The Red Cross changes communications strategy after criticism

WASHINGTON: The Red Cross is responding to public and congressional pressure over its fundraising practices by overhauling the way it communicates with donors, hoping to clear up any confusion over where its money will go before it is ever donated.

WASHINGTON: The Red Cross is responding to public and congressional pressure over its fundraising practices by overhauling the way it communicates with donors, hoping to clear up any confusion over where its money will go before it is ever donated.

The 120-year-old organization came under fire last year for not honoring donor intent when it failed to earmark millions of dollars meant for its September 11 relief fund. Critics claimed the charity never informed givers that it would reroute donations to its general fund once that specific disaster had been provided for.

Now, members of Congress are demanding that the group provide greater transparency with its fundraising activities. In response, the Red Cross is adopting language in its materials, website, PSAs and ads that make it clear how it handles donations.

"We learned a lot after 9/11, said Darren Irby, VP for external communications, "one thing being we could certainly be more clear and could certainly educate the public more about what happens when they give a contribution not just to the Red Cross, but to any charitable organization."

For example, donors are sometimes unaware, explained Irby, that their money goes into a general disaster-relief fund if they do not specify a disaster they want to help, even though a single incident may be dominating national attention.

The new steps being taken to avoid such situations include an extra web page where online donors must confirm their intent. Written confirmation is sent to the giver after the donation has been made.

"Mostly, these changes are going to be through more education and better language, said Irby. When the charity has enough money for a particular disaster, he explained, donors will be encouraged to give to the general fund.

According to Irby, the Red Cross responds to over 80,000 disasters a year, very few of which receive earmarked donations. Hence the group's desire to see more money channeled to the general fund.

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