FORGE Goes “Mainstream”

When Kjerstin Erickson decided to start blogging about FORGE’s problems on the Social Edge website, her board discouraged her. It was actually a pretty dumb idea by traditional standards.  But Kjerstin was actually doing something that to her generation (she’s 25) seems completely natural. She was living her life online.

I’m not of Kjerstin’s generation, I’m about half a generation ahead. But I’m close enough that when I read her very first blog post about her situation, I said that her blog “just became The Most Important Nonprofit Blog”. There was no doubt in my mind that Kjerstin had just embarked on an incredible journey.

I think that what Kjerstin is doing is important. Important in the kind of way that we’ll look back on in a couple years and cite her decision to go radically transparent as a precursor to the way the nonprofit field evolved. That might sound crazy, but I’m not alone. Today, the San Francisco Chronicle picked up the FORGE story. There are thousands of stories of struggling nonprofits right now. Meredith May at the SF Chronicle picked up Kjerstin’s story because of her decision to go transparent.

By Meredith May:

Like many social entrepreneurs caught in the economic crisis, Kjerstin Erickson is lying awake at night wondering if her tiny nonprofit is going to survive.

But in an unorthodox move, the 25-year-old decided to blog about her charity’s financial problems – despite warnings from board members that she’ll send her remaining donors fleeing…

…After Erickson began blogging last month on the Skoll Foundation’s Social Edge Web site, an interesting thing happened.

Her story went viral after it was picked up by the Tactical Philanthropy blog, and the social entrepreneur community took her on as an experiment in “radical transparency.”…

…Now, socially oriented financial analysts, nonprofit consultants and public relations firms offered to help her pro bono. Among them:

— Some top search engine marketers in New York have challenged themselves to raise $100,000 for FORGE in 100 days by coming up with innovative ways to direct more online traffic to the point-and-click giving on FORGE’s Web site.

— A family foundation in the Bay Area has offered to give FORGE $10,000 if it can raise $20,000 from its donor pool.

— Nonprofit consultant Curtis Chang has agreed to prepare a free sustainability plan for FORGE through his San Jose company, Consulting Within Reach…

…”The story of FORGE has yet to be told,” said Erickson, who is optimistic she will be able to turn things around.

“The goal of all of this is not just that FORGE recovers, but we come out a lot stronger because of it and learn the lessons we need to learn – and that everyone learns with us.”

You can read the whole story here.


  1. Leanne says:

    I read the whole article last night. I was disappointed in what I read/discovered about FORGE as presented by the reporter.

    I’m still mulling it over but I would be interested in hearing if anyone else who was in on the FORGE experiment at the very beginning feels the same way.

    What I do know is that the article did very little to inspire confidence in FORGE. Instead of emphasizing the fact that Kjerstin was given money by her parents and boyfriend and was working out of her home for little pay with a less than stellar business plan, I would have preferred it if the reporter focused on the number of people served and the accomplishments FORGE had achieved.

    I came away thinking, “Hmmm. What a nice little idea this young girl, her parents, friends and boyfriend are helping her with.” To me, it seemed that all the wrong things were emphasized and if I were just hearing about FORGE from the article I wouldn’t be likely to help but rather hope that things work out.

  2. Hi Leanne. I have to say that I was also disappointed by the way we were presented in the article. It seems like the same thing has happened again… rather than focus on how FORGE as a whole considered the risks of this approach and weighed the benefits, the piece focuses on Kjerstin and an almost ‘dreamer’ mentality. There’s no doubt that Kjerstin is a ‘big picture’ idealist, but she’s also a highly-analytical, ‘prove the model,’ executive. That seems to be regularly lost in this story. I think the regression analysis posted by Kjerstin on The Social Edge is worthy of some attention… showing there’s a cause behind this cause and reason behind the reason. Why is no attention paid to our management’s data-driven approach? Our constant dedication to maximizing our impact? Why is there no focus on the collective reasoning and strategic decision-making that DOES occur within FORGE, and the diverse skill sets that influence each decision?

    I think it’s pretty clear that dreams sell newspapers, but analysis and self-reflection builds results. I feel that FORGE is especially weak in bridging the two – we have failed at making our data-driven approach digestible and packagable to a wide audience. In this article, we’re presented as dramatic whereas much of the criticism we’ve received is that we come off as overly academic. The balance is clearly tough for us to strike. I know that I didn’t sell my house and leave my job to pursue some lofty, naive dream – I made the conscious decision that FORGE was working on an important problem in a highly effective manner – that it had the model and the results that were worth my sacrifice and investment. I had worked with plenty of incompetent and misguided organizations, and saw FORGE as offering something radically different.

    The bottom line is that everyone in FORGE does this because we’ve been touched and affected by what we’ve seen on the ground in African refugee camps. Our hearts are tethered to the cause. However… we firmly believe that we can’t do any service to the cause without doing it in a smart, strategic, and self-critical manner. It’s this balance of head and heart that is so important to us, and yet we are still failing to get across.

    Nicholas Talarico
    FORGE Board of Directors

  3. Leanne says:

    Kjerstin has my email as does Sean. I’ve offered to connect/help but not heard back. I’m willing to help you cross the gap if that’s something you think you’d be interested in.

    What FORGE is doing matters, Nicholas. You and I and everyone else involved know it. I say we start taking charge of the message and sharing it with others.