When Hurricane Katrina struck last August, numerous blogs–including this one–begged readers to give generously to the American Red Cross, among other charities, to help the victims of the massaive devastation on the Gulf Coast. And we were proud to report that Americans responded quickly with hundreds of millions of dollars in completely voluntary donations. So it was a shocker to read (hat tip: Captain Ed Morrissey of Captain’s Quarters) this report in today’s Washington Post:

“The American Red Cross paid consultants more than $500,000 in the past three years to pitch its name in Hollywood, recruit stars for its ‘Celebrity Cabinet’ and brand its chief executive as the face of the Red Cross — just a year before ousting her, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

“In a $127,000 contract, a Houston corporate image company agreed to create a plan to make [since-resigned] Red Cross chief executive Marsha J. Evans the face of the organization as part of a ‘senior leadership branding project’ that ran from October 2003 to November 2004….
“At the same time, Evans was laying off workers at the Red Cross’s blood-services operations and at its Washington headquarters, as well as eliminating merit pay and limiting travel in a bid to cut millions from the national headquarters’ budget….

“Peter Dobkin Hall, a specialist on nonprofit groups and a Harvard University lecturer, questioned the strategy’s usefulness to the organization, which annually receives more than $500 million in donations.”

What????? That’s where our donations went? On “branding,” the latest Dilbert-esque corporate-management fad? As Captatin Ed writes:

“When people donate to the Red Cross, as I have in the past, they expect their money to go to disaster relief or to supporting blood drives, not to get their executives high-paying speaking gigs or to allow them to rub elbows with Hollywood celebrities. This amounts to an abuse and deception on the part of the Red Cross, gaining donations — especially in the wake of 9/11 and recently with Hurricane Katrina — by using the pain and suffering of victims in order to support a glamorous work environment. As Harvard lecturer…Hall notes, the Red Cross doesn’t need to spend money to raise awareness of the organization, as people ‘throw money’ at them whenever disaster strikes.

“This reminds me of the United Way scandal a few years ago, when it turned out that hundreds of thousands of dollars went to executive perks instead of their member charities. I stopped giving to United Way after that scandal and its ongoing hostility towards the Boy Scouts. The Red Cross does do good work, but this kind of abuse cannot stand without serious consequences. Perhaps the time has come to reconsider donations to the Red Cross as well, at least until they stop spending money on self-indulgent activities such as those described above and fire everyone responsible for these abuses of trust.’

Yes, I’m sure crossing the Red Cross off my list–until I hear an awfully good explanation.