Should FORGE Be “Saved”?

Transparency can be rough. FORGE’s consultant Curtis Chang, who has agreed to full transparency, posts a thoughtful and probing post on whether his client deserves to be “saved”. Wow.

You can read the full post on Kjerstin’s blog Forging Ahead:

By Curtis Chang

…in this strange experiment in transparency we’re conducting here, I as the consultant find myself asking very publicly a peculiar question about my client:

“Should WE try to save it?”

Now, note the pronoun. I’m not asking whether ANYONE should try to save FORGE. I’ve been on the case for less than a week, but I can already tell that FORGE is a worthwhile cause for any given individual. So, of course, Kjerstin should try and FORGE’s donors and volunteers should try.

But the amount of public attention showered on this situation is raising this to a different level than the feelings and conscience of an individual. More seeds of such a sector wide effort are being sown: Skoll was already invested, Sean Stannard-Stockton (a philanthropic thought leader) was next, I joined, Rich Polt (a leading nonprofit PR expert) was not far behind, and we’re getting more offers daily.

Yet we haven’t had a robust discussion yet about whether such a collective, high profile bailout plan is the right thing to do. Should WE really try to save FORGE?

Or to put it in more personal terms, I feel at peace about how I’m individually donating my time and expertise. That donation is focused on providing the “foxhole prayer”: the long term plan FORGE will follow if it survives this crisis. Theoretically, I have only committed to delivering that plan and it’s not my responsibility to help FORGE survive.

But I’m also human. Four days in and I already want it to survive (and also wouldn’t have taken this gig if I didn’t have something of that feeling already). And, to continue our transparency here, my wife and I plan on also donating some money towards FORGE’s short term crisis.

But even with the mission creep of my heart already starting (which darn it, I just knew was going to happen) that still doesn’t mean I should be advocating for a lot more resources to be devoted to this rescue effort. My choice doesn’t automatically mean that FORGE should suddenly become the sector’s recipient of choice. And yes, while FORGE gets an “A” for transparency, that doesn’t mean it should get the teacher’s undivided attention for the rest of the class…

…So, we need compelling answers to at least two big questions:

* What damage to the collective are we averting with a collective bailout of FORGE?

* What collective good – even if it is in the future — are we seeking by working for FORGE’s survival?

Keep in mind that what is needed here are a different set of answers than the ones Kjerstin provided earlier about the strengths of FORGE’s work. At this point, I am confident that FORGE does good work. But does it do indispensable work?

I hate to call out my client in such a public fashion, but Kjerstin and I agreed to precisely this kind of open dialogue.

I believe what happens next in this collective experiment depends on how Kjerstin answers that question. And it may be that the survival of her cause depends on how you feel about her answer.

Like I said, I know I’m supposed to be involved. But is everyone else?

Read the full post here.

I think the collective good will be served if FORGE survives (or maybe even if this experiment in transparency plays out, but FORGE does not survive…) because of the boost it will give to transparency. I wrote about this yesterday. One of my favorite commenters left a note on why transparency is so fundamentally important to the sector:

Young Staffer:

This isn’t all that different from how we think about transparency in both democratic institutions and in market systems. Neither system works to it’s “best” ability (maximizing social welfare) unless people have the information needed to make informed decisions.


  1. BAR says:

    You say that the collective good will be served if FORGE survives because of the “boost it will give to transparency.” Yet we are only seeing this transparency in one aspect of FORGE’s operations — namely, their financial status. Unless there is equal transparency regarding the way they have spent the funds they do have, the work they are doing, the impact they have had, etc. — not just some laudatory stories on a cool-looking website (not that the two are mutually exclusive, but they’re not equivalent) — I don’t know that revealing financial troubles at a time of desperation is really striking a great blow for transparency.

  2. Actually I think Kjerstin has been very forthcoming on a number of the issues you raise. She’s been writing for quite a while on her on blog. However, I’m not trying to express that everything is perfect or that we have every bit of information possible. I’m sure if you asked any direct question, Kjerstin would answer. Try it out. Frame what you wrote above as a series of direct questions.

  3. Hi BAR,

    You make good point. I agree that ‘transparency’ isn’t about selectively opening windows onto certain parts of the house when convenient – it is a glass house itself.

    I want to assure anyone that is listening that FORGE isn’t doing this as an “experiment”. We consider, and have always considered, transparency to be both a responsibility and a way to doing business. Many of our staff have commented that what attracts them to FORGE’s management style is the this commitment to honesty – to being frank and open about our strengths, weaknesses, and mistakes.

    This total transparency is what we consider the central feature of our ‘cool-looking’ website (thank you!). Each of our projects reports monthly, and these reports go directly onto each project’s blog in their full and unedited glory. One reporting sections asks for “Substantial Problems or Issues”. So for example, you can read about how 1 of our 2 preschools in the “Meheba Preschools” project has been facing attendance problems ( Or, how our Mwange Computer Center has been suffering from shortages of solar power, a broken generator, and difficulty recruiting equal ratios of males and females ( You can also read about and follow how FORGE deals with this issues, whether they improve over time, or whether a project or aspect of a project gets cut completely.

    We believe that experiencing problems and issues is a reality of development work, and ours are all out there for the world to judge. And that’s how we’ve always done business (though it’s never been paid attention to the same way before!). I remember a year ago during tax season I posted a blog on how easy the IRS made it for organizations to cheat and steal ( More than a few people felt I was out of my mind for writing that, but I felt like those are the things that nonprofits need to start addressing if we are to rebuild the trust that our sector needs to function properly.

    I think that personally, a large part of the reason why I believe in this kind of honesty is that I was simply so idealistic when I started FORGE. Everything you read from and about nonprofit leaders focuses on how rewarding and inspiring the work is. I found plenty of rewards and inspiration, but I also found it to be brutally challenging on both personal and professional levels. I grew up with FORGE, and had to learn how to release some of my natural self-critiquing perfectionism. I think that my journey would have been easier if there were more (and more accessible) platforms and precedents for honesty, transparency, and the acceptance of a degree of imperfection in the sector.