By Enrique Lopetegui
(Update on 2/1/10: Jim Knotts clarifies status of communication department, newly created position, and reveals his salary)
On January 20, the national office of the San Antonio-based military charity Operation Homefront eliminated nine positions, four of them locally, even as donations have greatly increased since at least 2006.
“We actually didn't do any layoffs, we did a restructuring,” Amy Palmer, Operation Homefront's chief operational officer, told the QueQue. “We're trying to reduce our ongoing operational expenses, and we restructured the national staff.”
Operation Homefront, founded in 2003, provides “emergency and morale assistance for our troops, the families they leave behind and for wounded warriors when they return home,” according to its website. It has more than two dozen independent chapters around the country which operate under the national charter. One third of the national staff of 27 is based in San Antonio, one-third in Washington, D.C., and the rest are virtual employees scattered around the country. Ashley Matta, administrative assistant for the Texas chapter, also based in San Antonio, confirmed that the job losses didn't affect the chapter's staff.
Two of the eliminated positions were already vacant, so the decision affected seven positions in human resources, marketing, administration, and Operation Homefront Village, the OH apartment complex that since March 2008 serves as short-term transitional housing for wounded vets. But there is also a new San Antonio office assistant position created that is currently open.
"We are in the process of developing the job description and advertisement," said Jim Knotts, who took over as CEO in November 2009. "We eliminated a marketing specialist and an administrative assistant positions. We are taking the most important responsibilities of those two positions to create the new office assistant position. So, in effect, the position was created when we announced the restructuring on January 20. With one new position created, we have 28 positions on the national staff after the restructuring: Twelve are in San Antonio, six are in D.C., and the other 10 are virtual across the country."
Any more "restructuring" in the near future?
“We hope not,” said Palmer. “We have to monitor our fundraising progress and continue to reassess our financial position. But we do not intend at this time to make additional restructuring decisions. A lot of organizations have gone through changes in the last couple of years, with the economy the way it is. We're no exception, but we're looking at ways to get more money to the families that we're trying to serve. Our services weren't cut. This is not unique to military charities, and it's not unique to operation homefront.”
Knotts told the QueQue that those whose positions were eliminated should be able to receive unemployment benefits.
“We pay into the state for unemployment insurance, like every employer,” said Knotts from Ecuador, where he has just adopted a son. “It was explained to us that, yes, they'll be able to apply for unemployment insurance.”
Palmer said that for the last year several employees have been reassigned to different areas within the charity. But, for the outsider, the loss of positions came as a surprise: According to the organization's last three 990s, OH received donations of $3.5 million in 2006, $12.7 million in 2007, and $16.4 million in 2008. And as late as December 1, 2009, Operation Homefront earned its third consecutive four-star rating from Charity Navigator “for its ability to efficiently manage and grow its finances.”
“Only 13 percent of the charities we rate have received at least three consecutive four-star evaluations,” wrote Charity Navigator's president and CEO Ken Berge, in the December letter addressed to Palmer, “indicating that Operation Homefront executes its mission in a fiscally responsible way, and outperforms most other charities in America.”
But some comments written on Operation Homefront's Charity Navigator's page accuse OH of “dismantling” its communications department, and of having “internal issues,” illustrated by the fact that here have been three presidents in the last few years.
"Operation Homefront has had three CEO's in three years," Knotts wrote the QueQue. "However, the organization has also grown each of those years in terms of needs met for our military families and total revenue, which is a testament to the depth and professionalism of the staff."
On the issue of the communications department, Knotts sent us two emails.
"Earlier in 2009, we rearranged some reporting structures within the national office, changes that had nothing to do with this restructuring,” said Knotts in the first email. “As a result, our online communications team moved from communications to operations. So before the restructuring we had two positions in communications. Both are currently vacant, and we plan to fill both."
An hour after this posting, Knotts sent another email for clarification:
"We did have a VP of Online Communications take a job outside of Operation Homefront in November," Knotts wrote. "At that time, we chose not to refill that position. That was the same time we changed the reporting structure so that the online communications group began reporting to Operations instead of Communications. Since it was unrelated to the restructuring, I had overlooked the change, but your specific questions about eliminated positions in Communications reminded me."
Although the personell info in the Operation Homefront Charity Navigator page is outdated, Knotts said he makes $175,000 a year, "which will be public record when we file our 2009 taxes." His predecessor, Mark Smith, made $125,648 a year.
No matter what changes Operation Homefront goes through, Palmer says the four-star status is not in jeopardy.
“We didn't make any changes to our program,” Palmer said. “The support and emergency assistance we provide to the families hasn't changed and will continue exactly as it is.
“Our donations have been pretty strong for 2010. Of course, it all comes down to cash. Our employees get paid with cash, and of course we have a lot of non-cash services donated, but it all comes down to cash. So we have a very aggressive fundraising plan and we expect to do very well this year financially. The pace will slow, because we're a young organization growing very quickly. The leaps won't be as aggressive, but we do expect to continue having a trend of positive earnings.”