The American Red Cross: An Agency Profile

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The American Red Cross is a non-profit humanitarian organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., that helps communities to prepare and cope with natural and man-made disasters.  Emergency services and fraud hotlines are accessible through the main telephone number at the Red Cross National Headquarters 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  Red Cross local chapters, which are located throughout the country, stand ready to provide disaster services on a 24-hour basis.

The American Red Cross is overseen by a Board of Governors that meets four times a year.  All Board members are volunteers, and the chairman of the Board is appointed by the President of the United States.  Currently, the Board is composed of 50 volunteers, but this number will be reduced to 20 by the year 2012 in an effort to make agency operations more efficient.  The daily administration of the organization is managed by a President or CEO who reports to the Board of Governors.

The National Headquarters, located in Washington, D.C., is responsible for formulating standards and providing necessary resources to the local chapters of the Red Cross in order to ensure consistency and high quality standards in the delivery of services at the local level.  While the National Headquarters sets the agency’s strategic priorities, it is the task of the local chapters to carry out the goals set at the national level under the guidance of the Board of Governors and the CEO.

The Board of Governors is divided into five committees:  the Audit and Risk Management Committee, the Compensation and Management Development Committee, the Philanthropy Committee, the Governance and Board Development Committee, and the Executive Committee.  In addition, the President of the United States appoints an advisory council of eight to ten members to advise and monitor the Board.  At least one, but no more than three, of the advisory council members are required to be members of the armed services.  The Comptroller General of the United States has the authority to monitor the involvement of the Red Cross in any federally-funded program or activity.  In 2007, an Ombudsman’s office was instituted within the American Red Cross.

Services are delivered locally with regional coordination of resources and guidance from the National Headquarters.  Below the National Headquarters in the organizational hierarchy are 8 regional service areas with 11 biomedical services divisions.  There are 800 local chapters of the American Red Cross throughout the country.   There are also 60 Armed Forces Emergency Services Stations throughout the United States and 20 international branch offices of the Red Cross.

One of the major activities of the American Red Cross is the maintenance of a safe blood supply in the event of emergency need.  There are 35 American Red Cross blood services regions in the United States.  These regions are responsible for recruiting blood donors, collecting blood, shipping it to one of five national testing labs, and then providing it to hospitals as needed.

The American Red Cross is a non-profit organization.  Although it is chartered by Congress, the Red Cross is not considered a federal agency and does not receive federal funding.  Therefore, the Red Cross must finance its own operations.  The organization subsists largely on the efforts of a massive corps of volunteers.  The Red Cross itself estimates that one out of every 43 Americans is a Red Cross volunteer, either as a blood donor, a charitable donor, or an unpaid service provider.  Ninety-six percent of the national labor force of the Red Cross works on a volunteer basis: The Red Cross employs 30,000 paid workers, compared to 900,000 volunteers.

Forty-five percent of the nation’s blood supply is provided by the American Red Cross, and this blood is obtained from healthy volunteers through blood drives.  To help fund its operations, the Red Cross  charges for blood products as a means of recovering the costs it incurs in supplying the nation’s blood banks.  In addition to these cost recovery measures, the agency relies heavily on fundraising activities to encourage individual Americans and corporations to make financial donations

Every year, the Red Cross National Headquarters issues an annual report outlining its general financial position and files a tax return as an exempt non-profit organization.  Starting in 2007, the Ombudsman’s Office also issues an annual report.  In addition, each local Red Cross chapter is required to issue its own annual report setting forth its financial position, including assets, public support, revenue, expenses, and losses.

The American Red Cross, through its local chapters, and regional service divisions, provides five main types of services: Blood Services, Health and Safety Services, Disaster Services, Armed Forces Emergency Services, and International Services.  Blood Services involve the collection, testing, storing, and provision of blood to hospital blood banks throughout the country.  Health and Safety Services involve increasing individual awareness of and preparedness for potential disasters and educating the public to better handle emergencies by providing classes in CPR, first aid, aquatics, and other forms of training.  More than 12 million people per year sign up for the Red Cross’s Health and Safety classes.              Disaster Services involves the immediate response of the Red Cross to disasters, both manmade and natural, by providing food, shelter, medical treatment, and mental health support as needed.  It is estimated that local chapters of the American Red Cross respond annually to more than 70,000 disasters of different types and different levels of severity.

Armed Forces Emergency Services involve enabling communications to and from members of the armed forces during emergencies, providing support and information to military families, and referring military personnel and their families to appropriate local resources.  International Services involve disaster preparedness, response, and recovery; disease prevention, international family tracing, and dissemination of humanitarian law.  International programs sponsored and administrated by the American Red Cross include: the Measles Initiative, the Malaria Prevention Program, HIV/AIDS Programs, and the Tsunami Recovery Program.  More information about the American Red Cross can be found at its website,


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