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.