thoughtful, dedicated people working in nonprofit. it is hard, and those people should be recognized. (I worked with several...many of whom were forced out by the idiots described in my first post)

I think a lot of the problems in nonprofit management are also a direct result of scarce resources and donor paranoia.
posted by epersonae at 12:00 PM on October 28, 2001

Get your juicy 990 information right here.
posted by feckless at 12:14 PM on October 28, 2001

> I didn't see anything about telecommunications infrastructure in that News Tribune link.

It's right here: "Of the nearly $290 million remaining, about $109 million has been set aside for plans to improve the charity's telecommunications system, make blood supplies last longer and help staff handle terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction. The Red Cross has not said how it will spend the remaining $180 million."

Give.org also has a good outline of Red Cross's spending, it shows that they're at about 83% of money spent on programs. It also shows that the lion's share of this money -- incoming and outgoing -- are "biomedical" indicating blood donations and blood selling [useful if somewhat inflammatory link]. They do give disaster relief freely, but they sell blood with enough of a profit to maintain operations and allow for a 15% profit margin to maintain adequate "reserves". I generally think the Red Cross is okay, not great, but okay, but their timing of firing Healy was curious.
posted by jessamyn at 12:52 PM on October 28, 2001

The RC has collected $300,000,000.

There were, at last count, 2,500 victims.

That comes out to $120,000 per family.

disclaimer: I have no idea how much money has been raised outside of the RC.

factoid: Bush is injecting $100 billion into the economy.

posted by mecran01 at 1:16 PM on October 28, 2001

mecran -- that $120,000 figure assumes that they're just going to redistribute the donations they've received among the families, but that's not what they're doing at all. the red cross has been out there since 9/11 supporting the recovery, helping people who've been temporarily forced out of their homes, and i'm sure a lot more.
posted by palegirl at 1:46 PM on October 28, 2001

jessamyn - my bad. I was scanning too fast.
posted by epersonae at 1:55 PM on October 28, 2001

Other Red Cross info at give.org...

I can't speak for the Red Cross, but I work for a non-profit healthcare foundation. We've had a long, tough haul to get our board to approve expenditures to upgrade *our* infrastructure -- yes, it's costly, but it's also damned necessary. And I'm sure it will be hard to justify to some people, but when you've got people doing double- and triple-entry in databases over ten years old...I'm sure you get the picture. In the end, it will make us more efficient, and that's a major plus.

While an organization's main responsibility is to adhere to its mission statement -- be it to fund research, educate patients and the public, or assist disaster victims -- it is *also* the organization's responsibility to keep itself afloat. (Can't dole out the cash if the organization goes under.)

(Oh, and my foundation? 79 cents of every dollar we brought in went toward research and education -- or 79%, if you prefer. The other monies went toward administrative costs [11%] and fundraising [10%].)
posted by metrocake at 11:06 PM on October 28, 2001

well said, metrocake. (and condolences on the anniversary of your father's death, btw.)
posted by epersonae at 8:39 AM on October 29, 2001

In an attempt to explain the catch-22 here, let me move away from Red Cross and United Way, cuz those seem to cause emotional volatility which steers away from the crux of the problem.

There's signs posted all over the Deep Ellum area, which is a noisy lowtech strip of live music clubs and bars in downtown Dallas Texas. They say, don't give money to the homeless. Instead, we're encouraged to give money to homeless shelters.

Now, if you give money to a homeless guy, regardless of the story he throws at you (and don't they all have a story?) you know deep down he's gonna spend your ten bucks on liquor or drugs or something - anything - that definitely won't get him out of being homeless. So that's out.

Giving to a homeless shelter might give the homeless guy a place to hang his head for a night. Provided the homeless guy who just accosted you knows where the hell it is. And some of these shelters have programs which are intended to help these guys out of the gutter, but some of these guys don't want to be out of the gutter. They went there for a reason and they're not going back. Others would take help if they could get it, but they don't know how and in the years I've lived in Dallas, I've seen more homeless people popping up. Not less. So the homeless shelters ain't working either.

So if homeless people can't get a job, and homeless shelters ain't doin' their job, where do you give your money to, in a way that will actually make a difference? That'll actually help?

Sometimes people who don't give aren't heartless. They're simply given no options. The people who gave to the Red Cross thinking their money was eventually going into the hands of the families of the WTC tragedy, would have been better off hunting down the address of one of these people and just knocking on their door.

"Hi. I'm Julia Roberts. Sorry to come knocking on your door while you're mourning the loss of your husband. I thought about getting on a TV show and making a lame-ass speech where I almost cry, but I figured screw it. I made twenty million on my last picture even though it tanked in the box office. I figured I'd just give one of my million to you. If I could bring your husband back, I would. But I'm just a rich actress. I don't know anything about time travel. So here's a million dollars and I hope you find another husband someday. Oh, and my next movie stars me and Kevin Spacey and it comes out some time next year and I hope you go see it. Sorry to bother you."
posted by ZachsMind at 9:26 PM on October 29, 2001

"What's wrong with this country, Marty? Money. You taught me that. Evil defense contractors had it, noble causes did not. Politicians are bought and sold like so much chattel.

"Our problems multiply.

"Pollution, crime, drugs, poverty, disease, hunger, despair;

"We throw GOBS of money at them!

"The problems always get worse.

"Why is that?

"Because money's most powerful ability is to allow bad people to continue doing bad things at the expense of those who don't have it."

-- Sneakers
posted by ZachsMind at 9:40 PM on October 29, 2001

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