Indiana Daily Student

EDITORIAL: For disaster relief charities, transparency is key

Any organization that collects donations in the name of public service should be openly communicative with the public about how the donations are spent. If it is too difficult or even impossible to tell how a nonprofit is spending the funds it raises, then it becomes reasonable to suspect that these funds might be being mishandled. 

In a Jan. 24, 2017, post on its website, the American Red Cross said that it does not “track fundraising and management and general expenses” for individual disasters because the organization “responds to nearly 64,000 disasters every year.” 

Questions about how much support really goes to any one disaster are entirely legitimate, but according to Red Cross’s current operation, they are also unanswerable. 

If that sounds a little disconcerting and causes you to suspect that such a statement intends to quiet concerns about financial transparency, you are not alone. 

During the Aug. 30 episode of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” host Ailsa Chang spoke to Brad Kieserman, the American Red Cross vice president for disaster operations and logistics, about the organization’s relief efforts following Hurricane Harvey.

When asked how much of every donated dollar goes to hurricane relief, Kieserman could only say: “Yeah, I don’t know the answer to that.” He did not know “how much it costs to put a volunteer downrange for a week,” nor could he give an estimate of how many emergency-response vehicles were in use. 

“It’s not something I have visibility on in the role that I play in this organization,” Kieserman said.

And before you get your hopes up about finding someone whose role does provide them with said visibility, know that according to Kieserman, an unnamed “chief fundraiser” would not know any better than he did. 

It is quite alarming that a representative speaking on behalf of a charity could not provide useful information about the specifics of what that charity does, which is a pretty big issue to overlook. Unfortunately, that is how spokespersons usually operate. This information that somehow escaped the attention of the representative should still be available to the public in some form.

Sure, the American Red Cross website does provide audited financial statements, but be our guest if you think you can find anything useful in the document. 

What helps most people decide where to donate their money is not an information dump about assets and liabilities but a concrete statistic about how much of their donation will actually serve the cause they care about.

All of this is not to say the American Red Cross does not do important work or make valuable contributions to disaster relief efforts. 

The Editorial Board simply wants to emphasize that, as Charity Watch President Daniel Borochoff said, the American Red Cross is “the most important disaster relief responder, and they control half our blood supply, so it’s vital they be as truthful as possible so we can support the work they do.” 

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