Red Cross Failure

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ProPublica reported this week that despite raising about $500 million for relief efforts in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, the Red Cross was able to convert that money into the construction of only six homes.

Six.

The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people. But the actual number of permanent homes the group has built in all of Haiti: six.

After the earthquake, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern unveiled ambitious plans to “develop brand-new communities.” None has ever been built.

You could build more 4,000 square foot mansions on the La Jolla bluffs for that amount of money. And these six homes aren’t mansions by any measure.

Yet another Red Cross failure.

Now, the Red Cross has done some good. With the amount of money it receives each year from donations that seem to pop up on TV encouraging people to text some number to donate $10 after some horrible tragedy, it’d be impossible not to do some good. They can’t waste it all.

But reading the ProPublica report is dismaying. The Red Cross is a fundraising organization that has little expertise in actually getting things done in foreign countries.

“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.”

Lee Malany was in charge of the Red Cross’ shelter program in Haiti starting in 2010. He remembers a meeting in Washington that fall where officials did not seem to have any idea how to spend millions of dollars set aside for housing. Malany says the officials wanted to know which projects would generate good publicity, not which projects would provide the most homes.

“When I walked out of that meeting I looked at the people that I was working with and said, ‘You know this is very disconcerting, this is depressing,’” he recalled.

And then there’s just “the stupid.”

Instead of making concrete improvements to living conditions, the Red Cross has launched hand-washing education campaigns. The internal evaluation noted that these were “not effective when people had no access to water and no soap.” (The Red Cross declined to comment on the project.)

You get $500 million and you can’t manage to spend any of it on soap?

I haven’t given the Red Cross money since the January 2001 wildfire in Alpine, east of San Diego. The local chapter of the Red Cross raised $400,000 to help the victims and just $159,000 went to helping those affected by the blaze. Instead, the Red Cross spent money on upgrading their office phone system.

And the chapter’s CEO? As John Stossel, then at ABC News noted:

San Diego Red Cross President Dodie Rotherham wouldn’t talk to 20/20 either, but she did talk to Mark Matthews, who works for ABCNEWS’ San Diego affiliate. He asked her about her salary. She said she makes $203,000 in salary, and more than $300,000 with incentives. That’s more than any other Red Cross chapter CEO in America makes.

Asked if her salary is perhaps a little bit more than fair, she answered, “I think I’m paid a fair salary, yes.”

If you want to donate to a charity that will actually get things done, I recommend The Salvation Army.

With all the Red Cross Failures, the Salvation Army is a better charitable solution.

The Salvation Army is a better charity to contribute to.

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