If you think of a disaster relief organization, the first one that comes to mind is probably the Red Cross, right? In fact, many people give to this trusted organization — including myself — because what better way to help others in an emergency than with a large, well-known organization that can mobilize forces quickly and have a great impact. Right?
Well, maybe not.
When the news of the Red Cross’ alleged misuse of funds for Haiti came to light, I felt sick to my stomach. I had given to this fund … numerous times, as a matter of fact. Like many, I wanted to be part of the solution that helped rebuild a community and make sure that these families had their most basic needs met — food, clean water, clothing and somewhere to live. Surely the $500 million in donations to the Red Cross for Haiti relief could make a great impact for these people.
Well, as it turns out, that $500 million built exactly six homes.
“I found myself saying the same thing over and over again: The Red Cross spent five years and almost half a billion dollars in Haiti — and built six homes. That seemed to sum up the situation a bit. The Red Cross told us that it provided homes for more than 130,000 people…Well, it turned out, after a lengthy series of email exchanges, that the vast majority of that number is made up of people who went to a seminar on how to fix their own homes, people who got temporary rental assistance and people who received temporary shelters that, according to the Red Cross, start to disintegrate after three to five years.”
In full disclosure, I am the founder of a non-profit and I serve as the executive director. As I learned more about how the Red Cross diverts funds, my feelings of disappointment turned to anger. These issues not only affect the Red Cross, but they put an extra burden on small nonprofits like mine. When large nonprofits make mistakes, people start to think “If we can’t trust big nonprofits, then we can’t trust anyone” and they stop giving. Period.
The issues of large, well-known nonprofits mean that smaller nonprofits have to work extra hard to prove our worth. And, we don’t have the resources of large nonprofits — we don’t have the lobbyists or the marketing money or the staff to clean up the messes of others. Many small nonprofits are all volunteer organizations (or take very small salaries) so that a very large percentage of our donations go directly to helping our cause.
And, look, this isn’t just about the Red Cross. it’s about those large nonprofits who take advantage of those who give to their cause or misuse the funds in ways that are more self-serving than helpful. The FTC recently released a report naming four well-known cancer charities with stealing over $187 million from consumers.
And, each time a news story like this breaks, it makes my job as with a small nonprofit even harder.
As you hear and read about these nonprofits, know this: there are still many amazing and honest nonprofits out there — both large and small. Do your research. Ask them questions. Don’t be shy about inquiring exactly where your money goes. (It should never take “a lengthy series of email exchanges” to get your answers.) Most importantly, please don’t let the actions of some big-name nonprofits making poor decisions sour you on helping others. After all, there are people and causes out there who need you.
Jacqueline Wilson is the founder and executive director of Monkey Do Project, Inc., a 501(C)3 nonprofit feeding and helping the people of U.S. Appalachia — some of the areas are defined as the poorest in the country.