Is it Time to Donate to FORGE?

In the last post, Sara Hall laid out a critique of FORGE’s fundraising strategy. Sara first reached out to me confidentially, but quickly was willing to go public (and Kjerstin was quick, as always, to give her support to the critique being published).

Sara made three core points 1) Transparency should not be a higher objective than the quality of a nonprofit’s operations 2) FORGE’s board has failed to support the social media fundraising strategy though their own donations and 3) The online community owes it to FORGE to evaluate the social media fundraising site and either make a donation or give FORGE feedback as to why they are not donating.

Point one I agree with and addressed in a prior post. Short summary: I think transparency SHOULD be celebrated for its own merits becasue it is so rare, but it is only a precondition for donors to effectively evaluate nonprofits, not a sufficient condition to engage their support.

Regarding point two, it blows me away when nonprofits do not have 100% of their board financially supporting them. In a world with limited transparency, it must be assumed that the board has the best view of what is going on within a nonprofit. If they are not providing financial support, as a donor I am uninterested in providing my financial support. It may be that FORGE’s board all made direct gifts instead of supporting projects (It appears from FORGE’s website that the project budgets do not include FORGE’s operational costs, so somebody needs to fund FORGE’s costs and the board would be a natural supporter of these costs). However, at least from a public perception standpoint, I agree that board members should have funded the projects to some degree.

Sara’s third point brings up the question of donating to FORGE. Should the Tactical Philanthropy Community be financial supporting FORGE now? That’s a decision for each person to make, but I will say that I have not yet personally made a gift to FORGE. Remember, FORGE is telling us that they are in trouble. Supporting FORGE if they are eventually unsuccessful in closing their budget or raising the funds needed to retrofit their fundraising strategy would seem to be a waste. However, the Tactical Philanthropy Community has mobilize a number of resources for FORGE’s benefit. Personally, I’d like to see Curtis’s report to FORGE before making a final decision to support the organization financially. In addition, assuming that a viable strategy is identified, I think that the most useful way to support FORGE will likely be to participate in some sort of organized fundraising campaign in which the support of the online community can mobilize additional resources and hopefully trigger support from institutional foundations.

So I’d like to tie together Sara’s first and third point. Transparency IS something that should be celebrated for its own merits. But it is NOT enough to merit financial support of an organization. However, transparency can generate conviction from donors that an organization has a viable strategy for success and this merits donations. Therefore I do not see any disconnect between the online community celebrating FORGE’s transparency, but (for the time being) watching the “reality TV” unfold from the sidelines. However, if at the end of this saga, FORGE proves themselves worthy of our financial support I hope and expect that the online community will put their cash to work.


  1. I am intrigued by FORGE’s journey and the discussion surrounding it. But I will not be donating to FORGE, now or ever. Simply, its mission is not my philanthropic mission. And that may true of the many tactical philanthropists who are also following the FORGE story.

    The very point of tactical philanthropy (or as I call it, smart generosity)is to know what you mean to accomplish in the world before you invest your money in a social endeavor.

    There are legions of strong and effective charities doing important work, with websites that are as good as they get. But they have nothing to do with the causes, issues or changes I want to facilitate through my giving.

    So, rather than trying to “guilt” us into donating to FORGE just because we are following its story, why not simply charge all of us voyeurs an admission price to watch the show? I’d pay at least $5 to see where this goes!

  2. David Lynn says:

    Similarly to Renata, FORGE is not my personal philanthropic mission. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t forwarded the info on to people that I think might be interested.

    More importantly, to me the most impressive organizations demonstrate monetary leverage through volunteers. Readers of this blog may not be donors – but that doesn’t mean we don’t want FORGE to succeed. Our giving can be to help provide advice, resources, connections, strategies, in-kind services, and whatever else might enable FORGE to be a success, now and in the future.


  3. Steve Wright says:

    Seems like we have a bit of the observer effect going on here. As more people observe this discussion the prognosis for FORGE improves and, it was specifically the decision to be radically transparent that drew the attention to them. Ends up, it was a brilliant marketing decision. The greatest irony here is that it was a merketing failure that got them in this position in the first place.

    If FORGE wants KIVA-like success they have to do more than the massive amount of work that goes along with collecting the stories but they also need to compete with KIVA (and Microedge, and Global Giving, and…) Also, they need to get lucky, like KIVA did.

    It is a great story and very illustrative of where we are in our intersection of technology, philanthropy and the economy.

  4. FORGE’s mission is not my philanthropic mission either. But a new and better philanthropy is my personal mission, so my donation to FORGE will be a way to support transparency. I think that helping them succeed and reinforcing Steve’s point that it was a brilliant marketing decision (while also actually helping improve their operations) is critical. There is no better, more leveraged way to support nonprofit transparency than to support FORGE at this point. Especially because supporting them will be a public act.

  5. Putnam Barber says:

    Like others, I have to say that FORGE’s mission is not in my philanthropic range. I came to this discussion by scanning nonprofit-related blogs — including this one.

    First, though, a comment on the blogging. There is no email address or “contact us” link on the FORGE website that I could see. So, at least for me, the invitation to send direct feedback is not very helpful, though the intention is admirable.

    Then a comment on the website itself: it provides no frame for a stranger. The projects are taking place within a context that is unknown to me (and I expect to many others who are reasonably attentive consumers of North American news media). Lacking more background, the projects seem worthy but arbitrary. Chosing among these score or more is difficult; convincing myself that this group of projects deserves more attention than the thousands that haven’t been mentioned is, frankly, impossible.

    I can’t imagine a solution. My heart sinks at the thought of all the things I cannot do.