2016 The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Large Newsroom finalist

Red Cross


Justin Elliott, Laura Sullivan


The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Large Newsroom


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About the Project

In the fall of 2014, ProPublica and NPR published an account of the Red Cross’ failure to help those in need after Hurricane Sandy. The charity hadn’t delivered basic aid and had diverted resources for public-relations purposes. We thought we had exposed the charity’s low point.

But the calls kept coming in. Insiders kept telling us that the problems at the Red Cross were much deeper and broader. Many urged us to look at one place in particular: Haiti. After the 2010 earthquake there, the First Lady urged Americans to give to the Red Cross. NFL playoff games featured a call for donations. The Red Cross ended up raising nearly half a billion dollars to help Haitians, far more than any other charity.

We asked Red Cross leaders where the money went. They wouldn’t tell us. So we went to Haiti to find out.

What ProPublica’s Justin Elliott and NPR’s Laura Sullivan discovered was squandered donations, unfounded claims of success, and a trail of resentment about broken promises.

Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern had pledged to build “brand-new communities.” The charity claimed to have provided homes to more than 130,000 Haitians. The reality: The Red Cross built just six permanent homes in all of Haiti.

So where was the money going? We pieced together figures from internal documents showing the charity was keeping far more money than it disclosed. In one project that the charity subcontracted out, the Red Cross’ own management and overhead soaked up a third of the spending.

Our investigation resulted in headlines around the world and became the most read story ever on our site. And it has had wide-ranging impact beyond gathering a large audience:

  • It has prompted significant action from Capitol Hill. Sen. Charles Grassley has demanded details from the charity on how it spent donations for Haiti.
  • Citing our reporting, a September report from the Government Accountability Office recommended that Congress subject the Red Cross’ disaster services to regular, outside scrutiny.
  • Rep. Bennie Thompson, ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security, introduced the American Red Cross Sunshine Act, crediting our coverage. That bill would force the Red Cross to do what it has long resisted: open its books and operations to outside scrutiny.