Normally I resist the urge to rant but find I must because a shoddily run non-profit organization called The Red Nation Celebration also known as The Red Nation Film Festival burned me. First, let me say that I started working for this company as a web designer and was initially drawn to it because it’s a good cause. Native Americans have had a tough existence since they were run off their lands and some live in horrific conditions on reservations. The films that have been made by many of them are enlightening and important.
Unfortunately, not all good causes are run well and people who either give their money to support them or work for them, need to beware. I’ve seen too many non-profits being started and run by people who are chronically broke or dishonest.
If you’ve listened to the news, you heard about the debacle at the Wounded Warrior’s Project. A large portion of funding went toward giving elaborate parties, leaving much less to aid injured vets than most people realized. As the mother of a son who is active military, there’s no excuse for that. Good causes can be run by iffy people and you have to do your research.
It turns out that the founder of the Red Nation Celebration/Red Nation Film Festival, Joanelle Romero, was not as ethical as she purports to be. She frequently calls herself a humanitarian on social media but is anything but. I worked to set up and maintain 9 of her websites from 2012 until January 2016. It always took forever to get paid because her funding is dependent on sponsors. She has a habit of pissing off her sponsors by demanding that they recognize the need for diversity in films but does it in a way that sends the funding elsewhere.
When I came on board the project I didn’t come on as a volunteer. I was a paid freelancer, even though I sometimes waited for 6 months to receive a check. Romero was never easy to work with, texting, emailing, or calling me at all hours and on weekends, despite the fact I gave her boundaries. (I have a life) Her communications were ALWAYS URGENT and emails were written in ALL CAPS. I even received a rash of text messages while attending my brother’s funeral. If I innocently inserted something on her site incorrectly, she’d bitch loudly. After a while, I ignored her calls and occasionally put my phone on silent so my blood pressure wouldn’t rise.
Finally, in January, after receiving ZERO compensation since June 2015, I stopped work altogether and told her she had to pay me before I’d do anything else. She cried, screamed and moaned that I’d taken all the energy out of her project. There was an outstanding balance from the last time I was paid that was added to what she owed after that. In retrospect, I should have charged double and tacked on late charges but, instead, cut her slack because I bought into her struggle. She left me a message saying she wanted to discuss her invoice. I emailed back saying there was nothing to talk about. Reminder invoice after reminder invoice has been sent with ZERO response.
One day I Googled her name and came upon a website called Red Nation News. It had been put up by her previous web person to expose how fraudulent the organization was. I’d been told that the person I replaced was crazy and wanted to blow up her websites. Now I see why. It’s a tempting thought but it’s not the way I roll.
Of course, now she’s saying the same thing about me. Another person she works with showed me an email where she spouted off lie after lie about me.
What’s particularly aggravating is that she’s a woman. Women entrepreneurs need to stick together and support each other. Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves come to mind.
As I look back, all her posts, tweets, and Instagram’s are all about her. She comes across as cool and attracts followers because of her cause. Actors like Edward James Olmos and A. Martinez support her, most likely not unaware of how she manages her business. RNC entity 1350809 is listed as a 501(c)(3) in good standing by the California Franchise Tax Board. However, I’ve never received a 1099-MISC from her and I know she uses her dwindling sponsor funds to live on.
It’s sad because the Native American community benefits greatly from having film festivals to promote their cause. It’s a dynamic way to get the word out about their culture, talent, and the way they’ve been treated by society. I remember her becoming livid last year because Robert Redford’s Native American and Indigenous Film Program was funded instead of hers even though he isn’t Native American. Perhaps it may be better that way. If the word gets out legitimately, through a high powered and influential organization like the Sundance Institute, it’s a good thing.
Lesson learned about supporting or working for a good cause that is badly run
If you support or work for good causes, do your research. Find out where the money goes, how it’s spent and if the organization is truly legit. It’s easy to put a notice of non-profit status on a website even if it’s no longer active. Don’t spend your time or money on good causes until you know the organization is properly managed. I’m not in the habit of trashing people but I wanted to put this out because Baby Boomers and seniors are frequently targeted by sketchy “charitable” organizations and can be easily scammed.
In my case, I was too trusting and should have had a written contract. That was a dumb move on my part. Live and learn. Rant over. I’m glad to be rid of her but I could have definitely used the paycheck.
All I can hope is that she has, at least, a pinch of integrity and does the right thing because karma is a bitch.
Have you worked for or supported a good cause that was mismanaged? Please leave a comment below.