The American Red Cross double cross

There was a time when I would walk to the local candy store to buy some chewy fruit-flavored Bonkers and then feel duty-bound to donate a hard earned nickel to a little can next to the cash register. Depicted on such a can was a black and white photo of Phil, a dejected and rejected three-legged German Shepard with one eye, some of what looked like an ear, and rabies. My mother then told me, “You don’t know for sure if your money is benefiting that dog.” I learned a valuable lesson that day, one that contributors to The American Red Cross fund could have benefited from.
In response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the American Red Cross raised $550 million through a fund intended to benefit the World Trade Center victims. As the New Haven Register reports, a portion of the donations will not directly benefit the victimes, but will be redirected to broad-based activities such as a blood reserve program, a national outreach effort, and a telecommunications upgrade. The American public seems to willingly disregard this type of discrepancy, either because it is in the dark, or because these organizations have the flag on their side.
Granted, the American Red Cross’ decision will not make headlines for the reason that our nation has prevalent anthrax and resounding threats of more terrorism to deal with.
Nonetheless, just because our nation is in this heightened state of alert, it should not lead to the surrender of our integrity.
Red Cross spokesman Mitch Hubbs was quoted in the New Haven Register saying, “It takes a lot of money to do a lot of work. We believe very much that we are honoring donor intent…we are helping the families, but we’re also helping everyone else.”
To honor donor intent is to fully act in accordance with the primary and proposed direction of such funds, not to later interpret and “believe” what the donor’s intent might be. Furthermore, “helping everyone else” excludes the generous individuals who donated their hard earned nickels to specifically help the World Trade Center victims.
The Red Cross is taking too great a liberty (the separate fund is actually entitled the Liberty Fund) with people’s money that was not intended for these alternate activities.
These activities may be imperative. I am not challenging their objective, nor am I assuming the station of knowing what is truly best for our nation at this critical point. I do, however, know that when an individual donates his money to a cause, it is meant to benefit what is in the donor’s interests. Donors may possibly respond, “The American Red Cross should know what to do with my money, leave it up to them, besides, what is telecommunications?”
“Philanthropic watchdogs (note: different from those shown on the above-mentioned candy store cans), while careful to note the Red Cross meets high standards overall, said the group has not clearly publicized its distribution plans for the Liberty Fund,” the Register points out.
In different, less turbulent times, these sort of actions would demand that the Red Cross publicize what they intended to do with other people’s money and rightly so.
Our rediscovered American tenacity should be consistent even when dealing with charitable organizations. Just because the charities are for the greater good, they may not be for the good that one intends.