This post is sponsored by the American Red Cross who hosted me for a visit to their headquarters. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
A few weeks ago, I was touring around downtown Washington DC with my son in tow and we drove past the American Red Cross building. I can’t say I had ever noticed it before but the stark white building does stand out in bright contrast to the red cross on the front.
Just below the red cross, I saw a banner that seemed oddly like letters had fallen off. And then my wise 12 year old son remarked that they had removed the letters A, B, and O, making a statement about blood types.
That kid is a little quicker than me and probably more knowledgeable in a lot of ways. But not as much as I am now about the American Red Cross since I was invited to visit their headquarters for a quick two day trip.
I accepted their invitation with a little hesitancy. It’s an organization I’d heard so many things about over the years. Some good, some not so good. I had heard that it was a financially bloated organization with a highly paid CEO and probably not doing as much good as they should.
But to be completely fair, I shared all of that with them before the event. They knew I had some preconceived notions and they let me come anyway!
I’m glad they did because I learned a little about what I thought I already knew and I learned a lot about the things I didn’t even know! Let me share 13 of those things with you.
1. Your blood is needed.
When you hear American Red Cross, you probably think of blood donations and you should! They actually provide 40% of all blood in this country and they couldn’t do it without the 2.8 million volunteers who donate 4.9 million units of blood.
In addition to donating blood, you can also donate platelets, plasma, or do a double donation called Power Red. But definitely do it because every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood.
2. They help with domestic disaster relief every day.
You might be wondering how there can be that many disasters on a daily basis. You have to think beyond the national newsworthy events like major hurricanes and think about things that scale down to individual families. Last year, the American Red Cross responded to 62,000 disasters, most of which were house fires.
3. They are working to prevent house fires by installing smoke alarms.
The American Red Cross has an ongoing campaign across the country to not only ensure that underserved communities have working smoke alarms but they are properly installed as well.
Having worked for a fire department, I can tell you firsthand that smoke alarms save lives! Check out GetASmokeAlarm.org for more information.
4. They can help you prepare for a personal emergency.
They call this philosophy “Red Cross Ready” and offer advice and supplies to help you get prepared for an emergency. They provided me a Personal Emergency Preparedness kit that includes supplies for water, blanket, poncho, items for first aid, and to attract help.
This is a kit you can tuck away at home or easily put in your car for sudden emergencies. If you’re not sure what to put into your kit, you can make your own with their recommendations or buy a starter kit from their Emergency Preparedness site.
5. They’re focused on the U.S. but help all over the world.
We hear about the Red Cross all the time, especially in times of a global crisis. But which Red Cross is it? There is an international federation that organizes over 190 Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations from all over the globe in times of international crisis. The federation is there to oversee who serves what role on the ground so that all needs are being met.
While the American Red Cross may often be on the front lines of a crisis, they may also provide support, financial and otherwise, from afar.
Here at home, they have 58 regions across the United States with local chapters covering every community.
6. They help reunite people.
We heard some pretty heartwarming (and tear-jerking) stories surrounding international crises. But there are stories that takes years to come to a complete end. The Reconnecting Families program helps reunite those separated in the time of an international crisis because when the immediate need is over, there must be recovery.
Through this program, the Red Cross recently helped reunite two sisters that had been separated decades earlier.
7. You can help countries from the comfort of your own laptop.
In the United States, we live in a world of Google Maps, Google Earth, and even Google cars. In more remote regions of the world, not everything is accessible by a self-driving car taking pictures.
That means small towns and villages aren’t always properly identified on maps. Without that information, some communities remain vulnerable. In order to be able to better respond and restore, the public can help by reviewing satellite images of communities and identifying features, such as buildings, on the map.
During our visit to the American Red Cross headquarters, we participated in the Missing Maps program by helping to map a village area of Cameroon in West Africa.
8. Anyone can volunteer with the American Red Cross.
I’ll be the first to admit that the word “volunteer” sometimes makes me bristle. It’s not that I don’t want to help. It’s that I often don’t have the time to commit and have a really hard time saying no.
Luckily, there are tons of ways to volunteer that even includes digital advocacy. And there is no age restriction on who can volunteer. If your kids need community service hours (or service learning, as they call it in my district), here’s a chance for you both to do some good together.
9. They are always standing by.
We took a field trip from Washington, DC to nearby Fairfax, Virginia. That’s the home of their Disaster Operations Center (DOC), where they are constantly monitoring news and weather for any potential disasters. Honestly, I’m such a weather nut that I think I’d be glued to The Weather Channel all day if I worked there.
While we were there, we sat in on their 9 am daily briefing call with American Red Cross employees from all over. In the words of their director, “please enjoy the next two weeks because I have a feel September isn’t going to be very quiet.”
I can only imagine how busy the DOC is right now as they prepare for Hurricane Dorian to make landfall.
10. It’s a financially sound organization.
I’m not a financial analyst but I am cautiously skeptical. I believe in using Charity Navigator and holding organizations responsible for their spending. For this reason, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed when CEO Gail McGovern met with us and addressed all of our concerns head on.
A few quick facts:
- Gail is from the business sector, not the nonprofit sector and for good reason. She’s managing a $2.7 billon budget. That takes some financial know-how.
- When she started with them over a decade ago, the organization had $600 million of debt.
- Today, they have a $46 million operating margin.
- 90 cents of every dollar is invested in care.
- They score 100% for transparency on Charity Navigator
11. You can go see the American Red Cross headquarters for yourself.
Next time you’re in Washington, DC and wonder what lies behind those white, pristine pillars, you can take a tour!
You’ll get a guided tour from the historian showing photographs from their early efforts during the war, see historical artifacts, and view the gorgeous Tiffany stained glass windows in their ballroom upstairs.
12. There’s an app for that.
They suggested we download the American Red Cross First Aid app, which gives advice on what immediate steps to take in case of a medical emergency. And I quickly discovered they also have a Pet First Aid app!
But they also have apps to help track where your blood donation ends up (you really do make a difference to someone!) and what to do in case of a specific weather emergency. Check out all of their free apps.
13. Clara Barton was a badass.
She was not only a woman who risked her life on the battlefield to administer care to soldiers during the Civil War but she also founded the American Red Cross in 1881 at age 59. She continued to serve as president until the age of 83.
So the next time you think you’re too old or too young to make a difference, remember that Clara never let that stop her and the American Red Cross is the legacy she left behind.