American Red Cross Society

The Red Cross was founded in February 1863 in Geneva, Switzerland, by the Geneva Public Welfare Society. The society set up a team of five Swiss citizens to form a committee to look into the idea of dealing with the protection of the sick or wounded in the war. The committee set up an international conference in October 1863, which was attended by sixteen nations. They looked to agree to various resolutions and principles as well as acquire an international emblem. They asked the participating nations to form voluntary units in their nations; it was this unit that later formed the National Red Cross Societies. The Committee of Five then became the International Committee of the Red Cross. During the Geneva Convention of 1864, it adopted a red cross placed on a background of white as their identifying emblem, as well as provisions such as the one that guaranteed neutrality for its medical personnel and equipment during wartime.

Future meetings extended their protection to victims of marine warfare, prisoners of war as well as civilians. Revisions to these provisions are made from time to time. The American Red Cross (also known as the American National Red Cross) was established by Clara Barton on May 21, 1881 after seeing and having participated in its work while on vacation in Europe.

The American Red Cross is run by a Board of Governors with the mandate to govern, direct and oversee the management and affairs of the society. It also has a President and Chief Executive Officer. The Board of Governors has a chairman who leads them in the governance and oversight of the society. The President and the Chief Executive Officer execute the society’s strategies and lead its operation and business functions.

The American Red Cross Society is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization. Our leadership consists of a board of governors; this necessitates a teamwork approach from them. Leadership here is one based on cooperation, considering that the Board of Governors is made of up to fifty people. This style of leadership works well for society because where decisions are to be discussed and are not of urgency, they can be dealt with at length and over a period of time. Also, where an input or solution is required from a varying number of sources, the Board of Governors provides a vast human resource to tap from. Eventually, this translates to time and money saved for the organization.

However, for our organization, the Board of Governors could very well have an opposite effect should circumstances be different; For example, in the case of any disaster, decisions need to be made without delay, and therefore attempting to convene a committee at that stage would slow response to the people on the ground. Also, it is not unheard of to find the members at loggerheads during their meetings due to a conflict of interests or ideas. This especially happens after disasters where the response is being reviewed. This can have a huge negative impact on morale.

The American Red Cross Society is a formal organization, but, like other Red Cross Societies abroad, it mostly relies on volunteers for most of the work to be accomplished on the ground. They number over 1.5 million. It is also through voluntary contributions that they manage their activities. While this management practice is beneficial to our organization and goes back to the founding days of the Red Cross, it has also become troublesome to manage. A case in point was in March 2006 during the American Red Cross Katrina operations, where allegations of theft and fraud were made against volunteers and contractors, and investigations were instituted. The administration here was guilty of lax management since they failed to vet their staff adequately. Such an incident also speaks to the training offered to their volunteers.

The management also has issues when it comes to the distribution of resources donated to them. This is mostly seen when disasters like the September 11 terrorist attacks where the Red Cross President went on television asking the public to donate funds and blood generously for the victims. This was a miscalculation since the American blood centers needed no additional blood. As a result, some of the unused blood had to be destroyed. In another related case, they set up the liberty Fund to receive donations towards relief efforts for those affected by the terrorist bombing attacks. The fund was a success raising far in excess of their goals. Later it was found that only thirty percent of the total amount of five hundred and forty-seven million was used as per the guidelines set for standard disaster relief for meeting victims’ needs. The rest was channeled back for later use.

In February of 2002, Red Cross representatives were visiting upscale apartment buildings in wealthy Manhattan areas and handing out donated money to ‘displaced’ or ‘inconvenienced’ New Yorkers without any regard as to whether they really needed the money. Such disregard for the use of their resources shows a detachment from the reality of the leaders at the top in regards to what really occurs in the field or on the ground and is one of the major failures of organizations where a board of Governors leads.

Another major issue comes in the structures put in place for constituting the board itself. 30 out of the 50 governors elected to the board are from the 815 chapters all across the country. Due to the influence of the dominant chapters in the country, the board has split into factions crippling the organization’s functions. In addition, the strong position of the board leads it into blocking any attempts at reform. In doing so, it has quickly done away with three former CEOs. The board also has members who are too intrusive in the daily management of the large organization, again slowing urgent matters down.

Changes to avoid the above issues in our organization start at the top. We should trim the board to a smaller number and give more power to the CEO to mediate or facilitate meetings. The management should also look into training the staff and especially volunteers on the basic reasons the Red Cross was founded to give them a clear focus while on the field. Another issue that requires attention would be communication and more so during times of crisis. Channels need to be clearly established to give the clearest picture possible to those at the top so that decisions made as a result are correct. This will help prevent misappropriation and misuse of donated funds.


American Red Cross, 2008. Web.

International Committee of the Red Cross, 2008. Web.

American Red Cross: Capital Area Chapter of the America Red Cross Board of Directors and Standing Committee Descriptions, 2008. Web.

Stephanie Strom, The New York Times. Red Cross to Streamline Board’s Management Role. 2006. Web.

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