This is a (perhaps) final update to my earlier posts here and here about FORGE, a nonprofit working in African refugee camps to promote peace and stability but that is struggling to stay afloat. Curtis Chang the consultant from Consulting Within Reach who Sean Stannard-Stockton, of Tactical Philanthropy, asked to provide an analysis of what it would take to turn FORGE around has submitted his final report. And because of this final report, and Sean’s own discussions with FORGE’s Executive Director Kjerstin Erickson, Sean has been convinced that FORGE is a worthy endeavor and has made his own $1,000 contribution. His decision to invest, however, was not purely based on FORGE’s work or their potential to turn things around. Rather, Sean based much of his decision on his appreciation of FORGE’s “radical transparency:”
It is incredibly important that we build more trust within philanthropy. It is incredibly important that we move away from soliciting donations via a “sales pitch” and shift it towards a process of making a well reasoned argument centered on impact potential. FORGE hasn’t sugared coated things for us. They haven’t pushed pictures of the refugees they help at us. They’ve explained their situation, made a well reasoned argument for why they think they deserve funding and they’ve openly accepted any and all criticism with grace and humility. FORGE gets my money.
In fact, FORGE has raised half of their $100K deficit for this year. So, perhaps they are on their way.
I have my doubts, however. In Curtis’ report he details a needed major overhaul of FORGE’s board, their infrastructure and their overall fundraising function. FORGE’s board lacks refugee expertise and the network and capacity to raise funds from individual donors. Curtis also points out that FORGE has little hope of raising money from foundations, corporations or governments. That leaves individual contributions. However, he points out that FORGE currently lacks a board that can help with that, a donor database and cultivation system, fundraising expertise and a network. Those seem like some pretty huge hurdles to me. So what is the plan to overcome them?
It seems to me the biggest roadblocks facing great social entrepreneurs like Kjerstin (and I do think she is a great social entrepreneur because she pairs vision with action) are the capital and strategic management expertise necessary to scale and become sustainable. Lack of transparency in the social sector is not a major hurdle. It would be great if we had more transparency in the social sector, and the financial sector as well, for that matter. But transparency is not what is holding organizations like FORGE back, and it is not what will turn them around. There needs to be major changes in the way resources flow to organizations and models that are really making a difference and creating positive outcomes. And these resources are not limited to just financial ones, they also include strategic expertise about how to create a viable business model, how to plan for and achieve sustainable growth, how to create a sustainable revenue engine and so on. We can’t expect our social entrepreneurs to be able to do it all on their own. And we can’t simply reward them for sharing their lack of expertise or the hurdles that they encounter. We need to provide the resources they need to bring their ideas to fruition in a sustainable way.