Donating to charity, especially in a time of crisis, can be intimidating. There are so many options. How do you know the organization you choose will use the money effectively? You might pick one with a history, a pedigree, a name you can trust. You might pick the American Red Cross. Fuck that.
During Hurricane Sandy, in New York, the Red Cross was impossible to avoid. They were soliciting donations. They were in the press, calling their operation "near flawless." They were doling out "digital hugs." What they were not doing was very much actual relief work.
The Red Cross' operation on the ground was criticized from all sides nearly as soon as it began, and as Barry Ritholtz at Bloomberg points out, the organization declined any requests to disclose how it spent money after the storm. At one point, it went as far as claiming that its Sandy response was a "trade secret."
Where did the money go? ProPublica's Justin Elliott and Jesse Eisinger and NPR's Laura Sullivan investigated the Red Cross' response to Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac, and the wastefulness and incompetence they found is astonishing.
Some representative passages from their report, titled "The Red Cross' Secret Disaster":
During Isaac, Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, "just to be seen," one of the drivers, Jim Dunham, recalls.
The volunteers "were told to drive around and look like you're giving disaster relief," Rieckenberg says. The official was anticipating a visit by Red Cross brass and wanted to impress them with the level of activity, he says.
During Sandy, emergency vehicles were taken away from relief work and assigned to serve as backdrops for press conferences, angering disaster responders on the ground.
Handicapped victims "slept in their wheelchairs for days" because the charity had not secured proper cots. In one shelter, sex offenders were "all over including playing in children's area" because Red Cross staff "didn't know/follow procedures."
In one case, the Red Cross had to throw out tens of thousands of meals because it couldn't find the people who needed them.
He described what happened when he advised his bosses that a suggested feeding plan wouldn't help storm victims. "I was quite bluntly told that they didn't care – it was the plan that was going to make the ARC [American Red Cross] look the best to the local politicians," he wrote.
Until the Red Cross makes some demonstrable effort to clean itself up, stop donating. There are plenty of other good organizations out there.
[Image via AP]