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
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
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,
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.