Red Cross (Again? Yes, again.)

What do you call a disaster relief organization that can’t seem to escape their own internal disasters? (If only this were radio, Caller #9 would win the prize!)

My favorite charity watchdog, Renata Rafferty, IM’d me this afternoon. If one can detect breathlessness in an IM, hers was absolutely panting. “Did you see the New York Times?”

According to the Times, the American Red Cross is preparing to cut as much as 1/3 of their headquarters staff – up to 1,000 people – due to fundraising shortfalls.

An anonymous staffer is quoted as follows: “Look, this restructuring is needed. It can be a good thing if they cut the right things, like some of the internal support functions, and focus what’s left on providing services.”

Is any of this a surprise? Unless and until the American Red Cross can focus on the only thing that matters – providing results to our communities in the long term and the short term – they will have fundraising problems and turnover problems and governance problems and FDA fines and “inappropriate relationship scandals” and who knows what else.

And unfortunately, as they continue to do, they will try to treat each of those symptoms, rather than aiming at the elephant in the room – the fact that they have no vision for what they will accomplish for our communities (and from that, no plan for accomplishing it), and no core of values guiding their decisions.

This is one of those times I wish I didn’t have to say, “I told you so.” But I told you so.

To avoid the Red Cross’s disasters, you can start with 11 Ways Your Organization Can Focus on Vision and Values.

One Response to Red Cross (Again? Yes, again.)

  1. Ever since I found out (many years ago) the American Red Cross would be there for me and my family should I experience a housefire or other disaster, I’ve slept better at night as a result. It pains me deeply to hear of scandals and other troubles that cripple any nonprofit agency, especially because it tends to taint the reputation of the sector as a whole.

    I love this sector and everything it stands for (caring individuals helping others, and most especially this sector represents “hope”). As a consultant to nonprofits, I don’t usually publicly criticize a nonprofit organization, but when it comes to the American Red Cross, I’ll make an exception.

    Twice in the last 20 years I’ve offered my services to the agency, in either a personal or professional capacity, and twice I’ve been disappointed with the response. The first time was in southern California, the second time here in northern Arizona (where numerous staff were laid off last month as part of a regionwide cutback for reasons cited in your posting).

    Long story short, they were/are woefully unprepared to accept offers of assistance from those of us in the community who are willing and able to help with community engagement. My first negative experience seemed to be a result of incapable management (up 3 levels of the chain of command). My second, more recent, local negative experience was a result of “rules” which are ironically supposed to help them better serve the public, but ultimately creates a separation between the local office and the community it serves. I understand the need for tight controls, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of losing potential volunteers and donor dollars.

    I’d hoped in all those years that something would have changed, or that my first experience would have been a fluke. But now I see it appears to be a bigger, deeper problem that goes to the very core of the agency.

    So Hildy…have you offered to do a training for their national office?