Why not the Red Cross?
January 18, 2010 2:56 PM   Subscribe

What's wrong with donating to Haiti relief through the American Red Cross?

I've noticed a couple of messages on Facebook and Twitter with folks asking how they can donate to Haiti relief, but they WON'T do it through the American Red Cross. Most of these people are not crazy conspiracy theorists or anything like that - they're just adamant about going through some other charity.

They've raised $8 million already over their text campaign, so clearly not everyone thinks this way. Does anyone know why some people won't donate through the American Red Cross in particular?
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse to Grab Bag (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Possibilities.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:59 PM on January 18, 2010

Don't now about your FB/Twitter friends, but there are many organizations that have a higher percentage of funds that go directly to the victims than the ARC.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:59 PM on January 18, 2010

At least with the text message campaign, I read that for some carriers the money won't get to the red cross till the end of the month (when the cell phone bills are paid).
posted by kylej at 3:00 PM on January 18, 2010

The Red Cross is 90% efficient, according to this comment. FWIW.
posted by nitsuj at 3:00 PM on January 18, 2010

Maybe there are more organizationally efficient charities? Don't forget it takes people and money to raise money. Maybe some can do it better. Charity Navigator's summary of the American Red Cross could be a good place to start your research.
posted by yoyoceramic at 3:01 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't let worry about the money from a text campaign not getting to Haiti until the end of the month prevent you from donating. It's not as if everything will be back to normal in Haiti by February 1st. The need will still be immense.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:18 PM on January 18, 2010

Perhaps they object to the Red Cross using funds for other needs, when they wish that all their donation be exclusively used for Haiti relief? but it causes more trouble for organizations to give restricted funds designated only for this. If the Red Cross receives more money than they can use in donations exclusively earmarked for Haiti, at the end of the day, they'll be stuck because they can't move the money to where it's needed in the next crisis, and there will always be a next crisis.
posted by citron at 3:19 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

It isn't true, according to Charity Navigator, but someone told me that Red Cross is inefficient and spent 40% of donations on organization. Perhaps this is the prevailing wisdom? Or variations on this theme?
posted by R a c h e l at 3:21 PM on January 18, 2010

A lot of military people don't like the Red Cross. My dad disliked them saying that during WWII and Korea they charged soldiers returning from combat for coffee and donuts, etc. all while taking donations from civilians to provide them.
posted by lordrunningclam at 3:31 PM on January 18, 2010

American Red Cross is only one organization among many thousands. The needs in disasters are many. Other organizations are better suited to fulfill the various needs better than American Red Cross. With any disaster relief, donations should be made to as directly as possible to organizations best suited to help. Check with any local humanitarian groups who may already have people on the ground to see what they need.
posted by JJ86 at 3:32 PM on January 18, 2010

Best answer: It isn't really quantifiable, but the ARC is sometimes seen as using disasters to solicit money and disbursing funds for entirely other purposes -- usually another disaster, of course, but not the one the donor thought it was going for. I think they are communicating poorly, but with the 9/11 fund in particular they got caught in a real bind with earmarked funds far in excess of the need, and that just looked awful to people who had given.

On the right you have people perhaps confusing it with the only-tangentially related International Red Cross, who are charged with protecting civilian populations in war and prisoners of war. The American Red Cross, though, is a Congressionally chartered US non-profit and is primarily responsible for domestic natural disasters and things like fire relief.

The left remembers it being run by Liddy Dole or various blood bank issues including what is deemed discriminatory policies and perhaps also overall presumed complicity in HIV-tainted blood by the opposite token. The ARC may also come across as imperialist in a Haitian context.

So people may have their reasons. Things are different today than a generation ago -- any charity you could imagine is as accessible as any other. It's probably more effective to choose an NGO that is doing what you want and work backward to who funds them than vice versa. (For instance, Doctors Without Borders or Partners in Health are preferred by many. For evangelicals it might be Operation Blessing by turns.) In that sense the large generic charities like the ARC have a disadvantage. I think they may just be too generic. But unless someone can cite their particular reason, you'll probably never really know.
posted by dhartung at 3:36 PM on January 18, 2010

The American Red Cross has a high-paid top level staff. They make money selling blood. They don't seem terribly efficient.

But they have a large standing organization to maintain in order to be ready for disasters. They seem to do a very good job of training people to respond to disasters. I've never heard that they get religion mixed into disaster relief. So not a bad choice.
posted by theora55 at 3:37 PM on January 18, 2010

A former neighbor of mine was not a fan of Elizabeth Dole (former president of the Red Cross.)

As to the phone campaign, it should be pretty obvious that's not instant money. Probably a good idea to supplement a phone donation with something more direct...and of course, as stated above, the need won't be disappearing any time soon.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:38 PM on January 18, 2010

Oh, I did forget one more. There was a big deal made three or more presidents (of the ARC) back regarding the salary of something like $400,000. There is a perception that charity work should be volunteer or even with a pay cut. But these are people with the same skill sets as a CEO of a major corporation, and the ARC as a 501(c)3 is not in a position to give bonuses or stock options, hence salaries are the entirety of the president's compensation. Some local Red Cross groups also have executive salaries that seem grossly out of whack with some givers' assumptions, even if overall administrative expenses are low as a percentage. People may think that the executives get compensated more if they bring in more money, for example, making a donations appeal in their mind into naked self-interest.
posted by dhartung at 3:41 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's bad to donate to the Red Cross. They create a net good in the world - I believe. Its just that there are other places I'd rather give my money. It has been observed in recent years that an emergency creates an immediate glut of donations, sometimes more than is actually needed for that particular crisis - hence the importance of giving unrestricted funds if you are going to give to a large international aid group like Red Cross - but even with unrestricted donations, the important long-term support needed after a crisis goes under or unfunded. When the immediate crisis is over, there's not enough to rebuild. So my very personal choice during disasters when, let's face it, I'm most motivated to make a donation, is to give to smaller organizations that are already working in the impacted area. These organizations may not end up spending any money pulling people of the rubble, but they will be there building houses, picketing companies or politicians that are harming their communities, or organizing their communities in the years to come. I also have a preference for giving to orgs that are run by locals, because outside charities can have unintended negative impact. Finally, most large aid groups, especially the Red Cross, famously maintain a position of neutrality in all conflicts. This is seen by some (including me) as problematic in cases when these orgs end up collaborating with (or at least remaining silent about) oppressive regimes.

Last week I gave the fifty bucks I could spare to Haiti Emergency Relief Fund because they are a group I already knew to be supporting grassroots Haitian organizing before the quake, and they plan to be doing that for the long haul - long after the big orgs pack up their tents. I don't know that this fifty dollars will save lives tomorrow, but I hope and believe it will have a more lasting impact in helping people in Haiti rebuild their own country over the long-term.
posted by serazin at 3:53 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

theora55: "They make money selling blood."

Just to be clear, all blood-collecting organizations "sell" blood. There is a cost involved in collecting it (supplies, staff, facilities, transportation, overhead, etc) and that gets passed on to the hospital. If you have a problem with the blood banking supply chain, look to the hospitals who mark the blood up sometimes 4 to 5 times!

However, that's not to say that I'm a big fan of ARC's blood services. They've been on Consent Decree for a long time, which basically means that the FDA said "we're not going to shut you down but your organization has serious violations and you need to fix them."
posted by radioamy at 4:08 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ditto lordrunningclam -- my grandpa and my great-uncle (from opposite sides of the family) HATED the Red Cross for the way it treated them while they were fighting in WWII. They would always grumble when the Red Cross came up in conversation or solicited donations, and some of that hatred has been absorbed by other family members by osmosis. It's the reason my immediate family doesn't donate to them -- they'll search out other recipients like Doctors Without Borders instead.
(The bad treatment included charging them for cigarettes that had been donated, and for once handing out chocolate bars as a photo op and then confiscating them unless the soldiers paid for them).
posted by katemonster at 4:25 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

The "charged service members for coffee and donuts" is a misrepresentation of a request by the Federal Government that the Red Cross, during WWII, not give for free what British relief agencies charged British servicemembers to receive (scroll down). The carrier delay for text charges is not an issue for the Red Cross, although it might be a problem for smaller organizations. When donations given for a particular relief effort exceed the Red Cross's need for that effort, they will divert the funds to their other efforts.

On average, in every fundraising effort the Red Cross makes, 91 cents of every dollar goes to humanitarian relief.

There's no reason not to donate to the Red Cross, which in addition to disaster preparedness, response and recovery, also is a world leader in immunization programs, malaria and HIV prevention programs, as well as international human rights education. But you should always give money to organizations you feel comfortable supporting.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:09 PM on January 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

For several of the reasons above, and because when thousands of Katrina victims were streaming into Houston, people (myself included) who tried to volunteer to help were treated incredibly rudely by the biggest bunch of incompetent, disorganized, self-important jerks I have ever met.

Among other things - people attempting to volunteer ended up taking matters into their own hands and bypassing the Red Cross. We had people going hungry, we had all this donated food, and the Red Cross wasn't distributing it, they were letting it rot. So we distributed it ourselves. Everyone could understand that they were busy, but they were rude and they accomplished nothing. Most people in Houston pretty much hate the Red Cross now.
posted by fairywench at 5:27 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is all very informative - I'd heard some of this feedback from other sources, but not all of it. It's interesting, because these comments are coming from people I know to be savvy about different charities, things like Charity Navigator, and all the other resources mentioned here. Everyone is right - being smart about donations and being comfortable with the organizations that get our money is important. Thanks!
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 6:28 PM on January 18, 2010

Regardless of whom you donate to, it does seem to be important to make it an unrestricted donation, as far as I understand it.
posted by fso at 6:35 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

A few years ago there was a blood drive on my college campus, and some people picketed it because they refused to take blood from men who had had sex with other men.

The official reason for this is because of the higher risk of HIV among such men; the stance of the campus LGBT group was that HIV is not substantially more common among gays, especially considering modern blood screening technology, and hence refusing gay men's donations was unjustified discrimination.

Personally this didn't keep me from donating blood, or donating money to the red cross - but if you'd been one of those picketers, I guess you might prefer other charities.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:44 AM on January 19, 2010

I don't think that's a Red Cross thing, though, Mike1024; it's a US FDA thing. Presumably if the RC accepted blood from MSM they'd have a hard time doing anything useful with that blood without breaking laws. (And yeah, AIDS and hepatitis risk is the reason given by the FDA, and they say it's open to change as infection statistics and test accuracies change.)
posted by hattifattener at 1:25 AM on January 19, 2010

hattifattener is right - if you want to protest an organization about blood collection laws, target the FDA, not your local blood bank.
posted by radioamy at 10:18 AM on January 19, 2010

FWIW I prefer Charity Watch to Navigator. Check their top rated international relief list here: http://www.charitywatch.org/toprated.html#intrelief
Also recommending Doctors Without Borders, who have over 800 personnel in Haiti and ask that donations be given to their Emergency Relief Fund.
posted by sugarbx19 at 12:26 PM on January 19, 2010

The Cubans were on the ground with medical people (over 400) before the earthquake and are now treating over 600 patients a day - and sending in additional teams and supplies. They were training 'paramedics' in the community and those people are helping with this crisis too. Their hospital was set up immediately after the quake. (vid)

How can I send Haiti-aid money to the Cubans? As an American I can not send money directly to Cuba, so if any Canadians/Europeans/Latin Americans know of agencies who are supporting Cuban medical teams, please let me know. I am serious.
posted by Surfurrus at 10:13 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Radioamy, my only complaint with the Am. Red Cross being supported on donated blood is that it's kind of hidden. On balance, I think they're worthwhile charity.
posted by theora55 at 11:00 AM on January 20, 2010

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