Forging Ahead, hosted on the Social Edge website, just became THE must read nonprofit blog. The quick synopsis of the blog:
Kjerstin Erickson was 20 when she launched FORGE. She didn’t have a business plan. She didn’t have a revenue model. She didn’t have connections. And she didn’t have a penny. But she now works in three refugee camps in Zambia, helping 60,000 refugees build better lives. This is her story.
My small personal connection is that Kjerstin was successful in winning the grant from my One Post Challenge last year. But I don’t know Kjerstin or FORGE otherwise.
So the story today: FORGE, like many nonprofits is seeing the impact of the financial crisis first hand. And in reaction, Kjerstin is embracing radical transparency. The Forging Ahead post from October 17 is titled “We’re in trouble…”:
So, conventional wisdom says that a nonprofit should never put all of its cards on the table – that showing your weaknesses is akin to shooting yourself in the foot. In order to be strong, you must appear strong, or so the saying goes. If you reveal your vulnerabilities, people won’t have faith in you and won’t want to invest in you.
Well for FORGE, it’s time to send conventional wisdom to hell. The truth is that though our programs have never been stronger, our bank accounts have never been lower. We’re in trouble… and I can’t sit back and act as if everything is okay. For the first time in 5 years, I’m kept up at night not by how to improve FORGE’s impact but by how to avoid laying off 150 of the world’s most vulnerable people and shutting our doors. It terrifies me.
Kjerstin continued on October 20 with “How we got into this crunch”:
In my last post, I talked about the financial hardship that FORGE is currently going through and the emotional strain that comes with determining how to best move forward. The first question that everyone has been asking is “why?” – why are we struggling to meet our baseline budget of $400,000, when there are trillions of dollars out there in the world. Sparing you the obvious answers, I’ll use this post to elucidate the 4 main lessons about things we’ve done wrong and things that have worked against us:
The rest of the post includes lines like, “Unfortunately, along with the positive change in outcomes, we lost a huge amount of guaranteed revenue every year.”, “[we] have been disappointed in how little traffic we’ve been able to drive to [our website]” and “On average, people have been giving about 25% of what they’ve given in the past! Yeah…that’s really bad.”
I wish FORGE the best and I’m impressed with the guts it takes to write blog posts like these ones. This approach may very well attract new donors to FORGE (because they aren’t just saying how desperate their cause is, they are making a case for why their RESULTS are at risk, but can be sustain via new funding). Or it might scare people away. Either way, it is a fascinating real world drama of a social media savvy, impact focused nonprofit trying to deal with the financial crisis.
The discussion of web traffic is an example, I think, of the limitations of social media for fundraising. An awesome website is not a magic bullet.
I think Kjerstin is admitting exactly that. Social media is not a magic bullet. Neither is just about anything else.
I think many of us struggle with the same issues Kjerstin described, and in tough economic times, the struggle is even more difficult.
I think her recommendations are wise and added some of my own on her blog.
On Oct. 15 12,000 bloggers wrote stories about poverty as part of an international blog action day. Because they did this they generated a buzz which probably increased traffic to some of the sites involved in that day of blogging.
My strategy of survival since 1993 was to apply principles of mass marketing to attract more volunteers and donors to all tutor/mentor programs in the Chicago region, and to educate them to choose where to get involved based on where poverty is greatest, or where they have a business, family member, or customer in the city. While I serve as an intermediary to host and coach this strategy, I’m one of more than 200 programs who benefits when a volunteer or donor searched the Internet and finds my organization.
Thus, I’m coaching other tutor/mentor programs to use blogs and social network places to tell their story, and to connect with similar groups in Chicago and other cities, so that wen one of us is in the spotlight, that gives attention to the rest of us.
As more and more programs adopt this networking strategy, they become the center for attention in the way they talk about the need for tutoring/mentoring in the entire city, and how they apply the practice in their own program.
I think similar thinking could be applied in other parts of the world, and in other social benefit causes.
Thank you Trinity Web Group for volunteering your services. What city are you located in?
Once someone gets a new web site, do they have the talent and time to create daily content that draws people to the site?
I’m trying to draw together different resources to think of “all the things” that would help non profits be more effective in their work, not at a single program, but at every volunteer-based tutor/mentor program in the city.
I maintain a database of such programs, which you can search at http://www.tutormentorprogramlocator.net/InteractiveMap.aspx
Using this, web designers could be creating templates, journalism students could be writing stories, web traffic builders and social networkers could be building traffic, and business leaders could be encouraging employees and customers to browse the sites and become volunteers, donors, leaders, etc.
This would reduce much of the pressure on the non profit leader of finding the resources, and give more time, and capacity, to using the resources to provide quality services.
If you and others are interested in this conversation, please connect with us.
We are located in Houston-TX…
I am starting a new non profit to go to east africa and impact the live’s of people in Sudan and Uganda (yes I know I’m a little nut’s). My question is, I know I’m going to have to look into obtaining a grant to do this, but where would be the best place to look. I’m a caucasion male, but I’m almost half indian, so I know there are sources out there, but where do i find them?
Almost Free Money – For all the struggling Non-profits out there, I had a little idea while thinking out of the box. I am a former board member from Dress For Success, New York. My new job is marketing for an internet company and I have pitched an idea to my boss who is a giving person, but also a business man. I would love to buy advertising on non-profit web sites. I have an advertising budget and my hopes was to advertise somewhere where the money would do some good. Everyone wins right? Our websites which we are promoting are education based websites….for internet ed. Please pass the word along to anyone who may be interested. I will also post my number in case anyone would like to chat/brainstorm with me. 808-443-3810.
Social media, blogging and the like are hot and miss. In my experience, it’s the posts that you don’t thing too much about are the ones that generate the most buzz. There is definitely no silver bullet though.
I just started my nonprofit’s blog: and while I can’t predict the future about how that, our FaceBook page, our our website is going to pull through for us, I am optimistic about it. Social Media is the new print advertising. In my opinion, if you can’t make the internet work for you, that’s where you should be focusing some of your energy. It’s a great connection tool that could put you in front of people that would otherwise go unseen.
Great blog, keep on writing,
Philanthropy today has to begin at home in your own charity. Raising overhead so you can do good works later, is the name of the game. Success is survival in this bone-crushing economy.
I am encouraged to see some new non-profits blogging here, but question their timing. While many charities are “shacking up” and moving in to share expenses, I am not sure how they will all make it, chasing the same dollar.
Charitable Giving is way down for the 3rd year in a row, although I am seeing some light a year out. I pray I’m right. Tough call.
Do you guys use Twitter to market at all?
I agree that blogs are important for non-profits, but I think social media is likely to get them a bigger bang for the buck thanks to the fact it’s more of a connection with people and potential donors/volunteers.
I’ve been using blogs for over five years, and tracking traffic per month using Google analytics. I was recording 1000 to 1400 visits a month until recently. Maybe what I write is no longer interesting. But, I’m wondering if people might be reading the stories on my Facebook and other pages, and not coming to the blog. Thus I’m losing visitors to myself in other media.
How many of you count traffic to your blogs to evaluate your impact? e.g. if no one reads it, why write it.
How many are seeing a lower count and know what causes it? (aside from bad writing or lack of interest)
Social Media is not a panacea for raising moneys for charity. However, it does elevate your website to the front of a google search, putting you into the path of donations.
In the old days, a website was the deal! Then, you needed links, better links, and now Social Media. Social Media constantly, or at least more often, hits the internet with your message, driving people to your site to learn all about you or your site’s message.
The internet today requires technique; not just a website. It takes a blend of a good site, good links and Social Media driving traffic to your site. If Forge was on the front page of every search, donations would be much easier… In this economy, all charities are hurting. I guess it begins at home.