Another group falls far short of its initial projections about the number of people provided with assistance, but few are paying attention.
Buried in an article in the Washington Post on Sunday (April 29, 2007) was the revelation that a consortium of mostly faith-based agencies has not come close to its projected level of assistance to victims of hurricane Katrina.
A little research turns up that the consortium is called Katrina Aid Today, and it is coordinated by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR, EIN 13-5562279, church group, no Form 990). The group was set up as a way to distribute funds donated by foreign governments for hurricane relief. In addition to UMCOR, the members of the coalition are mostly, but not exclusively, faith-based. Many of them are denominational, rather than non-denominational parachurch organizations:
- Volunteers of America,
- Episcopal Relief and Development,
- The Odyssey House of Louisiana,
- The National Disability Rights Network,
- Catholic Charities USA,
- Lutheran Disaster Response,
- Boat People SOS,
- The Salvation Army-Territorial Headquarters, and
- The National Council of the St. Vincent DePaul Society
According to the Post article, the group has served 45,000 people, far short of the 100,000 projected beneficiaries, and has spent just $30 million of the $66 million contracted to them. Relatively speaking, this is better than the disappointing performance of Habitat for Humanity that we have talked about (Habitat Failing Humanity, February 22, 2007), but it contributes to a picture that widespread disappointing results in Katrina recovery include private charity as well as government efforts.
The transparency of this coalition leaves something to be desired, in my view. The web site shows in what states the participating organizations are working, but I couldn't find anything in the way of regular progress reports, either from a programmatic or financial basis. The press releases are mostly anecdotal success stories.
I found it interesting that UMCOR itself does not complete a Form 990 (and thus does not appear in Guidestar or Charity Navigator). As a church group, it is not required to do so, but some faith-based relief agencies choose to do so anyway, like coalition partner Episcopal Relief & Development (EIN 73-1635264 Form 990). UMCOR does provide a summary financial statement on its web site. However, the report does not provide a functional breakdown of expenses for program and fundraising, and so the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance has declared that UMCOR does not meet its charitable accountability standards.
Nor is UMCOR a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (EIN 93-0744698 Form 990), a membership organization that evaluates its member charities, probably for denominational reasons. And UMCOR is not reviewed by Ministry Watch, an online financial accountability project of Wall Watchers (EIN 56-2091339 Form 990).
The biggest lesson here for me is to point out the continue double standard between faith-based and secular charities, both in transparency and in news reporting. I'm not surprised that the KAT coalition has not met its initial targets of service. What's unfair is that some groups are singled out for blame (notably the American Red Cross), while other groups' shortcomings are ignored or minimized (e.g. KAT coalition and Habitat for Humanity).
The truth is that Katrina was a disaster that none of our institutions were ready for, public, faith-based, or private. The real issue is how can we learn from these mistakes. I believe that the American Red Cross, having been tested by fire, will be in a better position going forward. Faith-based groups that try to hide or minimize the problems in their Katrina response are less likely to learn anything.