OK, enough talk. Let’s see if the Tactical Philanthropy community just likes to debate or whether we can accept a call to action.
A quick recap: FORGE is a small nonprofit that works with refugee communities in Africa to help them gain community rebuilding skills. The organization is on the ropes due to a mismatch between their fundraising strategy and their impact strategy. But changing to a model where refugees provided training instead of outside volunteers (a model most international development experts would applaud) they cut off a key source of funds (the volunteers generally raised significant funds from their networks back home in the United States or other developed counties). The executive director Kjerstin Erickson decided to use her blog on the Skoll Foundation’s Social Edge website to embrace “radical transparency” and lay bare her situation.
Here at Tactical Philanthropy I called her Forging Ahead blog “the most important nonprofit blog” due to her decision to go transparent. In a later post I wrote that I was not explicitly advocating for the refugee cause, for FORGE or for Kjerstin, but I very publicly wanted to support the cause of transparency and Kjerstin’s brave decision.
Then the Tactical Philanthropy community kicked into action:
- I had lunch with nonprofit consultant Curtis Chang of Consulting Within Reach and told him I wanted to hire him to provide an executive summary type report to FORGE on what they should do next. The hook was that the report had to be published on my blog.
- I then spoke with Victor d’Allant, who runs Social Edge and told him I wanted Social Edge to publish the report as well.
- Victor upped the ante and suggested that Curtis take on a larger assignment with FORGE and blog about the experience along side Kjerstin on the Forging Ahead blog.
- Curtis took on the challenge and decided to do the project on a pro bono basis and work with Kjerstin for an indeterminate period of time.
- Rich Polt, founder of nonprofit PR consulting firm Louder Than Words left a comment on Tactical Philanthropy giving advice to Kjerstin on her PR strategy.
- I called Rich and suggested that he offer pro bono consulting in a more formal arrangement with FORGE.
- Rich suggested a larger contract than I expected and he agreed to provide a minimum of 20 hours of free work.
- Rich than suggested that a large nonprofit that specializes in financial analysis might be willing to offer their assistance as well. He’s on the case.
- Another Tactical Philanthropy reader has been busy pitching a foundation on why they should consider funding FORGE and sharing details of the pitch with me.
On Friday I met with Kjerstin (my first time meeting her) and told her what I had put together. I told her that if she wanted to accept all of this, the one requirement was that she waive confidentiality with each group so that I and they had the opportuntity to share their side of the story. Kjerstin didn’t even blink before telling me that they could write anything they wanted.
FORGE needs to raise close to $200,000 in order to close their budget and retrofit the organization so that they have the fundraising capacity to run sustainably next year. That’s a fair bit of money for such a small organization and I don’t know if it will happen. It may be that some large foundations who care about transparency will provide the capital to build fundraising capacity if FORGE can close this years budget gap through broad donor support. If some sort of plan like that can be worked out, than a donation to FORGE would be a high impact grant in support of transparency.
But no matter what happens with FORGE, it is all going to play out in public. Whether FORGE is saved or not, Kjerstin has displayed amazing bravery. Any smart foundation or nonprofit should be figuring out how to lure her to work for them should she become available.
So what about Curtis Chang, Rich Polt and anyone else who steps up to help? Sure they will receive some nice publicity, but they will also have to share their own work publicly. I can only imagine that the smart readers here at Tactical Philanthropy will disagree with some of their recommendations even if they approve of most. But here’s the thing, all of this is going to play out live. If you don’t like where things are headed, speak up and you might just change the outcome.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve heard numerous foundations tell me that they are not transparent about their grantee analysis because they do not want to risk hurting the nonprofit. But let’s look at FORGE as an example. Kjerstin knows that criticism can only make her stronger. She wants to learn and get better because she cares about her cause more than she cares about her organization. FORGE exists to help refugees rebuild their lives. Kjerstin is willing to do whatever it takes to help them. Even if that means publicly taking advice from people who might tell her she should do some things differently.
Kjerstin cares about the cause over the organization and so should all of us.