As happens now and then, Mother Nature has unleashed her fury upon us, causing loss of life and property. And once again, we find ourselves wanting to: 1) know how this happened; 2) know how to prevent a recurrence and; 3) help by donating to those in need.
How to help is our charge today; there will be time for blame, recrimination and prevention in the near future.
Unfortunately, some of the biggest and best-known charities don’t measure up in terms of efficiency or effectiveness. Front and center on this list, as we learned after Hurricane Katrina, superstorm Sandy and the earthquake in Haiti, is the American Red Cross.
In a series of articles, Pro Publica found a number of things that were deeply disturbing about the ARC. Not only is the charity less than transparent with how it has used donors’ money, it has been intentionally misleading. Its claim that 91 cents of every dollar goes to disaster victims was called “not true” by NPR and Pro Publica. The organization even went so far as to say its spending practices were “a trade secret.”
That was enough for me to strike it from my personal list of possible charities, and I have urged others to do so as well; the ARC simply isn’t a responsible steward of other people’s money.
Note that, unlike most charities, ARC has a congressional charter.
I’m not alone in urging readers to think twice about giving via the ARC. Several mainstream media outlets have written about why donors shouldn’t give to the Red Cross as well. (There are lots of excellent charities to choose among. A good place to start is Charity Navigator, which has a list for those of you who want to help the victims of Harvey.)
If all of this makes you sad or angry, brace yourself: Rather than reform itself, the ARC is still being run by the same management team that bungled the responses to Katrina, Sandy and Haiti.
This is disappointing and I would wager that failure of the kind documented in the reporting of Pro Publica would have led to a house-cleaning in a private-sector organization.
This lack of accountability on the part of the leadership is a relatively new phenomenon. When the Red Cross botched its response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the Red Cross president resigned under pressure from the board (getting a $1.9 million salary and severance package for her troubles).
Sadly, the organization’s inadequacies have been on display for ages. Long before 9/11, former Beatle George Harrison was wary of using the Red Cross to distribute the proceeds from his Concert for Bangladesh.
All of which brings me back to the current leadership of the ARC: Why are they still there?
For an answer to that question, let’s turn to the organization’s board, which includes such corporate dignitaries as Apple Pay Vice President Jennifer Bailey, MasterCard Inc. Chief Executive Officer Ajay Banga and US Bancorp Chairman Richard K. Davis. It is up to them to change the management for the good of the charity.
I hope the ARC gets its act together. It is too important not to function at the highest level. Until it does, I will vote with my donations. So should you.
Ritholtz is a Bloomberg View columnist. He founded Ritholtz Wealth Management and was chief executive and director of equity research at FusionIQ, a quantitative research firm. He blogs at the Big Picture.