More people have been skeptical of donating to the organization because of past controversies. We looked into it.

August 31, 2017

You’ve seen the pictures coming out of Houston and Florida and want to help. In disasters past, the American Red Cross would be the charity of choice. But not necessarily anymore.

The New York Times published an editorial on August 30th dissuading donations to the Red Cross due to bungled relief efforts after past natural disasters. And Facebook partnered with a previously unknown charity, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, rather than the Red Cross, which could be viewed as an indictment of past performance. However, the Red Cross is a well-known institution. Former President Barack Obama encouraged his 94 million Twitter followers to donate to the organization.

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So if you give $100, or even $10, can you feel good about it going to the Red Cross? Experts say yes.

An enormous outfit such as the Red Cross has unparalleled infrastructure that gets help to people fast and maintains services after the storm has subsided, says Shena Ashley, Ph.D., director of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank. “They bring lessons learned from other disasters, operate in sophisticated networks, and there’s a wealth of knowledge-sharing,” she says.

That doesn't mean criticisms should be discounted, including a 2015 ProPublica/NPR investigation into failed efforts in Haiti. However, accounting discrepancies on the order of millions of dollars are less huge in the context of a multi-billion-dollar portfolio, Ashley says.

In the past, donors have been upset to learn that the gift they’d made for a certain effort had been used elsewhere, which happened during the aftermath of September 11. Part of that is the nature of a large organization, which distributes assets to where they’re needed most. However, on most donation forms, you can now specify whether the donation should only be used for something specific, Ashley says.

Some donors are inclined to give smaller amounts of money to smaller charities—$100 in the context of the Red Cross can sound like chump change, versus a charity for whom that would be a large donation. But if you’re looking for the greatest impact that $100 could make, still consider the Red Cross, says Una Osili, Ph.D., a professor of economics and Associate Dean for Research and International Program at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. “Large organizations have scale, the ability to actually work across multiple locations, and capacity in the face of complex and evolving circumstances,” she says. They’re able to mobilize resources and volunteers with a phone call, not just mid-crisis (where we are now), but in the weeks and months to follow. What’s more—an organization like Red Cross has lots of relationships with numerous groups that it vets. So some of that $100 may still end up in the hands of a local group.

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If you’re still wary about donating to the Red Cross, consider a charity that does work in line with your personal beliefs and passions. Food pantries, animal shelters, diaper banks, and even organizations that help small businesses recover need your money. GuideStar and the Better Business Bureau can help you ensure the organization is legit. And don’t forget that when the news crews leave, the need will still be there. Harvey and Irma victims will need your help in the coming months, so consider adding a few extra dollars to your normal giving, if you can.

RealSimple.com reached out to the Red Cross for comment but hadn't heard back by publication time.

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