- Jul 31, 2005
- Reaction score
- Political Leaning
NEW YORK - As its hurricane relief donations near the $1 billion mark, more than double all other charities combined, the
American Red Cross is encountering sharp criticism of its efforts and mounting pressure to share funds with smaller groups.
The complaints — that Red Cross operations were chaotic in some places, inequitable in others — have stung deeply within an organization that is proud of its overall response to Hurricane Katrina, by far the most devastating natural disaster it has confronted on U.S. soil.
The frustration stems partly from the fact that the Red Cross has worked to avoid a recurrence of the humbling fundraising controversy that flared after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Back then, the Red Cross raised about $1.1 billion — its record so far for a single disaster — but the organization was assailed when donors belatedly learned that $200 million of their gifts were being earmarked to prepare for future crises rather than to help victims. Red Cross president Bernadine Healy resigned, the money was shifted back to the Sept. 11 Liberty Fund, and the organization promised greater accountability in future fundraising campaigns.
The Red Cross estimates it will need $2 billion to finance Katrina-related emergency services. Even if the goal is reached, Goldburg said, any policy change that would allow support of recovery programs would have to be authorized by the Red Cross board of governors.
Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University, said he has been impressed with the Red Cross' adjustments after Sept. 11 and its emergency response to Katrina.
But he is among numerous experts and activists who believe Katrina's impact is so severe that the Red Cross should depart from tradition and help finance the long-term recovery. "A lot of small non-profits in the Gulf Coast are staring at deficits and will be hoping for partnerships," he said. "The Red Cross would be wise to invest in them."
"This work is so immense — it's dangerous any time you have a single organization monopolizing relief services," said coalition leader LaTosha Brown. "The Red Cross needs to recognize its limitations and reach out by partnering with local agencies who have people on the ground."
Yet the executive director of the watchdog group Charity Navigator said such pleas to the Red Cross are unrealistic, and many reflect envy of its fund-raising prowess.
Some black activists have contended that the Red Cross response, notably in the first few days after Katrina, provided better services in mostly white areas than mostly black areas. "For the first 72 hours, they did not do an equitable job of responding to all communities," said Joe Leonard of the Washington-based Black Leadership Forum.
Red Cross chief diversity officer Rick Pogue said this perception arose because the organization, though committed to serving all in need, had more trouble getting teams into some impoverished black areas early in the crisis than into more affluent areas. "The need was so great, we'd go first to the areas we could get to the easiest," Pogue said