With hurricanes, Red Cross finds donors, critics
NEW YORK » Confronted with back- to- back major hurricanes, the American Red Cross has received a huge outpouring of financial support — and a simultaneous barrage of criticism based on its struggles to respond to several past disasters.
To date, combined donations to the Red Cross for hurricanes Harvey and Irma have topped $ 300 million. Former President Barack Obama tweeted a link to a Red Cross fundraising site. Many pro sports teams, celebrities and major corporations have announced large donations.
Yet even in the early stages of the response to Harvey in Texas, a NoRed- Cross hashtag circulated widely on Twitter. Some prominent journalists wrote articles suggesting that people should not donate to the organization. The New York Times, in an editorial, urged prospective donors to be skeptical.
“Its record on largescale operations is spotty,” said the editorial, asserting that “there has been less accountability than Americans might expect emanating from its grand marble headquarters in Washington.”
The criticism has been stinging to Red Cross volunteers and many have used social media to rebut the negative commentary.
“I worry that our volunteers need to feel appreciated,” Red Cross President Gail McGovern said in a telephone interview. “After 12-hour shifts, they come back to their hotel really exhausted. They don’t want to read this stuff.”
Some local officials in Texas and Florida have complained about glitches in the Red Cross response to Harvey and Irma, while others have expressed thanks. But much of the current mistrust of the Red Cross arises from the aftermath of other major disasters over the past 16 years.
After the 2001 terror attacks, the Red Cross irked many donors by earmarking some 9/11 gifts for unrelated purposes, including future needs. It was widely criticized for its response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and afterward acknowledged problems that included overwhelmed volunteers, inadequate antifraud measures and too few strong partnerships with local charities and civic groups.
More recently, investigative reporting by Pro Publica and National Public Radio made the case that the Red Cross responses to the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012 were flawed in multiple ways. One key allegation was that the Red Cross failed to adequately document how it was spending the $488 million it raised for its work in Haiti.
Last year, the Red Cross posted a detailed breakdown of its spending in Haiti. But that did not deter some critics from using social media as the new hurricanes arrived to post Haitirelated headlines like this: “How Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars and Built Only Six Homes.”