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PR Fail: Did the Red Cross Double Your Sandy Donation?

American Red Cross Hurricane SandyThis week a LinkedIn editor’s personal story highlighted a significant and previously unreported problem with the American Red Cross’s uneven Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Due to a technical “issue”, the organization’s online payment system charged “an unknown number” of well-meaning supporters twice for the same donation.

While the Red Cross claims to be “working quickly to resolve the issues” that affected “a small number of donors”, its spokespeople have yet to release a statement despite reports of efforts to contact each affected individual.

We shouldn’t have to say it, but this is not the proper way to address a potential PR crisis–however isolated it may be.

The longstanding aid group has already received a good bit of mixed-at-best media attention for its “slow” response to the Hurricane Sandy crisis. Lest we forget, the American Red Cross is not a nonprofit organization, and headlines about “raking in $150M in the name of the storm” do not boost the public profiles of prominent charity brands like this one.

Of course, technical snafus are an unavoidable part of modern life. But we classify this story as a PR Fail because the Red Cross didn’t mention it until the post surfaced on LinkedIn this week—and its reps have yet to offer any specifics beyond a claim that the issue affected “fewer than 1 percent of donors.”

That’s all well and good, but nothing on the company’s help page specifies anything about the underlying problem. In other words, it’s your responsibility to figure out whether your donation blew up.

LinkedIn editor Francesca Levy noticed the error by pure coincidence while reviewing her bank statement: A few minutes after she made a $100 donation, her account got charged again. A Red Cross spokesperson’s explanation tying the problem to “slow internet connections” and “JavaScript settings” just doesn’t cut it. So if you used your credit card to donate to the Red Cross online, you might want to take a moment to check your statement. In fact, we’d recommend it.

Everyone loves a do-gooder organization, but we tend to bring harsh judgment on errors that harm good Samaritans. We can’t blame the Red Cross for a tech problem, but we do have three words of advice for handling future mix-ups like this one:

Transparency. Transparency. Transparency.

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