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Red Cross Employee Survey Finds Doubts About Leadership, Ethics

Updated at 12:45 p.m. ET.

A new employee survey isn't good news for the American Red Cross. Just 39 percent of employees trust the senior leadership of the organization. And 4 out of 10 employees have doubts about the charity's commitment to ethical conduct.

The summary of the survey results obtained by NPR and ProPublica comes on the heels of NPR and ProPublica's reporting last month that the charity struggled to meet the basic needs of victims in recent storms and diverted needed resources for public relations purposes.

More than 14,000 Red Cross employees took part in the internal survey this past May. In an email to employees in September, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern wrote, "Candidly, the results could have been stronger."

Red Cross spokeswoman Suzy DeFrancis declined to comment other than to say this was the charity's first such survey and that it should not be used to criticize the organization.

"It is regrettable that you are taking work that we are doing to improve employee engagement and using it to criticize us," DeFrancis wrote in a statement.

NPR and ProPublica's investigation centered on top current and former Red Cross officials and the charity's own documents that revealed an organization so consumed with appearances that in one case it sent empty trucks to drive around to make it appear that disaster relief was being delivered, according to interviews with top officials and truck drivers.

In her note to employees, McGovern described the "values and ethics" portion of the survey results as a "strength." She said 61 percent of employees responded that their belief in the charity's commitment to ethics is "very high."

The survey stated that when employees at other companies were asked the same question, 78 percent on average said they believe their companies show a commitment to ethical conduct.

McGovern noted in her email that Red Cross is facing budget deficits and layoffs. She writes, "I am not completely surprised by these findings, given the current challenges we face and the steps we are taking to achieve our vision for a sustainable Red Cross by 2017."

There was some good news for the charity in the survey. While only 42 percent of employees said they believe the Red Cross has an outstanding future, 83 percent said they are proud to work for the nation's oldest and most venerated disaster relief organization.

This story was reported in partnership between NPR News Investigations and ProPublica, an investigative journalism organization. Can you help? Email NPR correspondent Laura Sullivan or share a tip here.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laura Sullivan is an NPR News investigative correspondent whose work has cast a light on some of the country's most significant issues.