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August 29, 2012

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August 29, 2012

Dear Ex-Employee of RI and Readers:

If there is any suspicion or misperception of wrongdoing there is nothing more damaging than letting it linger. Charity Navigator’s objective ranking lists Relief International as 2nd among hundreds of charities in international relief and development
not because we raise the most money but because of our high accountability and transparency practices. This includes a robust and confidential accountability and reporting mechanisms to the Board that protects whistle blowers and covers the widest range of actions including those by senior managers and executives. That the complainant has chosen not to use any of those constructive mechanisms and rather has elected to use a very negative public statement only raises questions of its own. Nevertheless RI’s Internal Audit mechanism is such that it has a direct reporting line to the Board and as such the very comments below have been communicated in their entirety to our Board’s relevant Committees and Ombudspersons. RI’s Board which is fully independent of the management has several committees (Audit, Finance, HR, etc.) that independently and/or in combination can review allegations of misconduct and decide on corrective steps.

The allegations below touch on three issues:

a) CEO Management Style: While few charities may be run for the benefit of people who work in those organizations, Relief International, as with most other professional non-profits is run as a public interest organization. Meaning, our charity is directed at the people we serve and the funds trusted to us by the public and the donor community are for the benefit of these communities and not to guarantee jobs at the organization. While we treat our employees with the most generous health and other benefits packages and our salaries are modest by industry standards. Our organizational culture is defined by one of respect and of rewarding good work and not tolerating repeat slackers or non-performers.

To the extent that the negative comments below are directed at one and only one person I can suggest that no one person at Relief International or any other organization of this size and complexity is that significant to be the cause of so much bad or good. The complainant claims that her only concern is the CEO and that the organization’s work is “tremendous and inspiring, so I hesitate to focus this critique as wholly negative. The mission and aim of the organization is one that undoubtedly helps disenfranchised communities across the world - this I have no issue with and fully support.” Therefore it is alarming and contradictory that the complainant ranks the organization as the lowest in all the categories noted (with a score of 1” out of 5).

b) Comments on Charity Navigator: In response to a previous unsubstantiated negative comment posted on Charity Navigator, our Donor Relations Officer was directed by Charity Navigator itself to generate positive comments as the ONLY means available by Charity Navigator to organizations to counter a negative comment. We have communicated to Charity Navigator our concern that while it purports to have and promotes itself an “objective” ranking system, its comments section - which is actually that of a third party and only hosted by Charity Navigator - is in fact a subjective platform that does no fact-checking or review. Nor does Charity Navigator include a visible notice to readers that these comments are not part of Charity Navigator’s own site. As such this contradicts the essence of the public trust put in Charity Navigator as an objective ranking system. That Charity Navigator’s only suggested recourse is the active posting of positive comments by the organization is a matter that we encourage all to bring to the attention of Charity Navigator as has RI. We recognize as laudable that Charity Navigator is constantly upgrading and improving its systems and we are sure that Charity Navigator will take such public comments into consideration.

c) Vendor vs. Sub-recipient Determination: The complainant seems to allege wrongdoing here. To be sure in developing this process RI conducted a wide search of the existing best practices among peer organizations. Since I was personally involved in this process (as was the complainant) I say with confidence that RI’s established process is not only in compliance with USG regulations but is a stricter form compared to the norm. RI requires two senior managers from different department to attest to the results of the determination compared to the norm of just one reviewer. In addition, we took the step of having our external auditors of record, who audit the largest number of international non-profits review our proposed process before it was adopted to ensure full compliance with regulations. These are facts that the complainant either ignores or just was inattentive to. Again, that the complainant chose to present this accusation in a public platform that does not conduct fact-checking rather than bring this to the attention of the Board’s Audit and/or Finance Committees who would certainly examine the facts speaks for itself. Regardless, RI management has forwarded this and all the complainant’s comments in their entirety to the Board for review in line with our policies and practices of accountability and transparency.

Sincerely,

Farshad Rastegar, PhD
President & CEO
Relief International

More feedback...

How does this organization compare with others in the same sector?

Very Well

How much of an impact do you think this organization has?

Life-changing

Will you recommend this organization to others?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

August 15, 2012

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August 15, 2012

I hope this review does not appear completely negative, but rather establishes an eye-opening view into the organization's pitfalls and illustrates the need to urgently make changes in its executive management structure. Bottom line is…RI’s future, legacy, effectiveness and longevity are at stake and this needs to be addressed and resolved immediately.

The work RI does is tremendous and inspiring, so I hesitate to focus this critique as wholly negative. The mission and aim of the organization is one that undoubtedly helps disenfranchised communities across the world - this I have no issue with and fully support.

My problem arises when attempting to understand and accept the internal mechanism within RI, notably the way in which employees are treated by a particular senior executive (the CEO/Founder Farshad Rastegar).

RI needs to improve on in its effectiveness and start outwardly appreciating and retaining the highly-motivated, dedicated and educated people within its staff. This is for the good of the organization. Currently, there is a systematic culture of fear, and a high-level of toxicity resulting in a severely hostile work environment; thus the reasons for the large attrition rate and constant overturning within the ranks. I have had numerous discussions with people who have departed over the course of a year and discovered the 'why' to many of their departures; the result has been that in 88% of the cases the departure reason is due to the person having either direct or indirect communication with Farshad Rastegar and how he treats them was the #1 issue. Farshad has a deluded sense of reality of how he is viewed within all tiers of the organization as well as the insurmountable lack of respect he holds amongst his ranks. This lack of respect is a by-product of his constant ‘bullying’ behavior and threatening communication to his employees. (There are countless first-hand encounters reflecting this claim [in emails, Skype conversations etc.] by myself and those who have left the organization within the last year)

In addition, there is a reason why after a negative review left in March of 2012 on charitynavigator.com has had numerous and spontaneous April 2012 5 and 4-star reviews…Farshad Rastegar explicitly directed his staff to write positive reviews on the website to counter the effects of the negative review. Is this the way an organization should be run? Like a Stalin-era dictatorship where any negative feedback is immediately rejected by forcing staff members to write good reviews for the sake of writing more positive reviews to cover the truly honest one written in March of 2012? It gives me a visceral feeling indeed. Farshad’s management style is appalling, and a respectable leader would never behave like this. He even went so far as attempting to have charitynavigator.com delete the negative post but to no avail, what are you hiding Farshad? I seriously recommend he read the following article to understand how to improve his methods:

http://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/8-core-beliefs-of-extraordinary-bosses.html

Additionally, Farshad fits into each of these categories:

http://blog.eonetwork.org/2012/06/3-horrifying-bosses/

I feel as though RI employees should be sent to this seminar:

http://www.regonline.com/Register/Checkin.aspx?EventID=1108632

Since joining RI, I have had the disappointment in experiencing first-hand and by way of witnessing others' interactions with Farshad, an extremely toxic, hazardous and fearful work environment. There is a constant deficit of respect and an utter disregard for the human component, both which have surmounted any of my previous experiences with leadership styles in other organizations. This simply cannot be a way for an organization to function, and it cannot be sustainable or else RI risks the continuous exodus of its staff. It was even noted in an email from Farshad to a Director here in RI in July of 2012, that ‘those staff who can make it to the two-year mark are the cream of the crop and worthy of being an RI employee.’ So is Farshad stating that those who do not put in two years of work are worthless and unfit to be a member of RI? It is a repulsive assertion by him.

Farshad is constantly contradicting himself when giving guidance or having so-called SOPs that are basically him saying he remembers himself giving guidance months ago so it should be followed despite the fact that he refuses to sign off on codified processes or procedures. He is a megalomaniac, micromanager and cannot surrender any hint of control or power to those who have been hired to improve the organization.

It is a shame that RI has such a revered mission statement that helps those who need it most. Unfortunately, in most of RI’s private donations, donor misappropriation is happening at an expedited pace. Afterone reviews RI's BVAs (budget vs. actual) for several of its private donations, it is clear that many superfluous charges are attached to projects that should not have taken place; i.e. flights for personnel who have had no dealing with that particular grant, labor time for employees who have no relevant or justifiable reason to allot their time to the grant etc.

I reiterate that this review has not been a singular effort, I have been approached, as well as reached out to others within RI, and the statements above are a compilation of the issues abound in RI. Unfortunately, no action can be taken by any of our superiors/supervisors as all the issues stem from the interactions, decisions and treatment by Farshad Rastegar. If he were to be replaced, or at the very least a Chief of Staff put in place to buffer Farshad’s daily interaction with the rest of the staff, then can RI finally attempt to build a future that employs loyal, hard-working and intelligent staff members who WANT TO STAY AT RI.

In addition to this clearly intolerable treatment of staff by Farshad, RI is purposefully misclassifying sub-recipients and local partners as vendors to avoid the $25,000 cap per year on their US Government and USAID sub-contracts and sub-agreements, as dictated in the NICRA letter RI received in December 2011. Farshad Rastegar has dictated that RI creates a vendor determination checklist on April 18, 2012. Direct guidance was given by him to always take a default position when it comes to classifying these partners; he told his staff to assume that everyone is a vendor since USAID takes the default position that everyone is a sub-recipient. The vendor checklist is to validate this determination, but we are instructed to falsely complete this checklist to ensure these partners are seen as vendors even if they are clearly not. In summary, RI is trying to take as much NICRA as possible on these contracts and the staff at RI feels we are not being forthcoming or honest in the way our proposals and realignments are being calculated.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

Fire and replace the CEO/Founder, Farshad Rastegar with someone who knows how to lead by example, manage people professionally and gain respect.

More feedback...

Would you volunteer for this group again?

No

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

None

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Badly

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

No

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

What one change could this group make that would improve your volunteer experience?

Firing the CEO/Founder, Farshad Rastegar.

Did your volunteer experience have an effect on you? (teaching you a new skill, or introducing new friends, etc.)

It had the opposite effect; I now understand how not to be a good leader and how not to manage an organization lead by the example of Farshad Rastegar.

How did this volunteer experience make you feel?

Abused, under-utilized and having little to no respect for the CEO/Founder, Farshad Rastegar.

June 21, 2012

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June 21, 2012

I donated to RI for a mother's day campaign and my family has donated via its church, which had selected RI as a destination for its international fundraising support one year. For us, it was a way to help support projects with women and girls. For the church they liked the type of programming that was well described on the website, and that it was community based. We and the church liked that RI tried to keep routine updates about their work via the website. This helps us understand more about the work itself and how it can be hopeful - most of the news is very dire. We were also able to direct questions to the RI office, and had the opportunity to talk to real people about the project and how our donation was helping. We appreciated having someone take time to talk with us.

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Was your donation impactful?

Likely

How likely is it that you would recommend that a friend donate to this group?

Likely

How likely are you to donate to this group again?

Likely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

April 22, 2012

I am currently volunteering for Rellief International. All I can say is that I am impressed for the trust I have received from the organisation from the first minute. I have been volunteering and working for other INGOs and I find that Relief International is very professional and has a great team. I particularly like its holistic approach and its orientation towards the beneficiaries having much of the staff in the field.

More feedback...

Would you volunteer for this group again?

Definitely

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

A lot

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Very Well

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

April 17, 2012

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April 17, 2012

Relief International has a wonderful work dynamic and is full of dedicated, passionate, and knowledgeable practitioners of development work and humanitarian aid. This is the whole package for interns looking to gain well-rounded experience in the field. In my day-to-day activities I come into contact not only with my own department (Executive), but also with Programming, Philanthropy, Finance, etc. The senior management team is accessible which is awesome, because they can offer insightful advice for moving forward with your career, and they truly want you to succeed. The best thing about interning for RI is that you come to understand how a non-profit organization operates, and you get the feeling that we’re all working for a similar purpose. We’re a team, and one person’s well-being contributes to the organization’s success as a whole. Having the opportunity to meet so many enthusiastic people who come from various backgrounds and levels of experience, but who are all connected by their genuine commitment to saving lives and sustaining livelihoods is rare. Having interned and worked in many capacities prior to joining RI, I can honestly say you would be hard-pressed to find diversity like this blended so compatibly elsewhere.

More feedback...

Would you volunteer for this group again?

Definitely

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

A lot

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Quite well

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

April 17, 2012

Interning at Relief International has been a truly gratifying experience. Interns at Relief International get to take part and have direct impact upon the organization's work. Interning here has really helped me determine what my passions are and what role I want to have in changing the world through humanitarian work, while further developing my skills. Relief International is now an organization I look up to as setting the bar in humanitarian relief and development work.

More feedback...

Would you volunteer for this group again?

Definitely

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

Life-changing

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Very Well

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

April 16, 2012

I have some experience with various types of humanitarian organizations--including for-profit, hybrid and nonprofit--and I also interned at Relief International (at the HQ office in Los Angeles). What I like most about RI, is that the organization truly creates all of its programming with sustainability in mind--this is what makes RI fundamentally great. The goal with programming is to ultimately leave the project in the hands of the community (which should be the goal of every developmental organization, in my opinion). I really just want to emphasize this point, as "band-aid" charity organizations are, unfortunately, too common. And for the prospective intern, this is definitely the place to gain real, applicable nonprofit experience with many opportunities for creativity.

More feedback...

How does this organization compare with others in the same sector?

Very Well

How much of an impact do you think this organization has?

Life-changing

Will you recommend this organization to others?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2011

April 16, 2012

Relief International thinks outside the box, and values providing programs that engage the community in their design. RI is also non-political and non-sectarian, empowering communities by allowing them to inform the design and implementation process based on their own culture, needs and worldview.

More feedback...

How does this organization compare with others in the same sector?

Quite well

How much of an impact do you think this organization has?

A lot

Will you recommend this organization to others?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

April 16, 2012

Gelman Rosenberg & Freedman has been the principal auditing firm for RI for the past twelve years. In ensuring a professional and independent relationship with RI, we have rotated the principal audit partner (and manager) position during this period of time. RI has also proactively sought proposals from other auditing firms during our engagement period, and the Audit Committee of the Board (independent of RI management) has qualitatively re-engaged Gelman Rosenberg & Freedman. All members of our staff are independent of RI and do not have any conflicts of interest with members of RI staff.

More feedback...

How does this organization compare with others in the same sector?

Quite well

How much of an impact do you think this organization has?

A lot

Will you recommend this organization to others?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2011

April 15, 2012

more

April 15, 2012

I have had a good internship with Relief International. I spent two months in north Darfur and I worked, as volunteer, about management of severe and acute malnutrition among children under 5 years old. I passed all my time in Zamzam camp that is located near El Fasher. In this camp are assisting almost 200.000 internally displaced people fleeing from war that is bringing death and destruction since 2003.
My experience was very interesting. I worked very hard and closely with local field staff. They gave me a big support to understand everything. At the same time, my supervisor, Nutrition Coordinator and National Country Director gave me all the instruments to improve my abilities and my skills. Every day, they supported me with responsibility and energy.
What I did during my internship met my expectations, but I am aware that I need to continue to improve my skills. For this reason I could be very happy if there are some possibilities to continue to work with Relief International. RI is very dynamic organization and I like very much its approach.

More feedback...

Would you volunteer for this group again?

Definitely

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

A lot

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Quite well

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

Likely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

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