Another Shakeout at the Red Cross (Dec 05)

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In the latest issue we promised that we would try to keep you abreast of the stories behind the stories of the aftermath of the hurricanes in the Gulf — and there are a million stories. This is a high profile one.

Last week was marked by another shakeout at the Red Cross. Another purging of the chief executive. I am sure we all have such organizations in our own communities — running through executives while everyone else is looking askance at the board of directors.

To be sure, the Red Cross has some unique complexities that create a particularly unwieldy system. They are to some extent suffering the consequences of a design that has evolved awkwardly and under pressure of politics and has not been adequately reviewed for its effectiveness. This is more than a little scary, considering the Red Cross’s enormously important charter. Hence the terrible flatfooted mis-steps in the Gulf.

I am not sitting here righteously taking pot shots. There are lessons in this situation for us all because most nonprofits suffer from some element of the mess the Red Cross is in — a governance system that doesn’t work and is driven by divergent interests, a program mix that is no longer entirely on point, uneven development of the organization’s parts, partners that don’t perform — you name it, we all have experienced these problems.

We have linked to an interesting piece by Peter Dobkin Hall of the Hauser Center at Harvard University.

This short article helps us look at the tangle this critically important organization is in and why. Still, Dobkin Hall has approached the Red Cross’s situation from the point of view of a scholar. We need to approach the situation as practitioners who deserve to be able to learn from and be reassured about the plans for the future of this critical national anchor agency.