Can the American Red Cross be trusted with donations?

KIRO 7 looks how much of donated money for relief efforts go to the efforts

Harvey, Irma, Maria -- hurricanes that have left millions of victims in North America.

“It’s very terrible,” said Don Nguyen, who donated money to an impacted family through his employer.

It means the charities that respond are asking for your help, and your donations. But many people KIRO7 talked with at Westlake Center also wondered where that money is going.

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“I would have hesitations donating towards a big organization, because I don’t know if it’s directly going towards that person,” Nguyen said.

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“The American Red Cross, I don’t have a personal experience with them, but I’ve heard they haven’t always – like the money hasn’t actually gone to the people who actually need it,” said Kadra Defils, who is in the process of researching which organization to donate to. “We need to know it’s not going to be sucked up in a big corporate fund somewhere."

KIRO 7 took their concerns to the Red Cross, and asked what the organization would say to people to help settle their skepticism.

“We take so, so seriously the mission of stewarding donor dollars,” said Betsy Robertson, with the Northwest chapter of the American Red Cross. She’s also one Seattle Red Crosser to respond to Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

Robertson says 91 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to programs. And if you specify which disaster you’re donating to, that’s exactly where your money will go.

“We absolutely always honor the intent of that donor,” Robertson said. “I’m really proud of the work I see being done by the Red Cross and our volunteers.”

Rather than take the Red Cross on its word, KIRO7 also checked with “Charity Navigator,” an independent watchdog group that looks at charities’ 990 tax forms filed with the IRS.

The website rates the American Red Cross three out of four stars, which means it still is a recommended charity.

“If they’re a three- or four-star organization, you know your donation is going to be used well at the end of the day and that’s really what matters,” said Sara Nason, a Charity Navigator spokeswoman. Nason spoke with KIRO 7 via Skype.

The website confirms that more than 90 percent of money donated to the Red Cross is used for programs, according to the most recent available data, from 2015.

Charity Navigator says it’s complicated where the Red Cross falls short – but essentially says the organization could be more financially stable and do more in terms of program growth.

“Is the American Red Cross perfect? No. Are they doing work that’s important? Yes. But should they be continuing to improve on how they act? Absolutely,” Nason said.

The charity watchdog encourages you to research before donating.

The Red Cross says if you’re still skeptical, you can check out the work volunteers do with your donated money for yourself.

“You will see exactly how it works, you will meet the people who are doing the work, see where their hearts are and why they’re here,” Robertson said.