I wanted to support the Red Cross during Harvey… (but I can’t, so I need alternatives…)

File this under “blogs I didn’t expect to, or want to write tonight”.

With hurricane Harvey causing incredible damage and distress to Texas, many of us are looking for ways to help. I’d love to be down there in a boat rescuing animals or humans, bringing free bottled water (as opposed to the horrible alternative), or other forms of support. For those not able to make that commitment, we fall back to supporting charities that are on the ground helping. Tonight started out simple enough:

08-29-2017 21:43:38 Lyger: have you donated anything to any hurricane relief fund?
08-29-2017 21:44:09 jericho: not yet
08-29-2017 21:44:17 jericho: if i do, likely Red Cross
08-29-2017 21:44:38 jericho: may do ASPCA, looks like they are doing relief efforts specifically for animals
08-29-2017 21:44:50 Lyger: was wondering about both of those
08-29-2017 21:45:03 jericho: RC is kind of ‘old faithful’ in that regard
08-29-2017 21:45:03 Lyger: let me know if you do. if reasonable, i’ll match

First, know that I am not only one who donates to charity who is careful where we donate, but I have learned the hard way that not all charities are created equal. I’ve also pointed out how so many of them waste considerable money trying to solicit more donations. I’ve advocated for everyone who will listen to tap into Amazon’s excellent program for giving to charity via your own purchases. I’ve also considered this at a slightly more abstract levels, on smaller amounts, because I really believe that people in a position to help should do so. Please, before you come down on me for warning someone away from charity or Red Cross specifically, I have been very clear it is about supporting charities doing the work you support. In this case, I just wanted to find which charities are specifically helping hurricane Harvey victims, and how.

I started by showing Lyger what Red Cross looks like under Charity Navigator, which is a 501c3 that I support too. With 90% going to program expenses, that is excellent, despite a 3/4 star rating (the CN star rating is more nuanced).

However, things went downhill after that. Start by Googling for “red cross harvey” and you get somewhat expected results:

Follow the links and you get the Red Cross donation page for Harvey:

Unfortunately, this is basically “give us money” with no supporting evidence for what they are doing during Harvey specifically. On the side bar we get a video though! Ignoring the culturally insensitive message suggesting that Hispanic kids have to read a book to figure out who their mother is, we see a building with cots and displaced families, but not a single Red Cross volunteer (the person speaking is almost certainly not a volunteer, as is the person filming them). The blankets and shots are strategic showing a good mix of people, Red Cross branded blankets, and… not much else. The man they briefly interview, I personally don’t think he fully understands if the person that saved him or his family were affiliated with the Red Cross, just that he is grateful that his family was rescued.

At the end of the video, the nice lady encourages you to visit their web site (see screenshot above, that is all the info I could find), or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (800-733-2717). Ignoring the web site issue, and I didn’t pay attention to the number, I called the first number I found on their site: 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669). Since I called the ‘Help Now’ number, it wasn’t the intended line to find out more information on how Red Cross is helping during Harvey, which is my fault. But I called, and the nice gentleman I talked to tonight was confused why I would ask about the Red Cross relief efforts (?!). Once I explained and he understood, he told me to call their ‘main line’, 1-800-733-2767 (RED-CROSS). I called that and got an interesting voicemail/routing lineup:

1. Opens with ‘call 911’ or call Houston coast guard if in life threatening situation
2. If experiencing flooding, they give advice to avoid attics, etc.
3. If calling from TX visit redcross.org/shelter or press 1
4. if calling from LA ..
5. To continue in español ..
6. Press 0 for all other inquiries
A. If you are calling about a blood donation, press 1
B. If inquiring on training and certification, press 2
C. To make a financial donation, press 3
a. For all other inquiries press 0 and you will be connected with to the next available representative, you can also visit redcross.org for more information
b. press 0
c. Options for Red Cross / Armed Forces liason
d. Disaster Assistance
e. Else, call back during regular hours

I spent the time trying to find out what the Red Cross is doing during hurricane Harvey, and I am left confused and wanting more information. Again, before you start telling me that of course they are good, wait a minute. The Red Cross took in over half a billion dollars in 2015 via “Contributions, Gifts & Grants“, and ultimately $2,726,672,619 dollars total. That is 2.7 with a B.

I am not saying the Red Cross doesn’t do amazing work, I know they do. I have done the same level of digging tonight in prior years for other disasters and been content they do good things. I have seen videos, first-hand accounts, and a wealth of information showing how they helped. What I am saying is that the Red Cross has completely failed in their social media campaign during Harvey. They are letting down the people they are helping, their countless volunteers who do wonderful work, and their supporters looking to make sure that money donated today goes to help the crisis we’re facing today.

My advice is that Red Cross continue helping during Harvey, but seriously re-evaluate their social media and fundraising efforts afterwards. Consider that my go-to charity to learn about charities, gave a pop-up about how to support during Harvey. And if you scroll down any given page, when the pop-up appears, it shows how you can help in their eyes based on data:

This is clever and helpful and I honestly wish this was a banner at the top of their site right now. That said, clicking on it is revealing in the context of the above. Consider the charities they recommend and where Red Cross places on that list. Of course, verify those other charities ranked higher are actually helping the crisis we face today, just as I tried to do with the Red Cross tonight. Please… make sure that if you donate, your money goes as far as possible. Doesn’t matter if it is $1 or $1,000, just make sure it counts. In the mean time, I am going to keep researching to find a charity I feel will deliver the most good during this incredible time of need, and look to donate tomorrow. Thank you.

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