The American Red Cross and Social Welfare


Today, many social welfare programs are in operation in the USA. This paper focuses on the American Red Cross (ARC), one of the social agencies that run social welfare programs throughout the country. The American Red Cross is the best example of how people should volunteer and offer help in times of emergencies in a show of respect for human life and dignity.

Detailed history

The American Red Cross was founded in 1881 by Clarissa Harlowe Barton when she was aged 60.  Barton went down in history as an outstanding pioneer and a true humanitarian. She was a pioneer in teaching, a career that was a reserve of men during her lifetime. She was among the first women to become employed by the federal government.

Her motivation for staring this organization was the need to help people under distress. By doing this, she set an example of volunteer service. She offered her volunteer services during the American civil War. While working in a patent office in Washington D.C, federal troops found their way into this city in 1961 and everyone was confused.

Clara Barton, as she preferred to be called, started a program of identifying all persons who had been reported missing immediately after the war. This is how the tracing services that Red Cross conducts all over the world began.

Henry Dunant is the founder of The Red Cross movement. While in Geneva in search of some rest, Clara Barton realized her services were needed even more. She was introduced to the Red Cross in Geneva and even read Henry Dunant’s book A Memory of Solferino. In this book, Dunant called for international agreements on how wounded and sick should be protected during times of war. After his idea was discussed in 1864, 12 European nations ratified it. Thus, the Geneva Treaty/Geneva Convention/Red Cross Treaty was formed.

Upon returning home, Burton fought hard to ensure that the US ratified this treaty. Burton also participated in relief efforts during Franco-Prussian War. She formed the first symbol of the American Red cross when she made a cross out of her red ribbon.

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Barton is credited with taking the Red Cross Movement into the US and pushing for the ratification of Geneva Treaty in liaison with International Committee of the Red Cross’s efforts. Upon approval by the senate, the American Association of the Red Cross was formed. In 1893, it was renamed The American National Red Cross. The Congress provided this organization with a charter between 1900 and 1905. The charter of 1905 formed the foundation of the American Red Cross, as we know it today.

A presentation of the mission statement of the American Red Cross

This social agency’s mission statement defines it as a humanitarian organization that is led by volunteers. Its operations are guided by the principles of the International Red Cross movement and its activities are directed towards providing relief towards people who have been worst hit by disasters. It helps them in prevention, preparation for and response to emergences.

In a show of human dignity and alleviation of human suffering, the American Red Cross shares the same mission with the International Red Crescent and International Red Cross. Workers from this organization assist everyone who is wounded during wars without any form of discrimination.

The elements that are discussed in the mission statement relate to matters of impartiality, independence, neutrality, voluntary service, unity, and universality. The practice of impartiality among employees, volunteers and founders of the American Red Cross is all about offering services to all people regardless of racial, religious, ideological discrimination. The endeavor of the organization’s leadership is ensuring that priority is given to urgent cases.

To achieve impartiality, neutrality is always maintained through restraint among workers of this organization from participating in ideological, political, religious, political controversies. This means that the movement aspires to maintain independence. The national societies are required to operate in an autonomous style while at the same time do so within the confines of the laws set in any given country.

The relief services offered by the American Red Cross are motivated by the need to reduce suffering rather than any form of financial, ideological, political or racial gain. (American Red Cross, 2001). In terms of unity, only one Red Crescent Society or Red Cross can exist in any given country. The auxiliary organization is required to offer its humanitarian services to all regions of territory

The aspect of universality is at the core of mission statement of Red Crescent Movement and International Red Cross. In this case, all societies enjoy equal status and should share responsibilities and duties equally through offering each other reinforcement, all over the world.

Financial reports/summaries of the operations of the social agency

For accounting purposes, The American Red Cross is also known as The American National Red Cross, an organization established under the United States Congress act of January 5, 1905. In order to achieve its primary purpose, that of offering social welfare and humanitarian assistance to people under severe distress, the organization operates programs both locally and internationally.

The programs are conducted and supervised at the headquarters, chartered local chapters and biomedical services. The consolidated financial statements of the organization include net assets as well as operations a captive insurance subsidiary known as Boardman Indemnity Ltd. Also included in these statements is ARC Receivables Company, LLC, a special purpose entity that doubles as a bankruptcy-remote entity, owned wholly by the organization.

The activities that make up the programs of this organization include biomedical services, emergency services for armed forces, disaster services, community services, international services, safety and health services. Biomedical services are offered through collection of whole blood and its components at all the 36 blood services regional centers. For purposes of testing, five laboratories operate at the national level. The biomedical research facility offers national support functions relating to blood services.

Gains, losses, revenues and net assets are always classified according to absence of or existence of restrictions imposed by donors. When reporting the financial position of the organization, unrestricted net assets are always not subject to any restrictions imposed by donors. Temporarily restricted net assets are subject to restrictions that are imposed on the way they are to be used. For these assets, the restrictions imposed can be fulfilled through the organization’s actions or passage of time.

Permanently restricted net assets are subject to legal or other donor-imposed restrictions that require that the organization permanently maintain the principal. Generally, the organization is allowed to use all or a part of the income generated from either donor-specific or general purposes. Summarized comparative information is presented with consolidated financial statements that need not adhere to the generally accepted principles of accounting. However, the summarized information is always derived from the financial year that ended previously.

The financial reports of American Red Cross Society also describe the use of estimates, cost equivalents, investments, derivative financial instruments, financial instruments in terms of fair values, endowment fund and inventories. Since 1905, the organization has been maintaining an endowment fund at the national level. The average cost method is used to value. The lower cost of the average cost is used to value whole blood and all its components. In the last financial year (June 2008 to June 2009), 6% of the organization’s income went to administrative tasks, 4% went to fund raising initiatives while 90% programs was spent on programs.

A critical analysis of the effectiveness of the social agency

The American Red Cross has achieved a lot in its efforts to ensure a humanitarian presence in conflict zones and disaster areas. The Armed Forces Emergency services that are offered by the American Red Cross ensure that the Armed Forces of the United States of America receive information about relatives who are facing emergencies from any part of the world. This service is offered every day of every year.

Community-based and active duty military personnel constantly receive communication between the American Red Cross and families of people under distress. Critics would be quick to question why the American Red Cross does not link up to other International Red Cross and International Red Crescent auxiliaries in countries facing disasters.

Within the U.S Department of Justice, the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), the ARC work in a complementary fashion in order to offer humanitarian assistance to mass violence and terrorism victims. These two entities have come together to author an online publication entitled “Responding to Victims of Terrorism and Mass Violence Crimes”. This publication highlights the basics concepts relating to the criminal justice process.

The OVC is an integral part of Office of Justice programs and it derives help from the ARC in order to ensure that the criminal justice process is followed in the right way.

Disaster services are meant to offer relief to victims of disaster. In this regard, this organization targets individuals, entire families and whole communities. The most important areas of focus include food, mental counseling, shelter and sanitation.

In terms of health, the American Red Cross is a champion of training and education in matters of safety, hygiene and standards. The main areas of focus are Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), water safety, water safety, first aid and baby-sitting courses. Any volunteer can receive training in any of these areas.

The other areas of participation include Community Services, Volunteer Services, Youth Programs and International Services. For young people, the greatest challenge is extending any available training opportunity to them in order to nurture their talents while at the same time inspiring them to show compassion towards humanity in all their endeavors.  

In terms of criticism, this organization has not been spared. Sometimes, questions have been raised on whether donations received in times of disasters have been used in the right manner.

On November 7, 2001, Fox News reported that the American Red Cross was on the receiving end of growing criticism on how it handled the $ 500 million that had been donated after the Sep. 11 attack. In response to this criticism, the organization’s management disclosed that a third of these donations had been used for direct disaster relief efforts. At the same time, new details were offered on how the rest of the donations would be used. The Liberty Fund, an independent account that was created in the aftermath of the Sep. 11 attacks had managed to collect $ 564 according to the Fox News report.            

Although the American Red Cross introduced external cardiopulmonary resuscitation as early as 1960, few lay people can offer these services when they are needed most (Moore (Ed) 1998). However, significant progress has made with regard to Basic Life Support in which case there is no use of special equipment. The total number of lives that the organization records to have saved is still suboptimal.

In July 2008, Nancy McKelvey the chief nurse at American Red Cross (ARC), together with about 1000 other employees removed from employment. The number of those laid off according to an article published the same month in the American Journal of Nursing, this number constitutes a third of all the employees of the national headquarters of the ARC.

The elimination of the nurse’s position came at a time when the organization was a budget deficit of $200 million. This decision was heavily criticized as insensitive and a severe blow to the organization’s effort to attract new nursing graduates to join it as volunteers. This is because many people saw it as a direct attack on the nursing as a profession rather than as a reflection of the organization’s budgetary realities.

Commentary on ways in which the American Red Cross could improve its effectiveness towards its social goals

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The signing of the American Red Cross Governance Overhaul Bill by former US president George Bush is one of the best measures taken to improve its effectiveness in recent times. This measure followed the release in 2007 of a report entitled “American Red Cross Governance for the 21st Century”. The recommendations of the report were unanimously approved by congress.

Among the changes proposed in this report is reduction of divisions and/or workers within this organization. The report observed that with downsizing, it was easier for profitability goals to be realized. Against this backdrop, the board of ARC, which has 50 members, would be reduced and left with 12 to 25 members by the beginning of 2009. By 2012, the membership of the board would be between 12 and 20.

Additionally, the role of the board would be clarified and focus for board members would be exclusively strategic oversight and governance matters. Board members would no longer be categorized into three. Only one category would exist and its members would be selected by a full board.

A prediction concerning the future of the American Red Cross and its impact on the criminal justice system

The American Red Cross has made significant progress in its leadership strategy especially with the recent overhaul of the board’s constitution. However, more needs to be done with regard to creation of awareness among members of the public on the basic principles of criminal justice process according to the joint report by US Department of Justice report and Office for Victims of Crime entitled “Responding to Victims of Terrorism and Mass Violence Crimes”.

The timeline of decreasing the number of board members of the ARC from the current 25 to between 12 and 20 by 2012 should be adhered. The ultimate goal is to pull this humanitarian organization out of financial difficulties.


The American Red Cross will continue to face many challenges in the days to come. However, this will not prevent the organization from maintaining its leadership position in matters of humanitarian efforts at the organizational level. The organization has lived true to its mission of providing humanitarian assistance to humanity in a show of respect for human life.

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