The Red Cross has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on promotion of its executives in the media and on celebrity parties instead of assistance to disaster victims, the Washington Post reports today:
The American Red Cross paid consultants more than $500,000 in the past three years to pitch its name in Hollywood, recruit stars for its “Celebrity Cabinet” and brand its chief executive as the face of the Red Cross — just a year before ousting her, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
In a $127,000 contract, a Houston corporate image company agreed to create a plan to make Red Cross chief executive Marsha J. Evans the face of the organization as part of a “senior leadership branding project” that ran from October 2003 to November 2004. At the same time, Evans was laying off workers at the Red Cross’s blood-services operations and at its Washington headquarters, as well as eliminating merit pay and limiting travel in a bid to cut millions from the national headquarters’ budget. …
Also in 2003 and 2004, the Red Cross paid a Beverly Hills, Calif., firm $113,900 to promote its name to writers and producers for television and film to get the charity included in story lines.
Red Cross spokeswoman Carrie Martin said the contract has resulted in such successes as Red Cross first-aid kits included in the MTV reality show “The Real World” and Red Cross emergency vehicles used in an episode of the TV drama “The West Wing.”
Martin said the contracts were a defensive move as well, “to make sure that the Red Cross name and symbol is used appropriately.”
When people donate to the Red Cross, as I have in the past, they expect their money to go to disaster relief or to supporting blood drives, not to get their executives high-paying speaking gigs or to allow them to rub elbows with Hollywood celebrities. This amounts to an abuse and deception on the part of the Red Cross, gaining donations — especially in the wake of 9/11 and recently with Hurricane Katrina — by using the pain and suffering of victims in order to support a glamorous work environment. As Harvard lecturer Peter Dobkin Hall notes, the Red Cross doesn’t need to spend money to raise awareness of the organization, as people “throw money” at them whenever disaster strikes.
This reminds me of the United Way scandal a few years ago, when it turned out that hundreds of thousands of dollars went to executive perks instead of their member charities. I stopped giving to United Way after that scandal and its ongoing hostility towards the Boy Scouts. The Red Cross does do good work, but this kind of abuse cannot stand without serious consequences. Perhaps the time has come to reconsider donations to the Red Cross as well, at least until they stop spending money on self-indulgent activities such as those described above and fire everyone responsible for these abuses of trust.