Curtis Chang Blogging on Social Edge

Philanthropy isn’t know for moving fast, but things are a little different online. As I wrote yesterday, I first proposed the idea of the Tactical Philanthropy Community providing resources to FORGE last Wednesday. By Friday I had Rich Polt of Louder Than Words and Curtis Chang of Consulting Within Reach officially on board. Other groups are currently in discussions. On Monday Kjerstin had met with Curtis and spoken with Rich. By Monday night, Curtis was blogging on Social Edge about working with FORGE.

I’ve told all parties involved that my one expectation is that everyone will embrace Kjerstin’s lead and publicly release everything relevant to their work with FORGE. Here’s Curtis’s first blog post (and may I say that he’s a natural blogger!)

How I got hooked
By Curtis Chang

I am a sucker for good sea bass.

Last Wednesday, Sean Stannard-Stockton, the influential author of Tactical Philanthropy, invited me out to lunch at one of those nice Asian fusion restaurants in Burlingame.

He waited until my Chilean sea bass – steamed and wrapped in a delicate origami paper box – had arrived and its ginger and garlic aroma was wafting up to my nose.

“I have a proposal,” he said.

He proceeded to tell about Kjerstin’s move to share openly about her financial plight with the online community at the Social Edge. As Sean has written, he felt her act highlighted an important issue for the nonprofit community: namely the need for greater transparency among nonprofit leaders, especially with the donor community.

I immediately warmed to the story. Partly it was agreeing with Sean on the issue of transparency. But I think for me it was even more Kjerstin’s biographical story of dropping out of Stanford (at least for a few years) to start FORGE on a shoestring. Right along there with my love of excellent seafood is my fondness for – and shared embodiment of – a “educational riches to rags” story.

So when Sean asked if my firm could help out in any way, I was predisposed to agree.

I’ll explain more about my consulting firm, Consulting Within Reach (CWR), in some future entry. Suffice it to say it is a group of ten professionals – mostly from Silicon Valley corporate backgrounds – that I recruited to use their skills to serve compelling causes. We specialize in building organizational capacity in areas like marketing, web development, fundraising, strategic planning, and more.

From my experience leading CWR, I wasn’t daunted in theory by her need to raise over $100K by the end of February (really more, if she were to put the organization on firmer footing). For instance, earlier this year we helped one of our clients, a startup nonprofit, raise almost $300K in a four week campaign. So I knew it could be done.

But that kind of concentrated effort requires an “all hands on deck” commitment from my entire team to cover all the organizational areas involved (marketing strategy, production of collateral, and more). We just weren’t ready for that effort on such short notice.

So I proposed another strategy: CWR would compose FORGE’s “foxhole prayer.”

There’s an old saying that “ there are no atheists in foxholes.” And soldiers who have survived near death situations regularly talk about having made vows to God during the crisis that if they survive, they promise they will do X,Y, or Z.

Well, Kjerstin needs a “foxhole prayer.” Because any potential donor considering helping FORGE survive this crisis is going to be asking (silently if not aloud), “What are you going to do so you won’t be back next year asking for another rescue?”

In the next few weeks, Kjerstin needs to be ready with an answer.

That’s where we’ll come in. CWR’s main role will be to outline a long term plan that builds FORGE’s capacity to market, fundraise, and manage itself in a sustainable fashion. If FORGE makes it out of this current foxhole, they – and their donors – will know what they need to do.

And while I can’t promise to raise the money for her, I’ll help out with guidance and support where I can. I can’t jump into the foxhole with her, but I’ll visit regularly.

I agreed to all this on Thursday, the day after I had lunch with Sean. On Friday, when the folks at Social Edge heard about this arrangement, they thought it would be a further interesting experiment in transparency to share publicly about our process. They asked Kjerstin and me if we would jointly blog during the project.

We agreed but I stipulated that the normal client expectations of confidentiality would then not apply. For instance, if I discovered that FORGE really didn’t have a prayer, well, then I would blog about that. If you’re going to survive by the sword of transparency, you’ve got to be ready to die by it. Kjerstin agreed without hesitation.

So here we are, less than a week after that fateful lunch. I’m not sure how this will all work out and it could easily all blow up on us.

If it does, Sean, you owe me some more sea bass.


  1. Tony Wang says:

    [Disclosure: This comment is modified from an earlier post I made on Social Edge.]

    To be honest, I like the idea behind FORGE a lot and I’ve been thinking more about the model and whether it is the best fit, and I’m starting to believe that Kjersten’s decision to incorporate as a nonprofit does make sense. In the special circumstances surrounding refugee education, it’s hard to recoup an investment into refugee education, even if it ends up financially benefiting the refugees several times the cost of that investment. I think their team has thought long and hard about your theory of change – there’s always the risk that conviction might simply be misplaced delusion – but from what I can tell, it looks like they’ve assembled a smart and solid team (which mitigates the risk of delusion).

    Is there a funder that can vouch for FORGE and say to others, “Hey, I’ve done the due diligence on FORGE and they’re a great organization?” It seems odd to me that there isn’t more transparency or analysis on due diligence – something many in the sector have reiterated. If FORGE really is a great grantmaking opportunity, I don’t see why all the foundations who do international work aren’t CONTACTING HER (it seems presumptuous for the foundations to let Kjersten run around in circles trying to contact all of them). And why not give the foundation who puts up $100K a seat on the board?

    Personally, if I had oodles of money and was a philanthropist, I’d love to put a $100K into their organization, get involved as a board member, and listen to what FORGE needs and what it wants to do in the future, all while connecting with others from my alma mater. But I work for a social enterprise and don’t earn a lot of money. And as much as I’m willing to put something like $500 towards FORGE, I’m afraid that putting $500 in the bucket doesn’t do anything without a total investment of $100K and a sustainability plan.

    But here’s where the long-tail of philanthropy might work. If FORGE can come up with a strong sustainability plan and others who have the ability to evaluate that sustainability plan (i.e. credibility) can say that it’s a good one, then it should be in theory very easy to get $100K from a foundation. But if not, I’m sure myself and many others would be willing to pledge something like $500, with the following unique condition: everyone’s individual pledge is only carried out when a total of $100K has been pledged. (Is there some kind of website or widget that does this?)

    It seems only fitting that FORGE is going through this trial process and may eventually become stronger because of it – after all, that’s what happens in an actual forge.

  2. I love the pledge concept Tony. I don’t see why the community can’t create a “pledge drive” modeled on your concept. The question is could be get “matching funds” from a foundation?

  3. Leanne says:

    One thing I would like more information on is the time frame. I know Kjerstin needs the money by Feb. but what happens after Feb. if the money(in its entirety) doesn’t come in?

    Will FORGE continue but with less impact/reach? I’d be very interested seeing Curtis and the CWR crew develop a contingency budget/plan in addition to a basic model that is set upon the premise funders will be found.

  4. Tony Wang says:

    In theory, a widget could allow for different pledge levels – someone could be willing to pledge $500 if $50,000 or $100,000 was committed while someone else would pledge only if $100,000 was committed. Similarly, someone could pledge $500 only if the pledge drive is completed by February, otherwise the $500 goes back to the person who pledged (one could even think of an escrow-like service that kept the $500 so the person who pledged it doesn’t accidentally go over budget).

  5. Kudos to Sean for setting this experiment in motion, to Curtis for jumping in, to Kjerstin for stepping up, and to Tony for expanding the conversation to include the concept of widgets and pledges – basically, the stuff of online microphilanthropy, what the Social Actions team refers to as social action platforms.

    Social Actions is currently tracking 120 of these organizations and the list is growing almost daily. Each are unique, although some make better use of web 2.0 technologies than others. One that does this extremely well, and that comes to mind for this project — came to Sean’s, too — great minds think alike 😉 — is The Point (

    The Point provides the escrow-like service Tony describes above, permitting individuals to pledge a dollar amount that isn’t actually collected until a certain “tipping point” is reached. To reach that tipping point, successful campaigns often include a carrot or two – something that would motivate someone to make that pledge, because they know something favorable is going to happen if they (and enough others) choose to do so.

    A campaign on The Point could use matching funds from a foundation as a carrot, although it might not be necessary to build that in. The carrot could simply be that CRW has completed its process and found that investing in FORGE’s near-term sustainability is a decision they’d support. It depends on what would instill the most trust among potential contributors.

    Either way, CRW could be the campaign lead, responsible for presenting to the masses whether a long term plan for FORGE is feasible, and determining what the tipping point would need to be to get that plan off on the right financial footing.

    And whether on The Point or not, it’s the broad invitation to participate — whether as observers and analysts to CRW’s planning process, or by providing feedback to FORGE in the form of donating (or withholding those donations) — that drives my excitement for what I see being created here. Sincerely looking forward to watching the process unfold ~