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  1. Dear Board of Directors of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA),
  3. To ensure that IAVA is able to fulfill its mission of improving the lives of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families, we, the staff of IAVA, formally request that the Board of Directors strip the CEO and Founder, Paul Rieckhoff, of the power to manage the daily operations of IAVA in any capacity, including, but not limited to, final decisions related to the following:
  5. 1. Hiring and terminating staff (both full-time staff and contractors)
  6. 2. Fundraising, including grants and corporate partnerships
  7. 3. Budgeting and financial management
  8. 4. Policy
  9. 5. Communications
  11. We request that Paul Rieckhoff be limited to the role of public spokesperson and chief advocate for IAVA, answering directly to a newly appointed CEO.
  13. We recognize the extreme nature of this request and the need to justify such action. In our collective judgment, the future of IAVA is in jeopardy, and the action we’ve requested is a necessary step towards addressing the systemic issues that threaten the organization we love. In fact, despite surface appearances that IAVA is a healthy non-profit with high visibility and strong impact, we are facing serious challenges to our sustainability. For example:
  15. IAVA has chronically struggled with its financial stability. In early September 2014, IAVA had less than $100,000 in hand, and the organization only managed to make payroll thanks to taking out a $30k loan and receiving a handful of eleventh-hour donations.
  17. Even when IAVA is financially healthy, funds are often mismanaged and improperly accounted for. For example, IAVA co-mingles restricted (project-specific) funding with unrestricted (general) funding, and also spends restricted funds for general purposes. This violates the intent of restricted funding—and should donors discover that IAVA spends their money in this way, the organization could face serious questions about its financial practices.
  19. For several years running, IAVA has experienced about twice as much staff turnover as the typical nonprofit. This has led to significant losses of institutional knowledge, and shortfalls in achieving our projected goals. Most of these staff members leave voluntarily, and many have cited Paul Rieckhoff’s controversial approach to management as a key reason why they decided to quit their jobs.
  21. IAVA has strained relationships with many major funders, other veterans’ groups, and key government agencies. Many of these external groups have cited Paul’s personality and actions as the main reasons why they are not supportive of IAVA.
  23. While Paul Rieckhoff is not solely responsible for these problems, we hold him largely responsible due to the controversial nature of his internal management of IAVA, as well as his aggressive handling of external relationships. The following sections will address specific pain points we feel can be directly attributed to his involvement in daily operations.
  25. I. Inability to Raise Sufficient Funds
  27. While this is an issue that many nonprofits struggle with, an organization of IAVA’s stature in the media and community should be, in its 10th year, well beyond its current capacity to raise funds. Nevertheless, IAVA operates in a deficit for at least 9 of the 12 months of the year. Without the Heroes Gala, which brings in $1.3 million, and a traditional end-of-year spike in individual donations, IAVA would not be able to meet its budget.
  29. There are several reasons why we believe that with Paul Rieckhoff at the helm, we will be unable to grow the organization financially. Below find those reasons with examples:
  31. Meddling in fundraising and destroying relationships with current and potential donors
  33. Paul plays a dominant role in IAVA’s fundraising efforts, including managing many of our relationships with potential donors. In fact, he often meets with potential donors without bringing Development staff with him—a clear departure from normal nonprofit procedure. Below, we describe several cases in which his unusually strong involvement in the fundraising process produced negative results. (Please note that these are only examples, not a complete list.)
  35. • B. Wayne Hughes, the billionaire owner of Public Storage, was briefly an IAVA supporter. After one in-person meeting with IAVA’s program, development and strategic partnership staff, Wayne personally donated $81,000 for IAVA’s membership outreach work in California. After that, Wayne attended the 2013 Heroes Gala and made a $25,000 donation during the auction.
  37. Wayne later asked IAVA to submit a proposal for $100k in additional support. Paul independently decided to turn the $100k proposal into a $1,000,000 proposal, wrote much of it himself, and only gave the Resources Team a narrow window to review his work before submission. Despite staff reservations about aspects of the proposal—including its rushed nature, and the decision to multiply the funder’s invited request tenfold—Paul submitted the proposal, weeks after it was due.
  39. However, Paul failed to copy or alert Wayne’s deputy, who set up the relationship; and Wayne never fully reviewed the proposal out of anger. Upon trying to fix the relationship, IAVA staff secured a 3-day weekend trip for Paul to visit Wayne at his Sky Rose Ranch. However, Paul rejected the whole idea of the trip, stating that “I don’t fucking play cowboy for anyone.” After several emails back and forth between Wayne and Paul, in which Paul balked at the lower amount of money Wayne was willing to give in support of the organization, Wayne and his team decided to break ties with IAVA. IAVA staff were told by Wayne’s deputy, “If you want to talk about how to help veterans in general, please call. But never call for IAVA again. We’re done supporting IAVA.”
  41. We felt that, in this case, Paul sabotaged a relationship that other IAVA staff had carefully cultivated over the preceding months, and then rejected out-of-hand a chance to fix the situation. This case also demonstrates a frequent behavior of Paul’s—he often presses donors to give more money than they’re willing to, and comes across as ungrateful for their already substantial contributions.
  43. • Google donated $100,000 in 2010 to IAVA’s Heroes Gala. At that time, we were cultivating a relationship with a contact at Google, Carrie Laureno, who formed Google’s veterans affinity group and created a tool called VetNet that provides solutions for common veteran problems like unemployment. While Carrie does not control the philanthropy at Google, she definitely shapes the opinion of those authorized to give, and she has played a major role in introducing veterans’ issues to the corporation.
  45. On several occasions, Paul circumvented Carrie and went straight to her boss for additional monetary requests. He has continued to push for contributions through multiple different avenues without including Carrie in the conversation, which angered both Carrie and her manager at Google.
  47. Several IAVA staff members have been spent the last few years working to rekindle this relationship. Fortunately, Google now supplies IAVA with in-kind help to maximize our use of Google products, and also works with us to enroll veterans in resume workshops—but it has made no further monetary contributions.
  49. While Google has not donated to IAVA since the original $100k gift, the corporation has given $3,500,000 to Student Veterans of America and continually supports Team Rubicon in their work. On multiple occasions, Carrie has stated to staff that as long as Paul is leading IAVA, Google will not donate to IAVA again. Paul and Carrie have not had a relationship since IAVA was denied for its last monetary contribution.
  51. • JPMorgan Chase gave IAVA a $100,000 grant in 2012. Since that time, IAVA has only been able to get $15K - $25K from the company in grants or donations. While the company still buys a table each year at the gala, an insider relayed to an IAVA staff member that they would never do anything beyond purchasing a table, because they cannot stand Paul. In addition, the IAVA staff member was told that anyone looking for a position at Chase with IAVA on their resume is looked down upon. Chase gives over $190,000,000 dollars annually to organizations across the globe, and they invest more than a million in veterans’ organizations. But IAVA is purposefully being overlooked for increased funding because of top management.
  53. • United Healthcare Military & Veterans: In 2012, TriWest was outbid on their long-standing government contract to provide health insurance to the military community. United Healthcare (UHC) won the bid. In preparing to submit a proposal to UHC for funding, IAVA’s Strategic Partnerships team did their due diligence and put together a request for $500k, which is within the range that UHC typically makes contributions.
  55. Paul took over the proposal, amid staff protest, upped it to $1.1 million dollars and demanded that it be submitted. IAVA’s Director of Development (DoD) at the time received a phone call from a very angry UHC representative and was told that our ask was “completely out of line.” Because the DoD was able to smooth things over with the representative, the company still made a $100K gift to IAVA.
  57. In the same year, the CEO of UHC Military & Veterans asked Paul to sit on a committee on veterans they had created. While there were some issues on their end in making the committee successful, Paul did not ever attend in person as he was requested to. Since then, IAVA has not been able to replicate the $100k donation, and communications with UHC have completely broken down.
  59. • Wounded Warrior Project (WWP): IAVA has strained relations with WWP—which is not only a major potential funder, but also one of the most influential veterans’ groups in the U.S.
  61. In August 2014, WWP’s Chief Program Officer (CPO) explained their side of the story to an IAVA staff member, during an in-person meeting at WWP’s office. According to the CPO, Paul had called WWP’s Chief Executive Officer, Steven Nardizzi, to “demand” funding from WWP after a formal IAVA proposal for $250k had been denied. Despite being insulted by Paul’s approach, Steven sent WWP’s CPO and Program Grants Director to meet with Paul. But instead of taking the meeting himself, Paul reassigned it to IAVA’s Chief of Staff and Program Director, which WWP was not expecting.
  63. The only interaction WWP had with Paul that day was when Paul sent in his assistant to cut the meeting short because he needed the conference room for other purposes. Perceiving this as a snub, WWP’s CPO shared that as long as Paul is at the helm, IAVA will not be receiving funding from WWP and the only interaction they would consider having with us would be at the program level. Despite this, a few weeks later, Paul insisted that all communications with WWP should be between himself and their CEO, and flagged that he needed to give Steve a call because WWP “should be giving us a million dollars a year.”
  65. • Infinite Hero Project (IHF): IAVA received two consecutive grants of $100k from this funder, in 2012 and 2013, to fund the redesign of our online social network, Community of Veterans (COV). Our relationship with IHF’s CEO, Laurie Baker, was initially healthy and she expressed strong interest in supporting IAVA’s work. Over time, however, Paul made repeated requests for additional funding from Laurie. She informed IAVA staff that she found these requests to be excessive and overbearing.
  67. When IHF invited us to submit a grant application for 2014, Paul instructed the staff to again apply for $100k in funding for COV. IAVA’s Development Director, Grant Writer and program staff all argued that this was a flawed request, because IHF had already funded COV twice and the redesign of the platform was largely complete. We couldn’t conceive of asking IHF to fund the same project again, without promising them anything new for their continued investment. IAVA staff argued that we should instead request funding for the Rapid Response Referral Program (RRRP), which had recently lost grant funding that needed urgent replacement.
  69. Paul overrode the fundraising staff, and pushed for the COV proposal to go in. Fortunately, Laurie also gave us permission to submit a second proposal, for RRRP. However, Paul reshaped the request completely, by literally making up a new aspect of RRRP on the spot, which he called “T2.” He failed to clarify exactly what T2 was, which forced staff to essentially invent a new tech-related proposal that did not play to RRRP’s true strengths.
  71. IHF ultimately rejected both of these grant proposals. Laurie informed Paul of this in a sympathetic email, in which she offered to work with IAVA to develop a stronger proposal for submission in Spring 2015. But to the dismay of IAVA’s Resources Team, Paul responded to Laurie with surprise and anger, conveying in his emails that he thought IAVA was entitled to a renewal grant and making the rejection sound like a personal insult.
  73. All of this is, of course, terrible fundraising practice. Paul overrode his fundraising and program staff by insisting upon two poorly conceived proposals that had a high chance of failure. When they did fail, he angrily blamed the funder, and came across as ungrateful for the $200k in support we had already received. His behavior also potentially burned bridges with Laurie Baker and IHF, and reduced our chances to successfully reapply for support in Spring 2015. Excerpts from Paul’s emails to Laurie are attached to this document.
  75. b. Inability to retain a Chief Resource Officer
  78. Between February 2012 and May 2014, IAVA had four different individuals in the position of Chief Resource Officer (CRO). The CRO with the longest tenure lasted for approximately six months; the others worked at IAVA for only a matter of weeks. All four candidates resigned voluntarily.
  80. To be considered for a position of this nature, a candidate needs a decade or more of fundraising experience for mid-to-large size organizations, with strong demonstrated success. People of this caliber have typically managed enormous budgets and fundraising teams, and worked closely with Boards, CEOs, millionaires and billionaires in their tenure. They have the potential to contribute to IAVA’s mission at the highest level.
  82. Unfortunately, at IAVA our CROs are not treated as professionals with years of experience. Paul often gives them mixed messages about how much time they have to learn IAVA’s Standard Operating Procedures, audit the department, and create a strategic plan. Several of them were barred from talking with certain donors, which would be necessary to build up their portfolio. And their advice to the CEO on the proper way to approach a potential prospect was often waved off as nonsense. In fact, several CROs were appalled at the way Paul talked to donors in meetings.
  84. The expectation of autonomy in this role is often used to entice a candidate, but is quickly revoked in the first few weeks of employment. While Paul claims that he is willing to learn from these professionals and let them take the lead, that sentiment is never fully put into practice.
  86. Ultimately, each CRO was unwilling to risk her or his personal and professional reputation by continuing to work for IAVA. For example, during a particularly frank conversation, one CRO told an IAVA director that our financial management practices—particularly our conflation of restricted and unrestricted monies—were alarming, and would have to change.
  88. Instead of looking at the potential reasoning behind the loss of such seasoned professionals, Paul would blame each one of them for not being able to “handle it” or being “worthless.” Until the underlying problems get solved, it will be extremely difficult for IAVA to keep this position filled.
  91. II. High Turnover of Quality Staff
  93. Over the past three years, IAVA has recruited an impressive list of talented professionals. Due to Paul’s overbearing management style, however, many choose to leave without ever having the opportunity to leverage their talents to further IAVA’s mission. Each year, we lose somewhere between a third and half of the total staff; so every few years, almost the entire face of the organization changes.
  95. One key issue is micromanagement. As our colleagues transition out of IAVA, they tell us that a major reason they are leaving is that they were not granted sufficient autonomy to execute their duties. We who remain on staff concur. Professionals who attempt to bring learned best practices to the organization routinely have their ideas and strategies dismissed or ignored. In addition, the decisions that are handed down as dictates from Paul are seemingly made on a whim, often with no consultation with those hired to be our in-house subject matter experts. After misgivings and concerns are raised to no avail, these decisions are then dutifully executed, often under pressure. When they do not yield the intended results, these same individuals with no power or control are then held to account for failed outcomes.
  97. The residual effects of these interactions between managers and Paul are felt at the junior staff level as well. Managers are unable to effectively mentor their subordinates, because Paul openly undermines their decisions and instructions on an almost daily basis. Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that Paul routinely circumvents the “chain of command” by going directly to junior staff, and assigning them tasks that often contradict direction they received from their immediate supervisors.
  99. Pervading all of these interactions is the general sense that people are “not respected”; that we work in an “unprofessional environment.” For many staff, it is has almost become a rite of passage to receive a scathing email from Paul at 2 o’clock in the morning, which may or may not contain profanity. While Paul has been told that putting such angry messages into writing could lead to lawsuits, he has ignored these warnings and maintained an abrasive management style. Meanwhile, during in-person meetings, Paul’s anger has often caused staff members to break down in tears in his office. And while staff members often disagree with Paul’s criticisms of them, they do not feel that IAVA provides them with the tools to defend themselves.
  101. In addition, meetings with Paul tend to be unorganized, stream-of-consciousness sessions, in which Paul talks for 99% of the time and listens for 1%. Simply put, we do not feel that Paul values staff as professionals who have acquired real insights in their chosen fields; instead, he considers staff to be worker-bees who exist to execute on his ideas, regardless of whether they seem beneficial or detrimental to the organization. This leads to burnout among the staff and, inevitably, high turnover.
  103. The graph below presents the estimated turnover rate from the beginning of 2012 to May 2014. To calculate, we relied on the standard turnover equation, (number of employees who left over the year)/(average between the total number of employees at the start the year and number of employees at the end of the year). Because we could not obtain the average between start of year and end of year staff numbers, we were especially generous, assuming an average of 50.
  107. If we assume, as many businesses do, that anything higher than 15% turnover is a red flag, this data suggests IAVA is having a major staffing crisis. Five months into 2014 and we have already reached the high turnover rate of 2013. At our current pace, we are set to shatter the record set in 2012.
  109. Below is additional data highlighting the depth of the problem. The first image shows the percentage of yearly turnover caused by departing staff at the director level or higher. The second shows the percentage of yearly turnover caused by departing staff who worked less than 12 months.
  114. One of the biggest benefits of having a non-profit based in New York City and Washington DC is access to quality talent. Conversely, a big trade off is that, due to competition and the cost of living, there is a need to pay higher salaries than most other areas in the country. We think the benefit of drawing top talent would outweigh the costs under different leadership. As it stands, however, the people who possess qualities we need to bring IAVA to the next level -- intelligence, creativity, critical thinking – have their opinions discounted to such a degree that their professional careers will actually suffer the longer they stay with IAVA.
  116. Because we do hire such talented people, it is easy for them to leave to pursue other opportunities even in a rough economy. After their departure, IAVA proceeds to expend resources hiring the next batch of competent professionals who, far too often, leave us before their one-year anniversary. Some of these professionals carry with them deep resentment and lambast our management to potential donors, partners, and job prospects. Our reputation is diminished. This cycle has been going on for years, and it must end if IAVA is to effectively serve veterans for years to come.

We have confidence that any investigation relying on exit interviews, confidential interviews with staff (current and former), and resignation letters will support our assertion that the relationship between Paul’s management style and turnover is causal in the manner outlined above.
  118. III. Inability to retain and foster strategic relationships
  120. This needs and opening paragraph about how we are viewed in VSO community & more examples of other VSOs that do not like us.
  122. Please find examples of this below:
  124. The Mission Continues (TMC):
  125. - who has the background on this relationship?
  128. Team Rubicon (TR): Paul and Jake Wood (CEO and Co-founder of TR) are two strong personalities and have had their differences over the years. There have been several in-person meetings to reconcile these differences, but no tangible solutions have surfaced, as observed by the Strategic Partnerships and Programs teams.
  130. One source of strain in this relationship was Paul’s behavior during Hurricane Sandy. At the time, IAVA received hundreds of calls, emails and comments via social media, asking what action we were taking in response to the disaster and asking for volunteer outlets approved by IAVA. Instead of recommending that our members and supporters volunteer with TR—which specializes in disaster response—Paul instead tasked two IAVA staff members with building and organizing IAVA’s own disaster response team, in order to maximize exposure to IAVA’s brand in the media.
  132. In response to Paul’s request, a team of IAVA staff veterans and members volunteered with TR for several days, to better understand their on-the-ground operations and figure out how IAVA might implement a similar program. At the end of this volunteer period, IAVA’s team concluded that TR was already meeting veterans’ needs in this area, and it was not prudent for IAVA to “reinvent the wheel” when a service already existed for disaster relief. (It is worth noting that IAVA did not have any staff members with expertise in disaster relief, so designing a new program from scratch would have been extremely difficult, in addition to redundant.)
  134. Paul was outraged at this decision, and switched the project lead to a Major on Staten Island, giving him access to IAVA resources to build out a disaster relief program. This program was sub par, yielded no substantial results, and distracted from IAVA’s mission of supporting its veterans.
  136. TR received only one social media post asking for IAVA members and supporters to aid in TR’s efforts. Meanwhile, IAVA was heavily criticized by other veterans’ organizations for continuing with its Veterans Day Parade activities, and for not organizing days of action around the disaster.
  140. IV. Irresponsible (and ethically questionable) financial management and spending decisions
  142. Co-mingling of restricted and unrestricted funds. IAVA receives two major forms of funding: (1) unrestricted funds, which are given by donors to support IAVA’s general operations and can be spent however we see fit, within regulatory limits; and (2) restricted funds, which donors provide to support specific (and previously agreed-upon) programs and activities. These two types of funds should not be co-mingled; and in particular, restricted funds should not be used to support an organization’s general operations.
  144. Many organizations sometimes have to borrow against their restricted grant balances, but this is not best practice and should be limited. Unfortunately, IAVA simply spends restricted funding for general purposes on a regular basis. It does not keep restricted funds in separate accounts, or account for them in a way that program directors and managers can reasonably be expected to monitor in real-time, much less control.
  146. If restricted funds are not spent as designated (or if NGOs are unable to sufficiently prove that they have been), the consequences, in addition to adverse publicity, can be severe. A funder can pursue legal action, contact the Office of the Attorney General, or revoke a donation. If the organization lacks the funding to repay, the funder can seek repayment from Board members. Depending on the circumstances, staff may face criminal prosecution. Adequate systems for tracking restricted dollars are “a true non-negotiable” and acceptance of these funds requires a “very experienced, senior finance role.”
  148. In October 2013, three senior-level IAVA staff representing the Programs and Resources Divisions submitted a memo to the Chief of Staff and COO outlining concerns and recommendations in this area. The memo was never formally recognized, though in 2014, all Chiefs and Directors were informed that we were switching to Accounting Seed, which we were told should resolve identified issues. The Accounting Seed transition is expected to be complete in October 2014, though programs staff remain unable to properly monitor or account for restricted grant spending, or to appropriately plan for the future of programs funded in whole or in part by restricted grants.
  150. The management systems for greater financial accountability and control are a relatively easy fix, and IAVA is working on that. The most concerning issue is that funding is not protected because of irresponsible funding decisions, largely made by the CEO, and an unwillingness -- or inability -- by other senior staff to say ‘no’ to things for which we do not have sufficient unrestricted monies. This leads to issues like those we currently face, in which the programs division is expected to be making progress on programs funded through substantial restricted grants but unable to execute because the money has already been spent, we can barely make payroll, and Amex accounts have been frozen. Our program outcomes suffer, our reputation with our donors suffers, and our members suffer.
  152. Irresponsible expense decisions. In September 2014, at a time when IAVA has already had to take out a $30k loan to cover payroll expenses and remains uncertain about our ability to cover the September 30th payroll, the CEO has made the unilateral decision to use limited funding on the following:
  154. Non-work related Staff Advance, in which no key planning or reflection occurred. IAVA typically uses advances to at least cover the results of our semi-annual engagement survey, and talk about the path forward. Instead, IAVA spent funding on a boat ride, a food tour, and alcohol.
  156. Coozies and a rock tour. IAVA’s original vision for a sincere Campaign to Combat Suicide, articulated by various chiefs, has been transformed through Executive Office bullying and poor decision making, into a glorified rock tour. IAVA is spending funds on items like beer coozies and paying member representatives to go on a hard rock concert tour with Mayhem and Linkin Park. Although IAVA has a booth at these events and has reached some veterans and civilians with our message, the vision for a nation-wide campaign with meaningful organizing and action and high-level press has been lost. Worse, IAVA is losing money on the tour, and Paul, despite no evidence of the tour moving us any closer to our suicide prevention or membership goals, has expanded our involvement.
  158. IAVA Staff 10th Anniversary Birthday Party – IAVA is planning to hold a 10th Anniversary party in early October, without a fundraising component and largely for staff attendees only.
  160. This overspending is hardly a new pattern. Other examples from 2014 and earlier include:
  162. Redecorating. During Spring 2014, when funding was already tightening, the RRRP program had pressing, unfunded needs—such as hiring a clinical supervisor—and it seemed likely that we would not be receiving renewal grants for the program in NYC and NYS. Despite this, Paul insisted that the large room where most of the RRRP team members sit needed a makeover, “regardless of cost.” Program staff initially objected, then dragged their feet in an attempt to exert some control over their own budget decisions, before it was handed off to the Operations team. The room was repainted, a quote painted on the wall, and the glass frosted. Although Paul’s intent was, “not just about making things look nice, it's about morale and better unity across the org”, the reality is that we couldn’t afford such frivolous redesigns at a time when the program, and our clients, had real funding needs. Such irresponsible spending actually adversely impacted staff morale, as many were already concerned about what dwindling program funding meant for their job security.
  163. Exorbitant Travel Costs.
  164. What else?
  166. We feel that the analysis above provides significant justification for our request that you remove Paul’s decision-making authority. However, we also feel the need to note that our request is directly in line with the vision of IAVA 2.0, laid out to us in 2012, when those of us who were with IAVA were told that Paul would be transitioning to a more limited role. Perhaps it has never been formally submitted that the shift never actually took place until now.
  168. Finally, we would like to emphasize that this request is not rooted, for any of us, in a personal grudge against Paul Rieckhoff. We realize that, if not for his leadership during IAVA’s formative years, IAVA would never have become the powerful force for positive change that it is today. The legacy of our Founder should be protected, honored, and cherished. We also recognize that Paul is exceptionally talented in certain areas. It would be a grave loss to us if we lost him as a resource. That is why we are not calling for his resignation, but a redefining of his role.
  170. With that said, IAVA is bigger than any one person and nobody is above the mission. It is simply a reality that the skills necessary to found an organization are not the same as those necessary to bring it to scale, and that very few individuals possess both skill sets.

It is because of our commitment to the Mission, our dedication to our members, our hope for what IAVA can become in the future, and a belief in a cause higher than ourselves that we place our professional reputations and personal livelihoods at risk by signing this document.
  172. Sincerely,
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