The Red Cross' symbol, a red cross on a white background, is the reverse of the national flag of Switzerland, a country noted for its neutrality. The design was also chosen because it would be easily recognizable and simple to reproduce from scratch if necessary.
The cross was not intended to have any religious connotations. However, a cross of any kind is a powerful reminder of Christianity for many people, so aid organizations in most Muslim countries choose to use a Red Crescent instead. Israel's Magen David Adom aid group uses a red Star of David.
Red Cross Structure
The American Red Cross is made up of 769 regional or city-based chapters. Every chapter is officially chartered by the national Board of Governors. The directors of the chapters have some degree of autonomy is determining which programs and services are most vital in their area, while the Red Cross' $4.1 billion annual budget is distributed at the national level to the individual chapters.
The Red Cross is not funded by the government; its budget comes from donations as well as cost-recovery fees that are charged for some services. In certain circumstances, the Red Cross recieves government money because the government has contracted the Red Cross to carry out some aspect of relief efforts. Because it is a non-profit, charitable organization, the Red Cross is tax-exempt.
The Red Cross is not completely independent of the United States government, however. The organization runs under a Congressional charter that has been in place since 1905. Under this charter, the Red Cross acts as an "instrument of the government," carrying out the duties and responsibilities of the Geneva Convention and other tasks that the federal government delegates to it [ref]. The Federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) monitors the Red Cross' blood collection and storage programs.
The president of the American Red Cross is elected by a 50-member Board of Governors. The members of the board are volunteers, while the president draws a salary of more than $200,000 per year. Some presidents have offered to forgo this salary [ref]. The President of the U.S. is considered the honorary chairperson of the Board of Governors, and also appoints eight of the board members. The other 42 members are elected at the annual national convention. The board elects 12 of them, and 30 are elected by the delegates from various Red Cross chapters who attend the convention.
The rest of the Red Cross' roster is made up of approximately 1.2 million volunteers and about 40,000 paid employees, mostly nurses.
In the next section we'll examine the controversy that sometimes plagues the Red Cross.