As Red Cross faces post-Katrina challenges, its honesty encourages realistic expectations

No organization is more intrinsically linked to the image of disaster relief than the Red Cross.

No organization is more intrinsically linked to the image of disaster relief than the Red Cross.

Now as the organization is deeply immersed in providing services and support for victims of Hurricane Katrina, it is easy to forget that only a few years ago the Red Cross was embroiled in a crisis of its own.

The trouble stemmed from the group's distribution of donations following 9/11, when some of the funds were diverted to programs and activities unrelated to the tragedy. Trust in this seemingly unimpeachable institution was greatly undermined by the revelation, which came at a time when the US sought leadership from institutions like it.

A subsequent CEO change, as well as one at the top of the PR team - in the form of SVP Chuck Connor - was the start of its efforts to fix both its processes and its image problems. Nowas it works on the biggest US-based emergency since 9/11, the Red Cross is clearly working hard to manage expectations and to demonstrate its commitment to helping people in dire straits.

Last week, the Red Cross issued numerous statements to shed light on how it is directing donations and reaching out to hurricane survivors. At press time, according to news reports, the organization had received a staggering $580 million from both individuals and corporations.

But even with the coffers full, the logistics of distributing aid is complex, and the Red Cross appealed for patience as it works to service the enormous population of displaced and devastated people. "The process of getting assistance to victims will take weeks, rather than days," read the press release. "It will take the work of the entire nation and every community to accomplish this vital and monumental task."

Connor says his challenge is to "align the realities of what we can do with the expectations of the affected people, the public, and the media." In the midst of what is one of the organization's biggest challenges, its frankness is to be commended. Those who care about its mission, and the victims of this disaster, should not forget that this is a long-term problem, and sustained efforts are needed to bring about real recovery.

Survey sheds light on cause partnerships

For the Red Cross and any other nonprofit group, the issue of how to forge successful partnerships with corporations presents multiple challenges. The opportunities that are created through these relationships are obvious. But numerous factors must be considered, including how to select the right partner, how to set realistic goals, and how to measure results. Those factors, combined with the often highly charged issues that a nonprofit is focused on, can make for a difficult relationship, but one obviously worth pursuing.

We've just finished fielding our second annual survey that looks at the partnerships between nonprofits and corporations. This year, The PRWeek/Barkley Evergreen Cause Survey polled both nonprofit and corporate executives to find out what each group considers the most important benefits of cause partnerships, as well as the biggest barriers to relationships.

At a time when corporations and nonprofits need each other more than ever, this research will aim to help organizations forge long-lasting and meaningful partnerships for the good of everyone concerned.

The PRWeek/Barkley Evergreen Cause Survey will be published in the October 24 issue.

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