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RELIEF INTERNATIONAL
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.

MY ROLE:
Volunteer