- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

The American Red Cross is changing its disaster-relief policies in an effort to regain public confidence after its missteps in the September 11 campaign.

Specific disasters will no longer be named in fund-raising solicitations, and donors will be told that, unless they specify the intent of their contributions, the gifts could go either to the immediate disaster or a future one, Red Cross officials announced yesterday.

"This will bring greater clarity on the front end, giving potential donors a better understanding of how their gifts will be used. Second, it provides more certainty and consistency in recognizing and honoring the intent of the donors," said Harold Decker, Red Cross interim president and chief executive.

The American Red Cross received $967 million in charitable gifts after the September 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Many donors expected that their contributions would be given directly to victims and families who lost loved ones. When it was learned that the Red Cross planned to do as it always had done reserve portions of the relief money for future disasters and "future critical priorities," such as blood reserves and a systems upgrade the charity came under blistering criticism from donors, victims, lawmakers and state officials.

"One of the lessons from September 11th is that the Red Cross must do a better job of educating donors about how we fund our disaster-relief services while honoring their intent," Red Cross Chairman David McLaughlin said yesterday.

Mr. Decker said that, effective immediately, the Red Cross will:

•Cease identifying a specific disaster in the headlines of its solicitations. For instance, instead of saying "Mississippi Tornado Victims Need Your Help," materials will have headlines like "Disaster Victims Need Your Help."

•State in the first two paragraphs of solicitation materials that gifts will be used to "help the victims of [this disaster] and thousands of other disasters."

•Ask donors to confirm their understanding that, unless they have specified otherwise, their gifts will be used for immediate and future disaster relief.

•Send a letter or other confirmation message to restate the donor's intent.

•Notify the public when a specific disaster-relief fund is "full," so the public can resume giving to local Red Cross chapters.

The Red Cross will continue its policies of freely providing emergency shelter, food, mental-health counseling and other basic relief services to victims, officials said. But although the charity has distributed $444 million in cash to September 11 victims, its primary mission is to provide services, not to make cash payments, they said.

"The more transparency from the Red Cross to potential donors, the better. Transparency instills public confidence," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

H. Art Taylor, president of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, yesterday praised the charity for making "a step in the right direction."

According to former Sen. George J. Mitchell, independent overseer of the Liberty Fund, $567 million has been distributed. Much of the remainder should be distributed by September, Mr. Decker said yesterday.

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