Monday, 9 May 2016

Red Cross and other Agencies

Some people have been asking me about the Red Cross.

The Red Cross does a great job dealing with emergencies, getting emergency response volunteers on the ground, getting emergency services in place immediately, and registering evacuees so everyone is accounted for. They are quite frankly amazing at that. The Red Cross is a registered Canadian charitable organization and as such must be regularly audited. It receives high ratings from organizations that rate charities in terms of efficiency and transparency.

The money people donate to the Red Cross is earmarked for the initiative they donate to. So in Slave Lake, more than 5.5 million was collected in donations and it all went to the community. The same will happen for Fort McMurray. 55 million has been donated so far and that amount will be tripled as the provincial government and federal government are providing matching sums.

So why do people complain about the Red Cross?

First, although they apparently spend just over 17% of their budget in administration, they certain seem to spend a lot of money on staff and volunteers.

The second problem and the one that evokes the most anger is the way the Red Cross distributes direct aid. There is apparently some kind of formula but it's unclear what that formula is. And that direct aid to individuals and families does not continue after the initial crisis as far as I know.

Take a look at the Slave Lake example. In the first year following the Slave Lake fires there was:

· $770,000 in direct aid for food, clothes, household goods, occupational supplies, rent, utilities, mortgage payments, damage deposits and so on

· $2 million for community development projects (see list below)

· $400,000 for rent and improvements for Slave Lake interim library

· $529,000 for staff and volunteers

· $229,000 for Red Cross Slave Lake office and facility

· $815,000 for transportation and housing of aid workers

· $800,000 to support ongoing recovery operations of the Red Cross in Slave Lake

If you consider that more than 700 families lost their homes, this translates to an average of just over $1000 per family in direct aid and more than 1.5 million in staff and office costs.

Rumours circulate that if you had insurance, you did not get Red Cross financial aid. Or if you earned over a certain amount, you were disqualified from receiving assistance. Could evacuees who did not lose their homes get assistance? I do not not know the answer. I asked but I did not receive a reply other than "visit our website."

Community projects

The following worthy causes received Red Cross funding.

· Healthy Snack Program Providing a free snack to all children
· Family Fun Night Free activities for families
· Student Hot Lunch- Koinonia Christian School
· Tuesday's Lunch Program Providing lunch to junior & high school students.
· Breakfast Program Grades 7-12 Purchasing new equipment to upgrade.
· Art with a Heart Transportation of art donations
· Ukrainian Society Replacing costumes lost in the fire
· Youth Drop-in Programs at Field House
· Lakeside Nursery Replacing lost equipment and repairs
· Wolves Hockey Replacing destroyed hockey equipment that was lost in the fire.
· Slave Lake Scouts Replacing lost equipment, and to waiving fees
· Slave Lake Boys and Girls Club Delivering after school programs
· Slave Lake Boxing Club Helping to cover equipment replacement
· Slave Lake Friendship Centre Helping cover the cost of renovations to the facility
· Slave Lake Legion Helping cover the cost of renovations to the facility
· Slave Lake Catholic Church Helping cover the cost of repairing the flooring
· Slave Lake Elks Lodge Helping cover the cost of repairs to the lodge’s roof
· Gilwood Golf Course Supporting community meeting place
· Multi-Recreation Centre Enhancements to the centre
· New Daycare facility
· Mental Health Initiative
· Youth Leadership & Resiliency Program
· Community Kitchen

What about direct aid?

As it did for Slave Lake, the Alberta government provides emergency funding to all registered evacuees. While you need to be registered with the Red Cross to get your money, the money comes from provincial tax dollars. Not the Red Cross.

Handing out cash brings a whole world of other problems. What criteria is used to decide who gets it? What proof of need is required? Who polices it?

Food banks and Friendship Centres are the only other organizations I know that give direct aid, but just in the form of food as far as I know. These all have some degree of oversight and administrative costs and they all do good work.I don't believe any of them hand out cash. If anyone knows otherwise, please comment.

The Rotary collected donations for Slave Lake that went into many excellent local projects. All of it. No middle man. The Rotary has set up a charitable fund for Fort Mac and all money donated will go to programmes there based on established needs. But it will not go to individuals.


  • If you really want to help individuals, act locally. See what is happening in your own town. Are there evacuees there? Your local Friendship Center or food bank is where I would start. 
  • If there is a cause you are keen on, do some research and donate there. Schools, libraries, museums, animal shelters, performing arts organizations, women's shelters, hospital auxiliaries- they will all need a helping hand. Even if their facility is standing, they will have lost volunteers, person-hours, and local fundraising potential. 
  • If you want to donate to 100% locally managed projects with no admin costs, consider the Rotary. 
  • If you want your money to go a long way through matching grants, if you want to donate to a large organization with a long history of donating to disaster relief and community programming, the Red Cross is a viable option. But I think it's time for them to be more transparent about how these donations are allocated.