In this scathing report, the organization ProPublica and NPR revealed
some disturbing information about the Red Cross’ failure to properly use
donations for development projects in Haiti. The revelations should teach us all about how to – or maybe, how not to donate to disaster relief efforts. They also highlight the fundamental distinction between relief aid and development projects, and the unique challenges of both.
As someone who has
visited and worked in Haiti on numerous occasions, these revelations
are heartbreaking to me, but not surprising. To be sure, Haiti is a
difficult place to work; however, it also home to some of the most
impressive and ambitious people I have ever met. The Red Cross’ failure
cannot be blamed on Haitians, but rather on its leaders’ questionable
The most significant and troubling issue is not
that the Red Cross failed to provide disaster relief immediately after
the earthquake, but rather:
“The Red Cross kept soliciting money well after it had enough for the
emergency relief that is the group’s stock in trade. Doctors Without
Borders, in contrast, stopped fundraising off the earthquake after it
decided it had enough money. The donations to the Red Cross helped the
group erase its more-than $100 million deficit.”
In other words, the organization exploited the disaster to fundraise so it could restore its own financial health.
the headline indicates, the organization raised more money than any
other organization (over $500 million) and promised to use the funds to
build entire new communities with permanent housing. Yet, to date, it
has only built 6 permanent houses. Its failure is due to the typical
bureaucratic problems that are inevitable in such a huge charity and to
just-plain-dumb decisions, such as sending key employees to oversee
operations who speak neither Creole nor French.
Also at play are the differences between relief aid – where short-term, emergency assistance is provided to stabilize an at-risk population – and development projects – where more sustained support is provided to build a population’s capacity to support itself. The Red Cross is built for the former, but not the latter. It should learn from its failure to achieve any significant result from such a huge sum of money raised for housing, and refocus its mission back to relief aid.
Hopefully, the revelations of the Red Cross’
failings and behavior will inspire people to put
more effort into determining the best way to donate when the next disaster strikes
humanity. My advice is to do a little homework to identify nonprofit and organizations that already are functioning on the ground. By
giving to organizations that were committed to the people and present in the place
prior to the tragedy, you will be supporting a charity with credibility
and doing so in the most direct way possible. Most, if not all, charitable
organizations in a disaster-struck area will go into “emergency
relief-mode” once a disaster occurs. By finding a smaller organization
with a direct presence, your donation will have a more direct impact and
will avoid the multiplying effect of overhead costs that occurs from
involving several organizations.
How can you find a reputable
and trustworthy local organization? Start with Google. Make sure the
organization is a registered 501©(3) nonprofit by examining its
website and searching for it on www.guidestar.org. You can even
scrutinize its financial responsibility by examining the Form 990
report that they must file with the IRS each year, which should be
available on Guidestar. Use the “1-7-22 Method” that I presented in my
recent blog post “How to Spot a Crook (or at Least an Iffy Nonprofit) with 1-7-22″.
this will help you, and the victims of the next natural disaster, when
the inevitable next tragedy occurs. As always, feel free to call me at (615)
916-3224 or email at email@example.com.