The American Red Cross has been put through the wringer in the past few months for its initial decision to change — and, in many cases, dramatically raise — pricing for its learn-to-swim programs. Much of that criticism was well-deserved. Though it’s the largest provider of aquatic training in the industry, the Red Cross acted as if it had never dipped its toe into a pool before.
The organization announced the price increases (let’s just call it what it is) with no warning, and no apparent outreach. It did so in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and in the middle of budgeting cycles for many facilities, leaving them little or no room to adjust financially. Then, when the waves of criticism started to hit, the Red Cross did a poor job clearly responding, almost to the point of seeming tone-deaf to its critics.
To put it mildly, mistakes were made.
After lengthy conversations with Red Cross officials, I’m convinced they’ve learned their lesson. The latest pricing announcement is the culmination of what amounted to a lot of soul-searching for the organization (see the Red Cross column).
To my mind, the new, lower pricing is fair and sensible (see the news story). But based on comments that we’ve been receiving online since the announcement, some aquatics professionals are still unhappy — and downright angry with the Red Cross.
To these folks, it seems it’s not the details that matter so much as the Red Cross’ decision to even ask for more money, or any money at all. To them, the Red Cross symbolizes the best in not-for-profit, a place of giving and caring and helping — the best that’s in us all — in a time of crisis or need.
There is a need for quality, low-cost, or even free swim lessons, especially for minority populations (see the news story). But just because the Red Cross wants to start charging a fee for that training doesn’t mean it’s suddenly become a faceless, uncaring, profit-driven corporation.
Indeed, Red Cross officials say the new fees won’t even cover the costs of developing the swim training programs. What they will do is offset those costs so the Red Cross can continue its tradition of helping the less fortunate. To that end, scholarships are available for those who can’t afford to pay.
The bigger picture here is that everyone — the Red Cross and its detractors — is after the same thing: swim lessons for all in an ongoing effort to reduce and prevent drowning.
Understanding and recognizing that paying a fee for those lessons where it can be absorbed, and then working with the Red Cross in situations where it can’t, will go a long way toward achieving that goal.