Scrutiny hinders volunteers in Hawaii
07 February 2007

American Red Cross Volunteer helping victim of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. (Source: Red Cross America)American Red Cross Volunteer helping victim of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. (Source: Red Cross America)
Hawaii, USA: Eighteen months after Hurricane Katrina, American Red Cross Hawaii State Chapter volunteers are feeling the effects of the storm.

The Red Cross has mandated background checks for volunteers nationwide, including board members, after accusations of impropriety among volunteers surfaced in the aftermath of Katrina.

The new rule is unprecedented for one of the nation's most well-known charities, and officials of the Hawaii chapter are concerned that the organization will lose some of its 2,000 local volunteers over the issue.

"Some volunteers are worried about giving personal information out or are hurt by us asking," said Coralie Matayoshi, CEO of the Red Cross Hawaii chapter. "They're hurt because they know they're not a criminal."

"Some people really struggled with it," said Don Carroll, retired president of Oceanic Time Warner Cable and a board member of the Red Cross Hawaii chapter. "Given that we've had certain problems, at least on a national scale, it's probably just one of those governance issues you've got to deal with -- it's happening in the corporate world and nonprofit world. Life is changing."

The national organization's goal is to complete background checks on all volunteers by March, using a secure Web-based portal operated by a third-party company. The cost of a background check is $3.50 per volunteer. Individual chapters also may implement credit checks for volunteers in certain financial positions.

"These are changes that need to occur to ensure not only the safety of other volunteers, but the safety of the clients being served by the American Red Cross," said Jenny Carrick, a national Red Cross spokeswoman in Sacramento. "Anytime that you have change there's obviously going to be people who have concerns or don't want to be part of that change."

The Red Cross has 775 chapters nationwide, with 1.12 million volunteers and an annual budget of $3.4 billion. The Hawaii chapter has a budget of $4 million, which includes $3 million from annual donations.

"In these days (background checks are) necessary and it really gives our organization more credibility that we have volunteers who really are the right kinds of people," said Kathy Inkinen, president of Inkinen & Associates and a Red Cross Hawaii chapter board member. "It would be a catastrophe if we let that slip and then we have a volunteer who is not necessarily the proper kind of person."

Though many Hawaii charities do not require background checks on all volunteers, there is a heightened interest in accountability and transparency, said John Flanagan, president and CEO of the Hawaii Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations.

"The trend is that board members are having an increasing level of responsibility, and they're being held responsible more and more for financial reports and statements," he said.

© The Star Bulletin

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