Thursday, 31 May, 2007 10:22 PM
Will New Red Cross CEO Help or
Harm Confidence in Disaster Agency?
Calif. -- The revolving door to the CEO’s office
at the American Red Cross has spun yet again, and the selection
of the new top executive may be the most puzzling to date.
On April 18, the agency announced the appointment of IRS chief Mark
Everson as its newest President and CEO, taking over from interim
executive Jack McGuire.
“The IRS hardly inspires thoughts of selfless volunteerism,
generosity, efficient and compassionate service, collaboration,
and full transparency” says charity expert and best-selling
author, Renata Rafferty. “ Perhaps that’s why there
has been a resounding silence in the charitable sector in response
to this odd selection.”
The Red Cross announcement offered unusually little information
about IRS chief Everson’s qualifications for the position,
begging the question of whether he has what it takes to run this
increasingly troubled yet critical organization. The public probably
expected that the new president and chief exec would, at the very
least, have credentials in ...
- Disaster relief,
blood banking, health, social services or general relief work
- Directing a donor-driven
agency with a heavy reliance on volunteerism
- Professional experience
within the charitable sector
The little that is known about Everson’s professional background,
however, indicates no such experience. His history with the IRS,
the federal Office of Management and Budget, the United States Information
Agency, and the Immigration and Naturalization Office, coupled with
private sector experience as a corporate financial officer, is very
“But is it anywhere nearly enough to inspire public confidence
in the American Red Cross and its ability to competently respond
to national disaster?” asks Rafferty. “After all, the
public has not forgotten or forgiven what happened after Michael
Brown (“Brownie”) took over FEMA in 2003 with little
experience in emergency management. Has the Red Cross set Mark Everson
up for a similar failure?”
The cynics in the charitable sector might guess that the agency’s
board sees the Red Cross as a hulking, slow-footed bureaucracy.
Who better to lead the organization then the head of one of our
nation’s quintessential bureaucracies, the IRS?
Or perhaps the board tired of Congress and its increasing scrutiny
of this federally-chartered charity and recruited someone who has
worked the Hill, knows how to play the game, and can keep Congress
happy and at arm’s length now that the Red Cross’ proposed
governance reforms have been approved.
In the last seven years, the Red Cross has churned through three
top executives. Dr. Bernadine Healy (1999-2001) resigned as the
charity’s head shortly after the events of September 11th.
In a horrendous display of misguided public relations efforts, the
Red Cross bobbed and weaved around legitimate questions from the
press and the public about how donated money would be used, and
about who had the right to make that determination.
She was succeeded by former Navy admiral Marsha Evans (2002-2005),
whose tenure as chief executive ended after the agency’s poor
performance in response to Hurricane Katrina. The Red Cross explained
her resignation as resulting from a problem of coordination and
communication between Evans and the board. After her departure,
Executive VP Jack McGuire was promoted to lead the agency in an
If nothing else, the board should have learned from these past experiences
what professionals in the charitable sector – at the national,
regional, and local levels – have long understood. The successful
President and CEO of the American Red Cross position must possess
at least four fundamental qualities:
- Experiential understanding
of the unique dynamic that drives the charitable sector, particularly
with respect to its donation-driven economy and heavy reliance
- The ability to inspire
armies of top-level and middle-management leaders to move at lightning
speed through a dizzying maze of logistics on a moment's notice
-- leaders who themselves must then move armies of volunteers
in an impeccably orchestrated and efficient fashion;
- A track record of
full accountability and transparency with respect to the public
as well as with Congressional overseers and the soon-to-be-appointed
Red Cross Ombudsman; and,
- Experience establishing
ad hoc collaborations and partnerships on a massive scale, a major
factor affecting the agency’s poor performance following
the 9/11 and Katrina crises.
The nation deserves to
know the substantive reasons the board had for placing a bureaucrat
and former businessman in charge of a critical institution charged
with protecting and saving human lives under the most horrendous
of circumstances – disasters that cannot be anticipated.
In the absence of that information, history as well as simple gut
instinct strongly suggests that Mr. Everson will be yet another
executive casualty passing through the Red Cross revolving door.
Let’s hope that, at the very least, his exit will not be triggered
by the same circumstances that undid his predecessors – on-the-job
training in the midst of a national catastrophe.
Renata J. Rafferty is a best-selling author, public speaker, newspaper
and magazine columnist, and nationally recognized expert and media
consultant on the charitable sector. She is frequently called on
by the media and national organizations for her no-holds-barred
candor in addressing charity’s changing role in society and
the need for large-scale charitable reform. She can be reached at
Rafferty Consulting Group, (760) 776-9606, or via
e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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