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In Search Of The Red Cross' $500M In Haiti Relief (2015) (npr.org)
325 points by wallace_f on Sept 24, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 172 comments

"The point is that the concern we should have is not just about the $500,000,000 donated for Haiti for which the good hearted donors received just six $400 shacks. The concern is about billions of donated dollars intended to help people all over the world. The Haiti data demonstrates that for each billion donated to the Red Cross we get a total of 12 each $400 shacks which we wouldn't put our lawn mower in.

The greatest mystery for me is why the major media outlets keep advising well intended Americans to give to the Red Cross. If any of us operated like the Red Cross has for years the media would be screaming for our prosecution as it should. Why not the Red Cross? And worse, why do they encourage hard working and generous Americans to give to an organization about whom there is public knowledge of extreme abuse of billions of donated dollars ?!" - Hotes Foundation




I went to Haiti last year for a vacation. I met a lot of people there working for NGOs and upper class Haitians. From what I heard from them, there are two major money leaks in the country:

NGOs: They pay their employees heaps of money, to do relatively small amounts of work. These aren't the people we see on TV who get out there to work 12 hour days and save lives. These are people who go there because they need a job and like traveling. They're the people who get the office jobs. These are all young people who spend massive amounts of time and money on leisure. Most of this money ends up in the pockets of already rich Haitians, like restaurant owners and rental agencies. The UN seems to be one of the worst at this. I've seen UN people living in $4000 a month houses full of Apple stuff and expensive cooking equipment. They would write reports that were then dismissed by the government.

Corruption: A lot of NGOs try to work with local organizations to get stuff done. This is good, because it gives the locals a chance to earn money by working to rebuild their country. However, what often happens is that higher-ups in these organizations disappear with donated money, or just suddenly have new cars. This is actually quite a big problem there, since the country seems to be inherently corrupt, something I've seen multiple times during my short stay there.

From my experience, Haiti feels a lot like a failed state and most people I've spoken don't think there will be any improvement in the next couple of decades. They're also fearful of what would happen if the UN were to leave, since they'd lose a massive inflow of money and the poor might revolt, causing for even more chaos.

Interesting indeed. I work for an NGO / non-profit in Melbourne, Australia and we work with a /lot/ of other Australian NGOs and I can honestly say most NGOs (at least in Australia and New Zealand) are not at all like this. Salaries are generally significantly lower in the NGO/Non-profit sector and generally speaking these roles tend to attract morally driven individuals that are primarily concerned with their impact on society or at least the sector they work in (obviously a generalisation but speaking from experience).

My experience of local NGO / nonprofit workers is similar, although I see that they are frustrated with organisations that seem to increasingly spend more on seeking grants and reporting than "service delivery".

Also, well funded NGOs over here often tend to have significant government-based revenue streams, which can discourage activism on the fundamentals (which government might not agree with).

I do not question the dedication of local workers I've met, but the larger issue with respect to foreign aid is what happens to the money "in country" when it comes time to distribute goods or get things done in the local economy.

I would like to see major disaster relief specials try a tagline at the bottom:

Text ##### to donate $5 to GiveWell, which will channel your funds to the charity measurably best equipped to alleviate human suffering like (but not exactly like) the suffering caused by this disaster.

On the other hand, there was outrage after 9/11 when donated blood was diverted to other needs. Some donors apparently wanted all 475,000 units of donated blood to be used specifically to treat 9/11 victims (who required in total something like 200-300 units of blood, which was available in existing stocks).

One of the best things we could do would be to convince people that suffering is suffering and helping is fungible.

> Hotes Foundation


And yes, I did look it up. It's a tiny private foundation about which almost nothing is known, and the quoted articles are basically trash talking based on a couple of news stories and saying basically "see how much better it is to give to us?" except (in theory) they don't accept donations they want people to go in person to disaster sites and help on site.

Good question. There is Salvation Army, which accordingly to the comparison to Red Cross, has done extremely better job, delivering its mission well. But why didn't orgs like FB or Google (I forgot which) advertized SA? SA is well-known too.

I think there is a social effect, but more likely because the people working at Red Cross has better reach to the big organizations and media outlet, despite the backlashes.

The same with World Health Organization (WHO). Top officials still buy luxury first-class ticket and hotel room. Why? Whatnis wrong with an econ seat?

The Salvation Army's religious beliefs (which they occasionally try to make law) are a dealbreaker for me and presumably others. Even though it's easy to laugh about things like not accepting donations of Harry Potter toys, it's concerning when they try to force their beliefs onto others (for example, threatening to pull out of areas that require employers to offer benefits to the partners of gay employees)

> But why didn't orgs like FB or Google (I forgot which) advertized SA? SA is well-known too.

I don't know the actual reason. But it could be because of the religious connection. While I've seen that the Salvation Army has done a lot of good, they also connect it with their belief system. This makes me uneasy.

Fundamentally I'd be happy to donate to a charity that I knew would:

- Responsibly manage the funds

- Ensure that those in need actually get the funds or directly funds activities for those in need (i.e shelter, food, etc)

- Not turn around and then spend significant fractons (or, in some cases, multiples) of the donated amount in trying to get more donations from me/other donors.

- Not connect the donations / activities with a religious belief system

Unfortunately those seem few and far between.

It's funny really, outside of religion, people don't seem to be naturally inclined to be both charitable AND scrupulous. Personally, I'm ok with a charity associating their work with religion if the end result is positive.

You get a lot of "secular" charities that rake in a lot of money and yet don't produce much in the way of results (White Ribbon, for example), and you also see a lot of religious charities that have big budgets and also produce good results (Salvos are a good example of this).

Not to say this is the rule by any stretch, but it does seem to be a readily observable trend.

If you subsume Megachurches under religious charities, I can point you towards a few nice examples of abuse. Say pat Robertson funding an African diamond mine with donation money or pastors conning the poorest into sending their paycheck because "god will maybe repay them manifold in hard cash"

Hmmm Doctors Without Borders ? Humanist and secular organisation that does pretty good?

As I said, not a rule just a trend.

Also notewhorty for there very small bureaucratic water-head- and even more notice-able for there doctors who do not apply following overly rigid rule systems.

One of them always gave away free soap bars, so that locals could sell them on the markets. Those guys are astonishing- my deepest respect to everyone who toured with them.

Also -if you look as NGOs, who get into troubles as a quality sign (if your NGO workers get into the thick of things, they are where people really need help), Doctors without borders are always where it hurts. (Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia).

> It's funny really, outside of religion, people don't seem to be naturally inclined to be both charitable AND scrupulous.

I think you can easily remove "outside of religion" and have this statement stand.

There are far too many examples of supposedly "charitable" religious organisations working almost entirely to benefit their own directors/employees.

I know what even a whiff of religion means for some people. But I have to say that I can't think of any charitable organizations I trust more than the churches in my area. I know some people think it's all jet-flying televangelists, but there's a number of non-denominational and Vineyard churches here that have open books for the hundreds of thousands they donate every year.

The main focus of some of these churches is to organize volunteer operations, staff community outreach programs, and building things besides new sanctuaries. No one is getting rich at these places, so there is little publicity. But I wish more people were aware sometimes, if for no other reason than to know there are positive places to donate your time and money if it doesn't rub you the wrong way.

SA is tied to Catholics, and this is a big deal breaker for a lot of people.

The Salvation Army is a Protestant Christian movement. (Not an affiliation: a full movement in that there are Salvation Army churches)

That’s not true, the Salvation Army is, as I understand, its own Christian denomination.

Yup. It separated from Methodism. Even have their own tartan!


I stand corrected by the comments here. Apologies for getting this wrong.

Not sure whether that (Hotes Foundation) is a good source, but clearly the American Red Cross has a really bad reputation among cognoscenti.

Now, I think it's great that Apple encourages and enables donations after major disasters, but I wish they were a bit more selective in their choice of recipient.

Is the problem with the Red Cross in general, just the American Red Cross, this particular project of the Red Cross, or with charity projects in Haiti? Because I think I've heard of other NGOs who spent a lot of money to accomplish nothing in Haiti.

I'd really like to see some more in-depth reporting on this.

I think it is very plausible that the Red Cross didn't bribe the right people or underestimated the depth of bribes it would take to get anything done. By the time they looked up, the money was gone and nothing was done and they dug their hole deeper by lying, probably expecting the local officials to back up their story. Instead, they threw them under the bus in order to attract more spending.

Worth re-iterating: The American Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross are independent organizations, with very different reputations.

Care to expand on this?

Edit: Based on the downvotes, I'm guessing I wasn't really clear what I was going for - I hadn't heard about the International Committee before, so I was looking for some more information about how they differ.

The structure of the international red cross movement is a bit confusing. There are completely independent national societies in most countries (E.g. The American Red Cross), as well international organisations based in Geneva (The ICRC and the IFCR).

In the US, the phrase "Red Cross" often is used to refer to "American Red Cross", which is the national society who deliver blood services and local disaster response. They've come under some criticism for apparent lack of transparency around how donations are spent, and for allegedly having very high overheads.

The IFRC (International Federation) is an international organisation that facilitates cooperation between the independent national societies.

The ICRC (International Committee) is a large international organisation whose mandate derives from the Geneva Convention, and whose work is focussed on armed conflict. They work with war casualties, prisoners of war, refugees, civilian victims of all forms, on any and all sides of conflict. They also help coordinate disaster relief in lots of cases just because they have the organisational ability to do it. In my opinion they're among the most trustworthy organisations that you could give to.

> They've come under some criticism for apparent lack of transparency around how donations are spent, and for allegedly having very high overheads.

They are also borderline abusive with how often they will call you and harass you if you miss an opportunity to donate blood. They apparently have unlimited funds to pay phone operators.

Not borderline abusive, they are straight up abusive with their phone calls. If you ever decide to give blood do NOT give them your phone number.

I tried to give blood ONCE and found out that I was ineligible. For the next five years or so they harassed me non stop about giving blood. I told them I was ineligible they just said "ok" but I still got phonecalls. I asked them to stop calling me but they didn't stop. After a while I would just hang up on them. I got the phonecalls to stop by emailing the ombudsman. Never got a reply but the phonecalls stopped shortly after.

I noticed this as well.

I recently decided to stop giving them blood, however, because I was actually reading the fine print for once, and apparently they send your blood off for use in research at universities and you cannot opt out.

Why is that a bad thing?

I am giving you my blood to help people not for your side channel research efforts. If a university wants to use my blood for testing and research they may do so at my discretion, not in spite of it. Also, I would like to be able to review the privacy policy of that particular university and know if they have any attempts to turn a profit with a pharmaceutical company. Again, blood is very sensitive and very personally identifiable. I want the least amount of people possible (who don't actually need it to survive) to have it. I have no idea what the future holds in terms of genetic testing, genetic discrimination, and most importantly, how this particular research university handles data storage and information about my blood and I.

Anyways, long story short, I will be using my local blood organizations from now on, or just going directly to the hospital to donate.

I actually blocked them, just went straight to blood center whenver I can.

I gave blood with them a lot during college, as did my brothers. Then we moved out. For probably about eight years after I moved across the country they would still call my parents' house. "Hi, is Luca there?" "No, he doesn't live here anymore. Please remove him from your list." "Okay."

Thirty seconds later, the phone would ring again. "Hi, is Duncan there?" Repeat a third time for my other brother. For years. I think it's stopped now, so it didn't quite last a decade (though maybe it did for my older brother).

The Blood Center of Central Texas, on the other hand, stopped calling the first time I asked them to. Once they stopped, I resumed donating regularly.

All that aside, I highly recommend donating blood regularly--it has health benefits and is a pretty effective form of charity.

How is this possible? I simply asked to never be called again, and was called perhaps once more where I reiterated this. Then I was simply never called again.

I don't know how it's possible for them to disregard my pleas to remove me from their lists. I even told them I have traveled to SE Asia and been exposed to locations with malaria (true story), but ultimately had to resort to blocking their dozens of local and 800 numbers on my phone.

Yep, I don't know if they're straight up spoofing caller IDs (I can't imagine they could actually get away with that), or if they actually own numbers in every exchange so they can make local calls, but it's incredibly annoying...

They changed my number in their database promptly and effectively when I asked them to during a blood donation.

I redirected it to Google Voice and configured their numbers to go straight to voicemail. I figure if they have anything important to tell me, they'll leave a message.

Thank you! That's the perfect tl;dr (too long; didn't research?) I was looking for

Thanks, that clears things up massively. I've never heard anything negative about the Red Cross (International Committee or otherwise) in Europe, and was a bit shocked to see their (collective) name pulled into the dirt.

> I've never heard anything negative about the Red Cross (International Committee or otherwise) in Europe

Well... my dad volunteered in various relief operations during the Balkan conflicts (Bosnia first and Kosovo later, raising and delivering aid as well as coordinating localised rebuild efforts). As a result, his opinion of Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières went way down. According to him, RC activities are routinely used for on-the-ground intelligence gathering and operations by most states involved, a lot of RC people are basically civil servants or straight out spies, and the org often discriminates on religious grounds in many ways (this was particularly relevant in Bosnia, where aid operations were effectively compartmentalised by faith); and MSF is only a career vehicle for a lot of people. Also according to him, a lot of volunteers in any org are simply out for easy sex, abusing their position of privilege with the local population - and often ignoring details like age of consent.

We had a big row once, where I basically proposed that supranational orgs like those will inevitably become more and more key as disasters and wars get bigger and longer, and that scale helps dealing with these scenarios. He was extremely skeptical. This said, he still raises money for a smaller NGO every year.

Obviously this is anecdote, but I bring it just to point out that critical outlooks on RC and other big "relief institutions" do exist, although they rarely coalesce in anything particularly scandalous or front-page worthy.

So, for us that are not into the non-profit world, who is the more reputable and actually helps people?

International is fantastic, American is a travesty.

I wouldn’t call a charity with an A- rating from CharityWatch a “travesty”.

All that means is that there are many worse charities.

I tried to look into it one time and find things written by people who watched from up close. It made me physically ill long before I looked at any substantial number of them.

I think the usual formula is to "pay" the CEO 200 k and spending the rest on ever larger promotion cycles.

What is needed in the west is a huge tax on charities and other non-profits to be entirely used to monitor their activities. Then we need to write draconian laws forcing them to insure and guarantee delivery.

Any sign of failure should result in persecution and the entire staff replaced - since we have plenty of volunteers.

We need to raise the standards like that to the point where government can safely pump funds into the mechanism when a situation calls for it.

I don't want to be called, receive letters and fill out paper work. I have better things to do. I'd much rather spend 50 bucks in [extra] tax for aid than suffering 2 hours of promotion to fund promotion every year.

When is gates going to provide drinking water to the entire world? Never? Then lets put him in prison and salvage the fund.

> What is needed in the west is a huge tax on charities and other non-profits to be entirely used to monitor their activities.

Nah. Just remove charitable donations from being tax-exempts, and then it's no longer a problem for the government when charities don't deliver, but a private problem of their donors.


The Red Cross I know of here in the UK and throughout the world (as far as I knew) are a fantastic, hard-working organisation that provide all sorts of disaster relief and humanitarian aid in warzones and ... well they do great stuff.

That the American Red Cross might be sullying the name of charity through its actions, let alone the name "Red Cross" is a terrible shame.

YUP ... 100% knew this, just forgot. VERY good point.

A plug for New Story (https://newstorycharity.org/), which has built 900+ homes in Haiti for $6000 in donations each. And they think a lot about building those homes into functional communities.

Thanks, Trevor. Hi all, I'm the ceo and co-founder at New Story. We're proud of the work we've done in Haiti as we've also used all local material and local labor to build the homes. What's more transparent than just the "100%" promise, is that we prove to donors via family profile pages and move-in videos the exact results of their donation.

If someone donated $6k on our site now, 100% of that goes towards local materials cost, labor, and sometimes the land for the home.

We have a separate bank account to fund salaries, R&D, etc. Therefore, donors have the option to give directly to a home/family (which we show you the digital profile of that family and a move-in video), or a donor can choose to give to our "Builders fund" that covers salaries, R&D, travel, etc. We ask for minimum donations of $25k/ for 3 years to join the Builders fund.

I completely understand the "marketing scheme" some have mentioned. We really don't view it that way. If someone gives to homes, it's absolutely restricted to go towards building homes. If a donor gives specifically to an innovation project we're working on, their donation is restricted towards that project.

Happy to answer any other questions.


What's the biggest challenge your organization faces?

My kneejerk reaction is: local labor!? local materials!? So inefficient! But I'm wrong. You're doing exactly what's needed; bootstrapping skills and contributing towards the local economy.

I'm curious how much housing is still needed in Haiti, how much more money into the pipeline would fix the problem, etc. Would you be able to scale beyond Haiti? Sorry to ramble, love the mission!

It's been years since I was an American Red Cross (local) disaster services volunteer, but at the time I believe the philosophy was also providing funds rather than materials because it helped local economies recover.

Also, if many people donate materials, it quickly turns into a logistic clusterfuck, where the charity suddenly has to worry about (and spend money on) shipping tons of stuff across the world, which is significantly more expensive than just buying it locally.

Expensive and wasteful, as people all donate the same tin of beans and no spoon to eat it with, so to speak. But there is also a point to this sort of donation - gifting in kind usually ensures it won't be pocketed along the way. It might get wasted (food expires, boxes break etc), but rarely exploited for profit - or so the common wisdom goes.

Unfortunately, something like that can still be used for evil in many ways. Say your container full of cans gets delivered to Port Disaster and stored in customs; the local docks boss (be it a warlord or local leader) gets wind of it and refuses to release it unless his palms are greased. The org will be forced to pay, otherwise all effort will be for nought, food will rot etc. Charitable gifts will then help fostering the blackmail and corruption economies that wars and disasters inevitably create, rather than relieving the honest one. But then again, so would random "cash rain".

There is no magic bullet, all solutions have their downside. Operating in crisis scenarios is a constant moral maze.

Is corruption of local players a problem you've encountered?

That's really incredible. What's more fascinating is their 100% promise [1]:

> We send 100% of all donations directly to hire local workers and buy local materials so you know exactly where your donation is going.

Considering their Careers page lists they are hiring a software engineer, I dug a little further and found this info in their FAQ:

> How Does New Story Fund Operational Costs With A 100% Promise?

> We are committed to putting every cent of donor contributions to the building of homes. We fund our day-to-day operations by generous contributions from corporate investors and private individuals. Also, a majority of our incredible donors opt-in and add 10% onto their donation to fund New Story operations. If you are interested in investing in our organization, so we can serve even more families, email info@newstorycharity.org.

The FAQ mentions an investment opportunity, though I'm not sure what the investment is, besides charity social goodwill -- which of course, is a great thing.

[1] https://newstorycharity.org/100-percent/

That's just bucket A and bucket B right?

Like, the money going towards operations is still donated. The page about the operations money even puts it in terms of having 2 bank accounts: https://newstorycharity.org/the-builders/

So fine, they are able to advertise that they are spending 100% of certain funds on programs. But it is just a marketing gimmick, they still have some overall efficiency, just like any other charity.

It means there's more transparency about where the money is going. It's going to be hard to get corporate donations if you have to say to them, "we need X from you to run the business of providing only Y in actual support".

It surely has to help stop bureaucratic creep. You're forced to run lean and efficiently in the administration.

Isn't that the pitch they make to the large contributors? That if they have $X of funds for operations they will be able to gather and deploy $Y funds for programs?

Surely the large contributors have some concern for that ratio.

Of course I think of matching campaigns the same way (as a gimmick). If you are willing to donate $10,000, why not blare out that you are matching $10,000 instead of just donating it.

Of course I think of matching campaigns the same way (as a gimmick). If you are willing to donate $10,000, why not blare out that you are matching $10,000 instead of just donating it.

Obviously many companies match for the marketing, but besides that, they're also convincing others to donate. It's like giving people a "50% discount" on their donations. If the matchers believe in the cause, why wouldn't they match rather than just donate?

It means everyone donating knows what their money is going to. If you want 100% of if to go to houses, it will.

Exactly, it is about transparency. You get to choose what it is used for and they follow through.

This is right. We, of course, use both bank accounts for overall efficiency. What's important to know is that donors are able to: a) Choose exactly what they want to give towards b) Donors see the family profile and move-in video that their donation was allocated to. This holds us accountable and shows results to the donor.

example: https://impact.newstorycharity.org/families/SV-FC-AHUACHAPAN...

That doesn't mean as much as it sounds like it does, though. Suppose an organization has $100 of "houses only" money, and another $100 of "general fund" money, $20 of which is also spent on houses. Now say I donate $5 of my own money to "houses only". There is absolutely nothing stopping the org from (and arguably nothing wrong with) reducing the "general fund" spending on houses by $5, so that the ultimate amount that goes to houses is unchanged.

That's not how it works with New Story as they are not putting their own operating funds towards funding houses. It'd be odd and a question in the auditing process if a non-profit operated the way you described.

It's similar to the difference between opex and capex. You can call it a marketing gimmick, but 100% of the money put into capex is capex, at least according to the page you linked.

The hygienic accounting doesn't change whatever the overall efficiency is.

(a sibling comment to yours points out that the separate accounting can help create good incentives, which could well be the case, but looking backward, there is still an efficiency that can be calculated and compared to other charities)

Hygenic accounting, marketing gimmick? It's really straightforward, so I don't see why you need to malign a charity that has found a way to separate overhead from assistance.

o=overhead donations (min of 25k)

a=assistance provided

donations received = o+a;

donated % used for charitable cause = a*100/(o+a)

I don't see what is malign about hygienic accounting.

Marketing gimmick is certainly a cynical take.

Not all gimmick it means that people/companies who are donating know that their money is either going towards operational funding or to relief efforts.

Is there a reason that they are not listed on Charity Navigator? Are they listed on any other independent charity rating site?

... which confirms that they are unrated.

They're too new to be on Charity Navigator.

There is an interesting book called Lords of Poverty from Graham Hancock. It's from 80s when he used to work as a correspondent for the Economist in Africa.

He claims that foreign aid and charities that raise tons of money from Western people for different projects in Africa are a total waste of money. The amount of corruption and waste is so huge that majority of the money people from US or EU donate ends up going directly to local strongmen who buy new cars etc and almost none of the money ends with the people it was intended for.

This is why I don't donate to charities. I believe for every dollar I would donate perhaps $0.1 would actually reach the destination and be spent on helping people. I'd rather donate directly to people in need after I meet them and can see that they are legit and there aren't several layers of middlemen leaching off the donated money.

I'm not sure that true. As in - not true at all, unless you really want to believe it to be true.

No, 70% of foreign aid is not 'stolen off the top' http://www.politifact.com/global-news/statements/2017/jan/17...

How Much Aid is Really Lost to Corruption? https://www.cgdev.org/blog/how-much-aid-really-lost-corrupti...

Where does aid money really go -- and what is it spent on? http://edition.cnn.com/2013/10/09/opinion/where-does-aid-mon...

While there are large issues on the way foreign aid is distributed, including corruption and more recently local NGOs being sidelined, it's nowhere near close to your "perhaps $0.1" estimate of reaching locals. The idea that almost all the assistance is wasted is not only untrue, but harmful.

Those statistics don't include the amount of money spent fund-raising for more money, e.g. the big ones can spent almost a third of their fund raising on more fund raising:


I'm not a fan of funding more chuggers on my high street.

And then how much is spent on the head office, and the executive pay and a whole load of other things that get hidden in a bunch of different buckets?

I'm not sure what your issue is (and how it's connected with the op's claim that 99% of foreign aid is lost along the way to the people that need it).

But either way, from the graphic you linked it seems like on average, more than 75% of the money you give to these charities ends up being used for charitable activities, with the larger part of the remaining money used to raise more funds. Fundraisers on the high street are occasionally annoying, but I'd be extremely surprised if they are the largest drain on that remaining 25%, particularly compared to other efforts.

On a personal note, I have no major issue with them (except agreeing that they are often annoying), wouldn't change my opinion on foreign aid or charity over them and cant help but feel that anyone not donating because a percentage of their donation would go towards their salaries is looking for a convenient excuse rather than actual reason.

The parent is using statstics that cherry pick spending, without mentioning that a huge proportion of your donation is spent on further fund raising, the snake eating it's own tail.

I've nothing against charities and donate to several myself so you can get off your high-horse now. I simply accept the reality that a large proportion of my donation is wasted.

Most charities file a 990 that includes a calculation of how much money they spend on fundraising relative to how much they raised, for example.

looks like 6% fundraising for red cross, highest paid employee is $600k. https://p.widencdn.net/wmrybb/FY-2016-Form-990

(linked from http://www.redcross.org/about-us/who-we-are/governance )

> This is why I don't donate to charities. I believe for every dollar I would donate perhaps $0.1 would actually reach the destination and be spent on helping people. I'd rather donate directly to people in need after I meet them and can see that they are legit and there aren't several layers of middlemen leaching off the donated money.

Sorry to pick on one point but isn't that throwing the baby out with the bath water?

Let's Encrypt, Liberty, Khan Academy, Wikipedia, Seed Bank are a few of the charities I regularly donate to. I can understand not volunteering for humanitarian relief which is supposed to end up halfway across the world in some poorly governed LEDC but there are a lot of worthy causes which are well run.

Wikipedia is a horrible charity if you look at how they spend their money. They get a huge income stream relative to what they use for the website.

"This is why I don't donate to charities."

If that worry you so much, there are more direct and accountable charities available. I would recommend Watsi(1)

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watsi (I'm not affiliate with them except as a donor.)

He currently gets quite a roasting on Wikipedia for his "unscientific theories". It does appear his main interest after that book is The Orion Correlation Theory and let's say "exciting" Archaeology.

Yeah he is otherwise famous for his "alternative" archeology with books like Fingerprints of the Gods etc. Which by the way is a great book and although there is a lot of outlandish claims I wouldn't say it's totally crazy. Nothing wrong with speculating and exploring non mainstream ideas.

But I still think Lords of Poverty is a legitimate book and he had a lot of on the ground experience in Africa to observe how foreign aid is distributed and wasted. So I don't like dismissing his earlier work even if you find his later, let's say fictional work, dubious.

I loved reading Fingerprints of the Gods, but it’s utter tosh. I’ve also seen him on TV shows and I wouldn’t trust a single thing in any book the guy has ever written. He shows complete and utter disregard for plain proof that any of his theories must be wrong. Any and all counter evidence is merely ‘one data point’ while even the flimsiest, most contrived point in his favour is strong or convincing evidence. He’s very entertaining and obviously a clever guy, but utterly unreliable.

Well, there is a sequel called Magicians of the Gods. I also wouldn't trust him too much but I'm willing to entertain interesting theories, nothing wrong with that.

I especially liked his work on Sphinx erosion patterns in Egypt together with Dr Robert M Schoch from Boston University (and I am not saying we should overthrow the ancient Egyptian history based one factor like erosion pattern but it is intriguing).

Another interesting thing is the newly discovered 11,500 years old Gobekli Tepe, which is really interesting. I enjoy reading stuff like this in my leisure time or during long flights. Doesn't mean I trust it completely of course ;)

My instincts about International Charity / NGOs are the same as yours. However I'm not willing to easily accept that instinct since it is potentially self-serving. I think that we have to consider if a book written in 1989 can still be considered useful information and we also have to consider the writer's commitment to intellectual and factual rigour.

Fair enough. But since your instincts are same would you not consider donating money directly to selected people in need you meet in real life or while traveling? Or going to do charity directly yourself to actually make a real change?

I have friends who quit their jobs and went to third world countries and worked for charities on the ground for 6 months or so. This seems way better than giving money to some organization which claims it will spend it to help those people.

Not sure if Occam's razor applies here but given how much money is being funneled to charities and foreign aid and how little has been actually achieved it seems likely to me that the money is being wasted, probably ending up in hands of corrupt local officials and strongmen most likely.

He is not the only one to make that point though. de Mesquita is less controversial and makes the same point in The Dictator's Handbook.

Check out charitywater.org

I had the same concerns, but these guys are legit and get it done for the people who need it.

One thing that gets overlooked commonly with the the Red Cross is that it is a congressional charter. [1]

According to the charter the purposes of the corporation are:

(1) to provide volunteer aid in time of war to the sick and wounded of the armed forces, in accordance with the spirit and conditions of: (A) the conference of Geneva of October, 1863; (B) the treaties of the Red Cross, or the treaties of Geneva, of August 22, 1864, July 27, 1929, and August 12, 1949, to which the United States of America has given its adhesion; and (C) any other treaty, convention, or protocol similar in purpose to which the United States of America has given or may give its adhesion;

(2) in carrying out the purposes described in clause (1) of this section, to perform all the duties devolved on a national society by each nation that has acceded to any of those treaties, conventions, or protocols; (3) to act in matters of voluntary relief and in accordance with the military authorities as a medium of communication between the people of the United States and the armed forces of the United States and to act in those matters between similar national societies of governments of other countries through the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Government, the people, and the armed forces of the United States

The problem is that sure we can donate to other organizations but the Red Cross still is in a way a representive of America. And if they are so bad at delivering aid to Haiti; I wonder how effective they are at their other duties. I wonder if congress can revoke their charter? Or force reform? But that seems like an almost impossible task.

[1] http://www.redcross.org/images/MEDIA_CustomProductCatalog/m4...

Given their brand recognition status, any attempts by Congress to revoke their charter would be a career-ending move for the politicians involved.

It could happen, it just couldn't come out of the blue. Someone would probably need to pay for a nation-wide awareness campaign (the irony) about the evils of corrupt charities such as The Red Cross or Susan G Komen.

What's up with Komen? I realize I could google it, forgive me, but it sounds like you're in a position to give me a quick precis =)

They actually only spend about 20% of their revenues on breast cancer research. They spend a lot of their money, about 40% of revenue, on "awareness companies" which have dubious real-world effectiveness, and can be considered a clever way for them to market themselves and fundraise without actually having to report it as such (they spend 10% on fundraising to begin with).

They're also very litigious. Of course they need to protect their brand, but in a lot of cases they are pretty objectively the bad guys. They have taken legal action against other orgs/charities using "for the cure" in their names, they've taken action against orgs/charities using "cure" and pink together.

In general I think they are more focused on self-perpetuation than curing cancer. There's a lot of reading material on how some of their corporate partnerships have been deceptive in the sense that Susan G Komen received very little directly financially, and took the opportunity as a chance to market themselves instead.

Their CEO and upper management do make a lot of money, but I don't think it's out of line for an organization their size. It's still a matter of controversy though.

They probably also haven't fully recovered from their brief attempt in 2011-2012 to stop working with Planned Parenthood [1][2], which is where a large number of women get medical care such as breast exams and cancer screenings. They had a huge drop in donations following that debacle.

For the curious, Karen Handel (now R-GA6) is believed to have been the driving force behind that.

[1] https://mobile.nytimes.com/2012/11/09/giving/komen-foundatio...

[2] http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-susan-g-kom...

They get a lot of criticism for (among other things) "pink washing" breast cancer, more of their funds are spent on "raising awareness" than actual scientific research, and having corporate sponsors that sell potentially cancerogenic products.

There's a documentary about it called Pink Ribbons, Inc.

I also heard someone once criticize them for supporting anti-choice politicians but I don't know how true that is.

Komen is very litigious when it comes to other non-profits using the color pink in their breast cancer awareness campaigns. They also pay their leadership a ridiculous amount of money but I'm not sure how it compares to other execs of non-profits

Their profile on charitynavigator.org is pretty benign:


They got involved in a political fight involving Planned Parenthood:


There are many arrows in the quiver that an enterprising politician can use to hold an errant organization to account (it's very difficult to be against holding powerful organizations to account, regardless of the actual merits of the action). They could propose amending the charter, simply choke off funding or insisting that they submit to a thorough audit by some federal government office (for which read: do what we tell you to, or have all your dirty laundry aired on cable news).

If there is anything I would like to see my taxes used for that would be it.

I built an internal system reporting on billions of dollars of project spending for a large NGO family. People inside the family of organizations could see financial budgets, actual financials, and progress information for any of thousands of projects.

Every project had a person responsible for it, written out goals and risks, at least quarterly progress updates, and funding organizations checking up on the projects at regular basis. Even when partnering with local organizations to get work done, the NGO had permanent people in the country keeping an eye on things.

There are definitely organizations that do a good job of handling this stuff.

Thanks for your work on their behalf and your optimistic message.

Even a bit of progress or positive change is priceless.

It's kind of surprising people still donate to Red Cross, given their extremely poor track record. I suppose they have brand name recognition. South Park had a great jab at them, with all the 9/11 donations being stored away in an Indiana Jones lost ark style warehouse.

IMO, a nice chunk of donations are done so people feel better. "Everyone" likes Red Cross so a donation there is seen as safe so it's the easiest path.

Yeah well they feel like they should feel better because they think they're actually doing something.

I'd say it's sad, but not surprising. People are sheep.

I wouldn't go that far - companies partner with The Red Cross left and right after every major disaster, and the mainstream media downplays the problems with the organization. For the average person, there's no reason to suspect that they'd be misusing/misappropriating funds.

So what exactly are the problems with the Red Cross?


I take it you are very smart, and not one of those stupid sheeple?


Downvotes because it's a lazy cliche that over-generalizes and doesn't contribute anything meaningful to the discussion.

If it's meant to be a meaningful concern, expressing it in a more intelligent manner would gain it upvotes. The way you express your opinion matters.

Whenever I see a charity ad that tugs on my heart strings, I check their directors salaries* and my conscience is pretty clear. I have no issue with capitalism, but for people who do want a high salary (many don't), then perhaps the charity sector isn't the best option.

I'd like a similar scheme as food labelling colour codes. So key facts such as % to cause, % to management team, top salary K. This would greatly aid in transparency, rather than trying to read their financial's which are often little more than a glossy brochure. Plus, more auditing on the bigger ones to investigate large inefficiencies/ backhanders wouldn't be a bad idea.

*That's not including their expenses, which I bet are astronomical.

PS: I get that some charities have higher operating costs (e.g. medical research). Especially when I myself suffer from quite a rare condition called CRPS (unfortunately one of the most painful conditions known..), yet I struggle to recommend a charity that is making a difference. I'd love something to go viral like the ice-bucket challenge, but I don't see a way that wouldn't result in serious injuries.

There are a few sites that do this, but one that I use to evaluate charities is Giving Matters. You can access quite a lot of information for free, and it's reasonably well designed.

Ooh some downvotes, care to explain? Or should everyone one one this website share the same opinion?

Edit: I was merely making the point that if charities were more transparent. More people would donate (whilst possibly becoming more efficient in the process).

As for regards to mentioning the illness. To have something that makes a major impact on one's life, yet not be passionate about related charities, illustrates that there is a problem with many of today's charities.

Haiti is a complex and contradiction-ridden place.

As the poorest nation, per capita, in western hemisphere, Haiti is often the "face of poverty", with photographs of its most unfortunates featured on fund-raising newsletters of every sort but with the failures of efforts at reform being featured on every debunking of

I have a personal friend, white, who served as something of a liaison, moving goods, between the random (white) Americans who showed up on Haiti after the earth quake and the people (black, Haitian) who needed assistance. She helped some substantial number of people but naturally only a drop in the bucket.

Haiti has a complex structure of repression which has held power for quite some time. The multitude of corrupt processes in the nation naturally don't help either. But as is visible, charities are remarkably unconcerned with these subtleties, being bureaucracies like all bureaucracies, they plow ahead with pouring X dollars into Y problem with consultations with Z experts.

Literally, you can find groups of people in America, Houston in particular, doing 100x as the Red Cross with considerably less - because they are people actually walking into the situation and trying to figure out what's needed.

Bureaucracy once has its strength relative to such efforts but this strength seems entirely lost now. I'd chalk it down to the general decay of this society.

What I know of Haiti comes from above, meeting just a few Haitians and the following texts:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Jacobins https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fran%C3%A7ois_Duvalier https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Comedians_(novel)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Serpent_and_the_Rainbow_(b... http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=9966

It's got nothing to do with the place.

I'm in West Africa now. Same story here. Same in the East too.

I have met hundreds of UN and NGO workers making $1000/day, doing absolutely and completely nothing. Mostly they are proud of it.

Many, many NGOs spend millions to build for example one shed or deliver one truck, which is abandoned less than 2 months later for lack of maintenance.

In the same way healthcare is for profit in the US, many "donations" are for profit.

You're actually agreeing with him because your point is also a bureaucracy issue.

For all the younger people reading this.

This is just one of the numerous media stories on how donation money always ends up paying multi-million salaries for top execs.

Sadly, charlatans are everywhere. The Red Cross is just a another brand used to con gullible and well intended people.

The American Red Cross might be.

The Red Cross/Red Crescent in the rest of the world is a very important humanitarian response organisation.

Yes, undifferentiated across-the-board cynicism doesn't help either, and could discourage donations to charities that do make a difference.

There are organisations that evaluate charities, and they show that you can easily save lives by donating:



It doesn't help the Haitian cause that the rampant corruption in their country prevents aid money given in good faith from ever reaching the people or projects for which it was originally intended.

AS a cancer dad about 5 years ago the American Cancer Society (The largest cancer fund in America) got a lot of heat from parents who's children had cancer. The ACS would have pictures of Children for their donations champagne and less then $0.005 for every dollar would go for Pediatric Cancer Research AND they cut funding for all other Pediatric funding (AKA Camps and assisting families). They finally changed a LITTLE bit in 2016.



Federal Funding of Pediatric Cancer Research funds. People age 0-18 get 4% of the funding and do not benefit from research for adults since 0-18 your normal good cells are also dividing and growing. Research for Pediatric Cancer benefits EVERYONE since they tend to be less side effects and effective for all. Children went over 20 years before their with only two new Chemotherapy drugs for them while they were advertised by different organizations to get funding. St Baldrick's funded research came out with a one that ends up being VERY effective.



We as a family support St Baldricks 100%

I wonder if there is a way to make non profitsmore accountable for the money they receive from big disaster donations.

Would be nice to put the management through the legal system and if found guilty to put them inside of a locked metal cage.

A director of a well-known 501c3 said to me: "Non-profit doesn't mean no profit." It truly is a buyer-beware situation from a legal standpoint.

Considering the per capita is $719 then I could see $50 to each Haitan would have been a better use of the money ($500M / 10M population). Or that per family...

Perhaps not as much as you'd think. Just handing out lump sums of money like that could really result in jacking up of prices to handle that windfall. Where and how the money is distributed can make a huge difference in how much impact it has.

Might be of interest: https://www.centreforeffectivealtruism.org/

It's a project to evaluate and rank NGOs based on how effective they really are. They have managed funds based on topics of interest as well.

Is there any non religious charity that does well?

GiveDirectly. They give cash, no strings attached. So hardly any overhead. NPR Planet Money tried to have a guy build a school in Haiti. They were flush with donations. After all was said and done, a year later they barely had a concrete foundation. That was it. They asked the guy, a highly experienced American contractor/builder/etc. if, starting over, he'd have just given them cash. He said, "Definitely." GiveDirectly was started because charities like Red Cross do so badly.

The international Red Cross....

This doesn’t suprise me :\ I think YC funded a non profit that was designed to avoid corruption like this.

I always wondered how the global offices looked for these big charity organizations. With $500M, I imagine they have offices in those urban corporate office skyscrapers and Silicon Valley tech company styled HQs.

You could always just look it up...


I give to UNICEF

This is why I give to religious charities

This was widely reported back in 2015 when this was published. You might want to add (2015) to the title.

This report prompted a congressional report a year later. Ultimately Red Cross is a horribly inefficient way to give aid to areas in need of relief.

https://www.propublica.org/article/senator-red-cross-misled-... https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2861873-Senator-Gras...

Your second link is clear, but the first one doesn’t make it clear that it’s the American Red Cross that’s the problem.

It's astounding how powerful the Red Cross brand is. I'd like to read a study how how much the brand influences donors. For example, try to raise money using identical mechanisms under a different header.

Also, I liked this: "I'm not a big mathematician, but I can make some additions. It doesn't add up for me."

Are you conflating The American Red Cross and The International Commiteee of the Red Cross? I have in the past, and they are very different.

No I'm referring to the Red Cross discussed in this thread's article.

The problem here seems to be that the American Red Cross uses the same brand as the international Red Cross.

I'm no expert on the Red Cross, but it's entirely possible that most Red Cross organizations do excellent work, while the American Red Cross is a corrupt or incompetent mess. Or has recently become such a mess.

But I also get the impression that Haiti is a particularly hard country to help.

Legit question - what's the alternative?

Internationally and to a certain degree domestically in the US, Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) and Save the Children are all efficient charities according to CharityNavigator. There are likely others but these are three solid charities imo.

MSF/Doctors without Borders -> https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summar...

Save the Children -> https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summar...

Oxfam -> https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summar...

There are a few organizations that try to quantitatively evaluate charitable organizations and similar- notably (and off the top of my head), CharityWatch [1]. Donating based on their metrics (although not the irrefutable truth of the matter, likely enough) is likely to lead to better "returns" from a donation than going by brand/marketing power.

Notably, despite its prominence, Red Cross scores only a "B+" rating on CharityWatch.

[1] www.charitywatch.org

The B+ rating seems to be at odds with the amount of vitriol being spewed at Red Cross in this thread.

Perhaps Haiti was a particularly bad project for them. I've heard of other charities having problems in Haiti.

Still, Doctors without Borders USA gets an A.

Doctors without a frontier? It's sad though, I think many europeans would like to donate money for people in need, but when you find out things like this ... Americans really managed to ruin this as well.

Mystified as to why you seem to think this is in some way an American problem. We have lots of fake charities in the EU.

In the EU charities aren't as big... Or as well branded. At least not the sketchy ones.

Most big charities I know in the EU have good records... Particularly the state-sponsored ones.

- to be fair I could be uninformed :)

I don't think that's at all true. There are many large organisations that spend a significant amount on staffing and marketing, masquerading as charities. The state-sponsored ones are some of the worst, as they're recycling taxpayers' money to lobby the governments that pay them, with a revolving door of lucrative executive and lobbying jobs keeping it all afloat.

Some EU charities are huge. The Red Cross has branches everywhere in the EU. Greenpeace's main office is in Netherland. Those are two massive brands.

Already said in this thread, but to make sure you see it:

> The American Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross are independent organizations, with very different reputations.

Charities around the world are run unethically. It's far from an American-exclusive thing.

Sure, but the extent of it seems to be American exclusive. Are there not a bunch of cancer charities that simply do nothing but enrich the owners?

Perhaps Americans are more diligent in tracking down bad actors?

Americans give more money to charities, because the services they tend to provide are provided by governments in Europe.

Hence, there's more charities, more attention given to them, etc.


If you're referring to the stink a few years ago about (#s from memory) it bringing in 150 million but only distributing 9 million, that was because it's not the kind of organization that fundraises for other charities - its money is generally spent directly on programs.

If you want an aggregator charity there are plenty of other options out there.


Since you provide no links, one must assume that you are motivated by a vague awareness of controversies tied to the Clinton Foundation. However, these controversies do not involve Haiti or missing money, and for balance I suggest readers look at last fall´s and recent comparisons of the controversies surrounding Clinton and Trump associated charitable activities

https://www.google.com.mx/search?q=comparing+clinton+trump+c... and https://www.google.com.mx/search?q=comparing+clinton+trump+c...







Actually, the theories connecting missing Haiti donation money and the Clintons don't so much refer to the Clinton Foundation, but to Hillary's tenure at the US Department of State during which the Haiti earthquake occurred.

I won't claim to know much about the situation, but major news organizations have reported on what appears to be similar mismanagement of the ~13 billion in funds donated to Haiti [1]. And Bill Clinton found himself co-chairing the commission that handled these funds.


The conspiracy theories around the Clintons and Haiti are persistent from a number of angles. Emails from the Podesta leak added fuel to the fire, among them this one featuring a close Clinton associate mentioning "Tony Rodham ... hustling gold mining deals in Haiti."


Anything involving the Clintons merits extra scrutiny, IMO.

>But the charity will not provide a list of specific programs it ran, how much they cost or what their expenses were.

Corruption, ineptitude or both? It's the American way!

This pretty much happens all over the globe.

Yes. I'd argue that it is more endemic in other countries. In particular, in many countries, bribery and corruption are a key part of the culture. It's a point of pride if you can bribe and cheat your way to the top.

As noted before, in Europe, the greatest union in the world GOD BLESS US</sarcasm> governments do a lot of the stuff that people in the US expect from charities.

In theory, passionate empathic people should be able to outperform government projects 100:1 and no doubt many do to some extend, even without any formal organization.

If you live next door the just being there for people is priceless. Its not like government will see you rebuilding your house and bring you a hot cup of tea when you look worn out while for a private citizen that would be a minimum effort.

The obvious question is why haven't US law makers moved in for the kill with so many for-profit-non-profits? I think the answer is probably as obvious as the question.

Recently read that fair trade procuder just spend the money in bigger cars and such.


So pick better charities: http://www.givewell.org/

And tax deductible.

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