Thanks disasterguy. As such a new employee, you've probably not really been aware of the rollercoaster history of RI's CharityNavigator reviews, unless you took a peek before you accepted the position and decided you'd try it out despite some of the comments people made. Good for you for deciding for yourself if so.
Tell me though, it's very curious... what brought your attention to CharityNavigator-- and within 24 hours interestingly-- after the most recent negative review?
to anther point of yours, its possible to care about the quality of your staffs work without "getting so personally involved in the issues". If you cared about the quality of work, you'd empower, train, and prepare your staff to get it done right (training director does not focus on internal training at all), set up a system to review the staff regularly (I hear the CEO has not conducted a performance review with any of his staff for years), and offer incentives for positive performance (try talking to the hourly staff about that). You'd also ensure turnover was low enough that you as a C-level could focus on strategic direction, rather than lecturing your staff about not stapling every document vertically.
As a relatively new employee of RI, I would like to make a few comments based on the two previous ones below. Over the years I have worked for a number of NGOs, and other development organizations. None are without fault, or institutional character. Organizations, particularly relatively newer ones, such as RI, evolve and identify and then improve or correct their systems and approaches and management strategies. It is an ongoing process. I have been impressed by RI’s sincere desire to improve management systems, employee care, efficiency of decisions-making and a number of other issues that were raised below as deficits. I have seen first-hand that staff care, a desire to establish and implement professionalism, and a regard for employee experience and input are sincere. I can only base my observations on what I see and hear today, not what may or may not have been the case for former employees. More specifically I see a CEO who is deeply concerned about how well the mission of the organization is accomplished, in the most effective, and cost efficient way to do this. If he gets personally involved in many of the issues (which some have labeled micro-management) it is because he cares about the quality of the work. But I have also seen that as there are more and more experienced and capable people to ensure such quality, he does indeed encourage decision-making at other levels. Yes, there are some weaknesses – there always are in complex environments in which we work – and these are candidly and openly acknowledged and the process of improvements in ongoing.
As a former employee, based on my experience with this organization, it is my personal opinion that there are far better organizations that efficiently and ethically carry out humanitarian aid and development work. What I observed was widespread mismanagement, lack of even the most basic accountability measures, and a leadership structure that allows for the CEO to make unilateral decisions with no checks and balances, despite his claims that he is accountable to the Board. This claim is categorically false and does not hold any validity in practice. I worked on several projects and came into contact with many organizational units - none of which I felt were managed effectively. Employees are underpaid and treated poorly. There are no standards for professionalism. It is extremely concerning that the Founder, who claims to be a humanitarian, has such blatant disregard for people who work so hard toward advancing the work of RI. He seems to believe that character, professionalism, and external image are of no consequence. There have been many times I have encountered former employees and associates of RI, even prior to my start with the organization, who emphatically instructed me not to get involved with RI. The negative opinions definitely do have impact and they are not unfounded. While it is true that RI does deliver some good programs, these successes are overshadowed by the fact that as an organization, it performs far below expectations because of its senior managers who are unable to make rational, strategic decisions about increasing organizational capacity and intelligence. HR is ineffective in advocating for employees and is extremely unprofessional with regard to timely notifications regarding changes in employment status or any official documentation that needs to be provided to employees. The audit functions are completely obsolete. I would not recommend this organization to colleagues.
Review from CharityNavigator
I worked with RI for about 3 years, overall it was a positive experience as I enhanced my skills working with very talented and profesional employees. However, I believe that RI's management style does not suit a company who has over $40 millions worth of projects. The founder of the company and CEO, Farshad Rastegar, rules the company the same way he did the time of its creation in the 90's. The CEO lacks of management oversight and wants to control every aspect of the organization. for instance, you need his signature for buying a stamp. On the other hand, he uses the company's project such as Horn in Africa to pay for his travel expenses and buying Godiva Chocolate is fine for him while the employees don't have a working water dispenser. I wonder why the company has a bad vibe.
I wish I could see the CEO step down and let other people take over this company and make the name RI better.
I really am afraid to wake up one day and hear that RI has gone down.
Do something if you can and stop writing five stars review because there is no such thing.....
Review from CharityNavigator
In response to the recent comments here, I’d like to bring forth some points I feel are important for readers to consider. I am an aid worker and have had professional interactions with Relief International and feel it is important to stress the overall environment for international NGO’s.
In order to analyze the critiques made objectively, we must realize that the field of International Development is EXTREMELY COMPETITIVE (for individuals as well as organizations). More and more individuals are increasingly attracted to the NGO field as many of us dream of helping people and changing the world. What we fail to consider is, unfortunately, jobs are limited in relation to demand and thus are very competitive.
On the other hand organizations, must also deal with this competition. In order to be competitive in the industry, respected and trusted by funders, partners, governments and the public the margin of error for organizations is very low. This results in a heightened sense of pressure and elevated standards for individuals in these organizations.
With this in mind, I am fully confident in donating to Relief International and have personally seen the life-changing differences the organization has made for the people it serves. They have 20 years of experience (not to mention devotion) and have helped shape this industry for the better and have set high standards for other organizations to strive for. Charity Navigator, an unbiased and trusted evaluator of both national and international NGO’s, has ranked them among top 3 in international relief and development charities.
The organization’s overhead (amount of money per each donation spent towards administrative costs) is merely 10% on all donations. A low overhead such as this means that more money is spent directly supporting the organizations programs, so in the case of Relief International 90% of donations are then funded directly to initiatives in the field. This along with the fact that Relief International partners with local NGO’s and works to implement sustainable programs –meaning programs that beneficiaries can manage long after the organizations man power is gone are reasons I truly admire RI. At the end of the day the people that NGO’s help are what matter.
I urge everyone to evaluate any organization they are planning on donating to by researching the achievements and impact the organization has had on the countries and the people it serves with its programs.
Review from CharityNavigator
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.
Farshad Rastegar, PhD
President & CEO
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.
Review from CharityNavigator
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.
Review from CharityNavigator
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.
Review from CharityNavigator
Relief International welcomes and values feedback from its stakeholders and the community at-large. However, the statement made in reference to our governance, external audit oversight and management is utterly false, misleading and malicious.
Relief International’s Board is independent of the management and none of the Board members have any personal, business or other relations with any member of staff or management. The Board has multiple active committees including, Audit, Finance, Human Relations, etc. Relief International’s external auditors of record are selected by the Board. The Audit Committee of the Board has a direct line of communication with the Auditors independent of management. Relief International’s Human Resources Office and the Board Ombudspersons have not received any official or unofficial notice nor witnessed indications to support the allegations made in the comment above. Human Resources also has no record of a volunteer with the referenced name “alanharvard9”.
Charity Navigator’s own objective criteria provide Relief International its coveted four star charity rating. More importantly as related to the accusations made by “alanharvard9”, Charity Navigator’s objective criteria of “accountability, transparency, governance and management practices” provide Relief International with a perfect score of 70 out of 70. In Charity Navigator therefore Relief International ranks among the top 2 out of 213 charities in the relevant category of organizations that offer international development and relief services. We regret that Charity Navigator, an organization that aims and claims to serve as an objective rating and evaluation source, has not put in a system in place where subjective comments are minimally vetted and/or verified.
In this case the comments are contradicted by Charity Navigator’s own objective valuation and as such Charity Navigator is knowingly presenting false information. Minimally, we urge Charity Navigator to include a disclaimer to clarify that public comments are not vetted and to adopt the industry standard and clear notice of “transition to another site” when linking to public comments that are indeed hosted by another organization distinct from Charity Navigator, in order to not confuse readers with the false impression that the subjective information presented here enjoys the same standards of valuation and review as do other objective criteria in Charity Navigator’s site.
To the extent that the integrity of our external auditors, our Board and our CEO was called into question we welcome all to contact the following for more information:
Relief International Auditors:
RI’s external auditors of record are Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman (www.grfcpa.com/), one of the largest global audit firms specialized in International NGO auditing.
Relief International’s Board Ombudspersons:
Ms. Deborah Senior and Ms. Irene Wurtzel
Relief International’s CEO:
Farshad Rastegar, PhD
Relief International Outreach Team