Issues with the Red Cross and its aid programs

Yesterday, while commenting on non-governmental organizations and aid issues in the Third World, I said:

[Other NGO’s] would raise, and expend, a great deal of money with little or nothing to show for it in terms of concrete, worthwhile results.  (The Red Cross, sad to say, was and still is notorious for this among people who truly know what goes on under such circumstances.)

Some readers were upset about this, claiming that the Red Cross did very good and very important work, and that my comments were unwarranted.  I’m afraid that’s simply not true.  For example, in an in-depth investigation of the Red Cross’s efforts in Haiti, NPR claimed:

When a devastating earthquake leveled Haiti in 2010, millions of people donated to the American Red Cross. The charity raised almost half a billion dollars. It was one of its most successful fundraising efforts ever.

The American Red Cross vowed to help Haitians rebuild, but after five years the Red Cross’ legacy in Haiti is not new roads, or schools, or hundreds of new homes. It’s difficult to know where all the money went.

. . .

The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people, but the number of permanent homes the charity has built is six.

. . .

The organization, which in 2010 had a $100 million deficit, out-raised other charities by hundreds of millions of dollars — and kept raising money well after it had enough for its emergency relief. But where exactly did that money go?

Ask a lot of Haitians — even the country’s former prime minister — and they will tell you they don’t have any idea.

There’s much more at the link.  It’s well worth reading this highly detailed report in full.  It doesn’t detail precisely how the money was spent, but according to information at my disposal, less than ten per cent reached Haiti in any form whatsoever – and much of that went to other aid organizations, who siphoned off most of it for their own ‘administrative costs’.  I know that Red Cross supplies were on sale in local markets within hours of their arriving on the island – a fact attested to by many aid workers and military servicemen who were there.  (A later US Senate investigation confirmed many details from NPR’s investigation, and added new complaints.)

In a background piece explaining why and how NPR went about its investigation, an NPR correspondent responded to several questions.

What made you decide to look into the American Red Cross’s earthquake recovery spending in Haiti?

I spent a lot of time last fall with Justin Elliott and Jesse Eisinger from ProPublica looking at some of the problems the American Red Cross ran into in its disaster response to Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac and found the charity had put this inordinate focus on public relations that really hurt its effort to provide disaster relief. We found in one case the Red Cross diverted 40 percent of its emergency vehicles to press conferences and in another case drove empty trucks around to make it appear as though services were being delivered. After those stories, we started to hear from people about things that went down in Haiti. At the same time we started noticing that the numbers it was giving the public about how it spent donors’ money didn’t make sense. Since then the Red Cross has changed the language it uses around those figures. So with that in mind, we really started looking at the spending the Red Cross did in Haiti.

While you were working on this investigation, if someone asked you over dinner “What’s going on with all that money raised by the Red Cross to rebuild Haiti?” was there one anecdote that just immediately jumped to mind for you?

I found myself saying the same thing over and over again: The Red Cross spent five years and almost half a billion dollars in Haiti — and built six homes. That seemed to sum up the situation a bit.

Again, more at the link.

After these and earlier complaints about the US Red Cross (which Pro Publica describes as having been the victim of a ‘corporate takeover’), I’m afraid I profoundly distrust it, particularly after personal experience seeing it in action in Africa over many years, and then in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana in 2005 (about which I wrote in some detail at the time).  I’ve long since made a few decisions about that organization:

  1. I will not contribute to its campaigns.  Instead, I’ll support other organizations where I can be sure my donation will be used for its intended purpose.  (Inside the USA, the Salvation Army is my #1 choice.)
  2. I will not rely on the Red Cross for support in the event of a disaster, and will do all in my power to avoid using its services.  I simply don’t trust the organization.

Your mileage may vary, of course.



  1. A few decades ago, I heard complaints about the Red Cross from people who remembered the 1938 hurricane. Much of it centered on the RC's setting up coffee and donut stands and charging 25 cents for each, at a time when a lot of people's homes had been destroyed and they had nothing.

    My dad had some interaction with the RC during the war. He wouldn't give them a nickel.

  2. My dad also dealt with RC during WWII, and had a poor opinion of them.

    Another veteran went so far as to tell his wife "If you ever donate to the Red Cross, I'll divorce you."

  3. Seen them on disaster sites and they are embarrasing.

    Arrive and put up banners, try to pass out armbands and try to get everyone to wear them and have the camera crews film it all. Meanwhile other agencies (I worked with the Salvation Army) are doing the job of helping those hurt by the disaster.

    Yeah, disgusting lot. Spend more on management perks and infrastructure that only gets used for photo ops that go to begging for more money.

    Yeah, disgusting and IMO a dishonest bunch of grifters.

    Only charity I will contribute to anymore is the the Salvation army, some insanely hight percentage of donations they get go to actually helping out.

    RC is a disgusting bunch as far as I am concerned.

  4. Sadly, they're the only blood bank in my region.
    On the bright side, profit motive directly interferes with excessive incompetence and featherbedding.

    I have some relatives who were badly impacted by Hugo. They don't have much good to say about the Red Cross.

  5. RC blod bank, VERY mixes emotions about the RC for anything.

    Get blood for free and charge insane amounts to those in need of it.

  6. When I was a youth, there was a fairly big wildfire here in Nebraska – we all turned out and went to fight it (voluntarily helping wasn't outlawed/despised back then). The Red Cross was there – selling cups of coffee and one-slice cheese sandwiches to us for $1 each.
    Haven't given one red cent to the Red Cross since…

  7. Back when I lived in a more small city suburban setting I dealt with the rc quite a bit. To be blunt-they suck. If someone got burned out of their home they were no help. The Salvation Army was right there helping even though they were a shoestring operation in that area. During a couple of historic level flooding events they were good about setting up their unstocked disaster truck in the direction of any camera shot. Helping victims, sand bagging, feeding volunteers, providing communications, they were useless. They consisted mostly of women running around with clipboards and forms for people to fill out and for posing for media shots. At best they were a distraction at worst a damnedable nuisance. Kinda like fema but without the bullying and intimidation. No one I dealt with during or after the cleanup heard anything or received anything from the rc. The Salvation Army? There helping before, during and after.

  8. Hurricane in Texas, RC wanted to charge me one dollar for a small cup of coffee, one dollar for the use of a blanket. another dollar for juice for my three children. Hurricane had taken our house and they wanted money. We slept on the beach that night, no coffee, no blankets, lots of mosquitoes.
    RC volunteers were eating food, drinking coffee, tea, juice, water, staying in hotels. No use for RC

  9. It depends on the chapter. I was a disaster volunteer in Florida in the 1990s, and our chapter got people housing and food and clothing. It was a point of pride for our disaster director that our response time was better than Salvation Army's in that area. I supervised loading the trailer with supplies for Hugo relief from that area, we sent quite a bit. There's a lot of blame to go around about the Red Cross, but please don't generalize. There are a LOT of good, dedicated people there

  10. My wife is a regular blood donor. She started giving at our local community center (several different orgs have sponsored blood drives there).

    In the last couple of years, RC has started calling her a week or two before before the minimum interval between donations, asking her to come in – to their offices, 15 miles across town – on the first day she's again eligible. The last few times, she's come back complaining about both their attitude and the clumsiness/lack of training of some of their technicians.

    I've been encouraging her to look for another service to donate to, or – at least – cut back to blood drives in our local community center rather than driving across town. They're making a profit from the blood – treating donors like they're doing them a favor by taking their donation is counterproductive.

  11. My only interaction with the RC has been giving blood – they used to have very regular, reliably scheduled blood drives in the area that brought in LOTS of donors. Now they nominally have 2 regular ones a month, but most months 1 gets cancelled and the other fills up quick.
    They keep saying they need blood, but then they make it hard to donate! I have seen people turned away from local drives because the staff has hard limits on when they need to leave the sight (to drive 1.5 hours back to their homes!).
    I told them that every time they called me I would delay donating and they finally put me on their do not call list. I used to give where I lived at the time and I was getting multitudinous calls from that area when I wasn't eligible since I had just given here – their systems don't connect well enough to know.
    I have also had their personnel try to schedule me at 'closed' blood drives that are for one employer or school only.
    I am giving less than I use to and my giving will likely decrease from here due to these and other difficulties.

  12. Nothing pleasant to say about the Red Cross from my experiences or that of family members who were veterans (WWII, Vietnam).

    Tornadoes in Kansas – you can count on the Salvation Army and the Mennonite Disaster Services to be there and provide aid. During the aftermath of the Andover tornado, it was discovered FEMA has a select few charities they will deal with and the Mennonites are not on that list. So, the Mennonites changed direction and provided aid to the farmers and small towns that the big guns (FEMA, RC, and et al.) didn't bother to go to. After watching FEMA in action, most of the small towns were glad they were left to their own devices to clean up and rebuild.

  13. I know that in the late 1970s when there was a flood in Ricksburg, ID, the home of BYU-Idaho, the Red Cross was one of the first groups on the scene. However, their behavior was so outrageous that the Mormon Church authorities (Ricksburg is probably 80%+ Mormon) who were conducting their own private relief services (the Church has always been big on that sort of thing) told them very firmly that their presence was not required and asked them to leave off anything involving members of the Church, they would handle it themselves, thankyouverymuch. My father, also, ran into them during an episode in the late 1950s in Argentina, and he had nothing good to say about them.


  14. The head of the Red Cross makes a few bucks shy of a half-million dollars a year. The head of the Salvation Army is often rumored to make only about $13,00 a year. Other sources say the total compensation package is closer to $100K. You might guess where I send my money (when I have any to send).

  15. @Rusty,

    the local volunteers who are working on shoestring budgets are not the problem.

    The problem is the Red Cross HQ and their "professional" folks who they bring in from long distances in a disaster.

    They have also gotten really bad about providing training. 20-30 years ago, a certified Red Cross instructor could accumulate course books, give a class to a bunch of volunteers who provided their own training facility (say a church group, scouts, etc) and for a pretty nominal fee (<$10/person). Now, every person who takes the class must buy a brand new copy of the book for the class, no discounts allowed, minimum per-student fees, plus the final testing/certificate fee.

    So a youth group used to be able to find (or grow their own) local instructor and teach all the kids basic first aid/cpr for almost nothing.

    Now, the instructors are not allowed (by the Red Cross HQ) to tech the class for less than about $100/person. they also have much shorter recertification times than many other organizations teaching the same materials.

    Again, the volunteers who live in a community and provide the local response are not the problem. The problem is much higher up the food chain.

    David Lang

  16. When I was a kid and flooding hit, I wondered why the older locals were saying to the national guard "Don't go! Don't leave us to the Red Cross!" …Then the guard were ordered out, and I found out exactly why. Got nothing good to say about that bloated bureaucracy of hypocrites.

  17. In regards to the question of where the money went in Haiti, I would suggest that you will find a large portion of it sitting in the bank account of the Clinton crime family foundation. Apparently the ccff somehow got a hold of the process in Haiti and are the big dog there as far as who gets what.
    Picked that up on another blo yesterday IIRC.

  18. Only charities I'll donate to are Caritas, which happens to be Roman Catholic organization but pretty much 100% gets to the people in need, and the Salvation Army.

  19. My uncle told me while he was in South Pacific (airman) during WW2 red cross had care packages from mainland there and each had a price tag These were donated by citizens; intended to be free. The red cross scum were selling them. He also told me never ever give anything to red cross as they were a sham fraudulent organization. red cross not capitalized on purpose not deserveing of any respect.

  20. Look back at 9/11 and how much they received in donations versus how much aid they actually provided. They were so swamped with money that they basically shut down everything but their accounting division. I haven't given them a nickel or a drop of blood since.

  21. I can only add to the accolades of the Salvation Army.

    In 1962 my mother's family home burned down in January. My mother is the youngest of 8 children and she was 7 years old. Ten people out of a home in winter in Northern NY (Clinton County on the Canadian border).

    When the Red Cross showed up, the brought blankets and hot cocoa but wanted to charge money for things that had obviously been donated.

    The Salvation Army showed up. They learned the size of the family, a family that didn't want to be separated and sent to various volunteers' homes. So the Salvation Army found a US Army tent, one from the Korean War that could house around 20 people, beds, and even a Field Kitchen of some sort. They also brought food, blankets and 8 cord of firewood. My mother still tears up when she thinks of them and is known to empty her purse into their red kettle whenever she passes one. I always give generously to them as well.

    But not a penny for the Red Cross.

  22. Dad tells a story about the time his Army Reserve unit got called out to help deliver supplies for tornado relief. When they pulled up, the red cross was selling coffee. The Officer in charge put a call in back to the company and had the mess section come out. They setup right across from the red cross and started passing out coffee and sandwiches for free.

    He also tells about the time when he was in Germany and the red cross managed to get word to him that his father passed away. About 20 minutes before the telegram from his Aunt arrived (Not sure of the date, but this would have been '59 or so – it was before Mom & Dad got married in '60).

    And then there was the time when my 10 week old niece died while he was stationed in Texas. For military personnel to get emergency leave, notice of the death is supposed to come through the red cross. The idiots at the local rc at home, where my brother and his family lived, didn't know why they were receiving the request to notifiy, or who to contact, or what to do. After dad got off the phone with his battalion commander, who told him to just take off and worry about the BS after he got back, Dad called the local red cross in Texas, explained to them what he needed done and asked them to get in contact with the idiots back home. Honestly, the only reason he did, after speaking to the BNCO, was he had a captain looking for the slightest reason to hang him. Fortunately, that captain cooked his own goose later…:)

    Yeah, Dad has no respect for the red cross at all. And I haven't seen much from them to warrant any, either.

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