Red Cross is urged to refocus appeals

Sept. 11 effort hurting local fund raising

October 26, 2001|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

A growing chorus of nonprofit managers and watchdogs are calling on the American Red Cross to stop its appeals for donations to Sept. 11 disaster relief, saying the continued effort is hurting local fund raising and the Red Cross' credibility.

Among those trying to refocus the appeals are several directors of local Red Cross chapters, including Frank L. Miller Jr., executive director of the Red Cross of Central Maryland.

"I would rather see them cease the [Sept. 11] message," said Miller, who has written a letter saying as much to the national headquarters. "When you're devoting so much energy and attention to this incident, you lose in other areas."

Miller says his annual $4 million fund-raising campaign is down about $200,000 from this time last year - because, he said, some donors are diverting their normal gifts to victims of the attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

In all, charities have raised an estimated $1 billion in private donations toward the disaster relief - including the September 11th Fund run by the United Way of New York and the New York Community Trust; a scholarship fund promoted by former President Bill Clinton and former Sen. Bob Dole; the Salvation Army; and many other organizations.

More than half of that - $505 million as of yesterday - has gone to the Red Cross, an amount that far surpasses the $300 million the organization earlier said it was aiming to raise for its Liberty Disaster Fund.

National Red Cross officials have not taken firm action to cut off donations for Sept. 11 relief - but they acknowledge the problem and are taking steps to slow the flood of incoming cash.

`Turn down the volume'

There is so much money, and growing concern about it, that the Red Cross has begun to "turn down the volume" on its Sept. 11 appeals, said Bill Blaul, senior vice president of communication and marketing for the national Red Cross. Instead, the organization is thanking donors and stepping up its help to local chapters, he said.

A blunter approach - telling people the Red Cross has raised all the money it needs for the disaster - is "certainly something that's being considered," Blaul said.

`Into some future fund?'

Some critics think the Red Cross should already be saying that to donors.

"If you give money to the Red Cross right now, is it going to go into some future fund where it may not be needed?" said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a watchdog group based in Bethesda. "It just seems as if they want to raise as much money as they possibly can. They shouldn't take advantage of their good standing and reputation to raise more than they need."

In a meeting yesterday, other Red Cross chapter directors around Maryland said they, too, are losing money to the disaster, Miller said. The Prince George's County chapter, which responded to tornadoes last month in College Park and Laurel, is $50,000 short of what it had raised this time last year to respond to fires and storms, teach safety classes and provide other local services.

"We need to re-educate [donors] that help really does come from the local units," said Janice Williams, chief executive officer of that chapter.

Miller said the national fund raising is also hurting the Red Cross' relationships with other nonprofits, which it depends on for support and coordination. For example, the Central Maryland chapter is a key member of the local United Way, which is in the middle of its annual campaign. Half of what Miller raises each year for the local Red Cross arrives through that campaign, he says.

"My nonprofit associates are feeling the pinch," Miller said. "I need those other agencies to work with me."

The United Way of Central Maryland has started its own TV ad campaign - in part featuring former Baltimore fire official Hector Torres, a native New Yorker - asking donors to turn their attention from Sept. 11 relief to more traditional local needs.

"We need to work very, very hard to make sure we don't have a short-term crisis," said Larry E. Walton, president of the local United Way.

In response to questions about how it will be using its flood of disaster money, the Red Cross has released a budget for what it would spend over the next few months on relief to Sept. 11 victims, prominently displayed on its Web site and titled "Your Donations at Work."

That budget of about $300 million includes $100 million for grants of as much as $30,000 for families who lost a breadwinner in the attacks; $90 million to $100 million for the food, shelter and other "immediate relief" given to survivors and rescuers; and $11 million to help families of victims from overseas with travel and repatriation of remains.

Not so directly related items

But the budget also covers items not so directly related to the disaster - such as $50 million to speed up the creation of a "strategic blood reserve" that will increase the Red Cross' inventory of blood from two to three days' worth to more than 10 days.

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