It’s the relief agency Americans are told to donate to in the immediate aftermath of any major disaster – the American Red Cross.
Generous Americans are told to not send clothing or food or attempt to deliver supplies themselves to victims of earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes – just send money to the Red Cross. The charity promises it will use those donations to deliver relief where it’s needed most.
It sounds sensible. Too bad it doesn’t work that way, Red Cross insiders have revealed to ProPublica and National Public Radio.
The January 2010 earthquake that devastated the island nation of Haiti provides the latest example of mismanagement cited by critics of the congressionally chartered nonprofit.
When the earthquake struck, the Red Cross was still reeling from earlier scandals. Eighteen months before, Marsha J. Evans had become the new CEO following the resignation of one predecessor who impregnated a subordinate employee and another who came under criticism for her $468,599 per year salary.
The disaster was seen as “a spectacular fundraising opportunity,” according to a former official who helped organize Red Cross’ relief effort. Celebrities, including Michelle Obama, were drafted to make appeals for donations. While donations for emergency relief work poured in, Red Cross officials couldn’t bring themselves to turn off the spigot. Fundraising continued, wiping out a lingering deficit that exceeded $100 million.
In 2011, after having raised $500 million for Haiti, Red Cross launched a multimillion-dollar project to build hundreds of permanent homes in poor areas. CEO McGovern herself announced ambitious plans to “develop brand-new communities.”
None has ever been built.
Indeed, Red Cross promotes an image of success in Haiti that some insiders and Haitian locals say simply does not exist.
By counting those trained in home-building skills along with those who’ve received temporary housing, Red Cross claims to have provided homes to more than 130,000, but the actual number of permanent homes built through the group’s efforts is only six in the entire country, ProPublica reports.
Admittedly, Red Cross officials found Haiti a difficult location in which to work.
“Like many humanitarian organizations responding in Haiti, the American Red Cross met complications in relation to government coordination delays, disputes over land ownership, delays at Haitian customs, challenges finding qualified staff who were in short supply and high demand, and the cholera outbreak, among other challenges,” a spokesman for the charity said.
But the organization’s use of highly paid ex-patriates who did not know the local culture or language is cited as a chief cause of failure by locals.
Further, while Red Cross officials say only nine percent of donated dollars went to administration and 91 percent went to relief in Haiti, a full accounting does not bear out the claim.
Despite the Red Cross’ superior fundraising abilities it has no expertise to actually manage and carry out massive projects – particularly building hundreds of homes. Consequently, the Red Cross subcontracted its promises to other charity groups to do the work, each in turn taking a portion of the donations to cover its own administration.
“They collected nearly half a billion dollars,” said a congressional staffer who helped oversee Haiti reconstruction. “But they had a problem. And the problem was that they had absolutely no expertise.”
Haiti is not the first instance of the Red Cross failing to deliver after a donation bonanza.
In 2006, WND cited numerous examples of the organization’s failures during a wide variety of emergencies, including times it has dispatched public-relations staff members to disasters to collect film for use in raising money before it sent relief workers to help.
“When the Red Cross national chapter claims that a disaster is too dangerous to send in volunteers, the arrival of public relations people – often days before disaster crews – raises suspicions,” the report said. “Some believe that this presence allows the Red Cross to take credit for services that it does not render by perpetuating an image of immediate service that simply does not exist.”
Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bill O’Reilly turned up the heat on the Red Cross and United Way for failing to promptly distribute the hundreds of millions of dollars Americans had given to help the victims of the terror attacks. At the time, millions were still pouring in while less than 10 percent of the $1.4 billion collected had actually been distributed to the grieving families.
More recently, following 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, the Red Cross came under fire two months after the storm passed for still having $78 million in the bank from the $188 million it had raised for relief.
The problem, WND’s Joseph Farah wrote in 2001, is endemic to “Big Charity”:
“The real problem with the Big Charities … is that they … resemble nothing more than the inefficient federal government model.
“And guess what? Government oversight won’t help alleviate the problem. It will worsen it – creating more paperwork, more administrative procedures, more red tape.
“Giving to Big Charity is just like paying taxes. Don’t expect that your money is really going to do any good. It does not. Most is wasted, squandered, misused, given to people who have no business getting money, redistributed in ways you could never imagine.
“This is the reality of Big Charity. It’s a joke. It’s a scandal. It’s a crying shame. It may make you feel good to write that check, but if you ever found out what happened to the money, you’d be angry. I guarantee it.”