Monday, June 30, 2014

The Red Cross

In response to a notation over at Whitecoat's weekly update, where he noted "no more donations to the Red Cross".

For context you can read the whole thing, but the gist is that the Red Cross are being sneaky about where the money goes.

For context about my response, I was (note the past tense there) a volunteer with the organization for over a decade, including running multiple first aid stations within shelters immediately after the Northridge Earthquake, as well as working gratis on everything from rodeos to the Rose Parade, and was one of several monthly coordinators of event coverage for a group of nearly a hundred active medical providers. In addition, I was a certified instructor in Basic and Advanced First Aid and CPR, and took the gamut of courses for Disaster Operations, all before, during, and after attending nursing school and getting my RN license. So I have a wee bit of experience with the organization.

So, in the context of "Red Cross doesn't want to tell how they spent money collected from Big Disaster XX", allow me to furnish some insight.

When there's a metric crapload of human misery, and it makes national news, the pitch machine and collection apparatus at ARC goes into overdrive. This is because they are a completely NON-governmental organization, entirely funded through charitable donations. (Biomedical Services, AKA blood donation, is a separate financial entity, for good and for ill, going back to the early 1990s. It brings in a good chunk of change, and also a ginormous financial liability, both from fines, and from lawsuits, and the intent was to keep them in the Red Cross tent while splitting off the liability, to prevent the entire organization going under from lawsuits, esp. those from before the blood supply was tested for a host of previously unimagined nastiness.)

So far, so good.

People, most particularly Americans, really are human about seeing others getting raked over the coals of life. Even if people decided to build their houses in flood plains, tidal estuaries, or tinder-dry forests, they don't like to see anyone's whole life go up in a moment, and then watch them suffer and shiver. So they give.

Like numerous other organizations, the Red Cross funnels those contributions to help where it's needed. And now for the "But...".

BUT...sometimes certain disasters are more...photogenic, and TV-friendly, than others. Little kids with their toys strewn around the uprooted trees, along with their parents and siblings, and sitting on the curb crying, after some devastating tornado, tugs at heartstrings.

Kids sitting on the curb because the next door neighbors were meth-heads whose illegal lab burned down their ghetto tenement and made 40 people of limited means homeless, not so much.

But both need a helping hand just as much as the other.

So, in their wisdom, the Red Cross looks things over, and decides how much a given disaster will be funded. If donations are wildly higher than this, well and good. The extra money goes to pay for the little disasters that don't get donations rolling. And to funding the Red Cross itself, from staff members, to buildings, to materials for training, and hopefully, to keeping some stock of supplies prepositioned in places in every chapter in case something really earth-shattering, like a 8.0 earthquake, Cat V tornado or hurricane, or the Mississippi flooding to 500-year flood levels happens.

Anybody with a lick of common sense knows why this is both prudent, and necessary.

Now for the back of the coin.

The Red Cross is a charity. It's driven by volunteerism, of which there is no shortage, and a certain amount of organizational altruism, which documentedly exists.
But it is, let's face it, a business that has to pay rents and meet payroll, and exist next year, thankyouverymuch.

And some number of the sort of folks who go to work for well-below-market salaries at a charity, rather than take any number of much better and better-paying jobs, are not your Bill Gates', Donald Trumps, or Jack Welches. Or even anything remotely like it, by and large, even allowing an occasional exception to the rule of gravity.

So even though the people who make the organization work are the sort of people who can do high finance in their day job at a Fortune 500 company, and still find time to show up to teach a Saturday class, or roll out at 3AM when a twister levels a neighborhood two zip codes away, the people who run things day to day, decide what gets done, plan, and administer all the functions of the organization are far too frequently people who'd be woefully under qualified to be even assistant night managers at Party World or McDonald's.

And yet, they see that they have The Clipboard, and are In Charge, and so they foolishly assume that makes them smarter and more talented than the volunteers who make their responses and programs possible, both personally and financially.

And I'm here to tell you, it just ain't so.

Organizationally, the Red Cross has been living vicariously off of goodwill engendered by the organization since Clara Barton's day, and the fumes in that gas tank are getting pretty thin.

So it's certainly well within the realm of possibility that senior management (which generally comes from local management, which as Will Rogers noted are simply the town bandits send to raid HQ) may have decided that the peons out from somewhere beyond their offices don't need to know how and where the organization spends their money. IMHO, that's a jackassical choice, and without tying personal salary to names, everybody and every expenditures from the top down should be publicly available on their website 24/7. That it isn't is very likely either a sign that they think themselves beyond such an open accounting, or the truth would embarrass the organization. Or both. I don't know which, but I have my suspicions based on past experiences.

But it's their ball, and their rules.

I'm not saying don't donate to them. They do a tremendous amount of good work, and generally in a way far superior than government minions do so. They do decent training, the costs are a bargain, and hordes of pool lifeguards and medics got their start there. Hell, I worked for them for years learning the healthcare business long before I got to where I could get paid for it, and I'll always hold a warm spot in my heart for an organization whose emblem I wore.

But you should know what you're dealing with, and what you're getting for your money.
And eventually, if they don't knock off the silly stuff, they're going to wake up one day and find out that somebody else, say, the Salvation Army, has started doing first aid and lifeguard training, and that the S.A. already does feeding and sheltering better, and has done so 24/7/365 around the world for 100 years, and Red Cross will be out on the curb with the other unfortunates in a New York minute, wondering what happened to them.

Jerry Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy - In every organization there are two kinds of people: those committed to the mission of the organization, and those committed to the organization itself. While the mission-committed people pursue the mission, the organization-committed people take over the organization. Then the mission-committed people tend to become discouraged and leave.

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