Most of us are afraid of failure.
And with good reason! Failure as a nonprofit leader can have massive repercussions, impacting the lives of thousands, if not millions, across the globe. And so we take every precaution to ensure that we don’t fail, keeping things small and avoiding risk.
But no matter how careful or how meticulous the plans, you are going to experience failure. And if you’re sitting there reading this and congratulating yourself on the fact you’ve never failed at anything, you’re doing something very, very wrong.
Failure is part of the package, and it’s important to know it’s coming. But instead of being afraid, we need to start focusing on failure’s power to reveal our deeper potential as an entrepreneur—and as a human being.
What you choose to take away from these experiences will give you the fortitude, knowledge, and character to build a stronger, more innovative organization in ways that your achievements never could.
So here are five fails you will likely make and what you can learn from them.
Setting a public fundraising goal too high
It happens all the time. We get excited, set an overly ambitious goal, and then spend the night in recovery with a pint of chocolate chip cookie dough watching YouTube videos of kittens and wondering where it all went wrong.
But when you set a public fundraising goal too high, you learn who you can rely on. You learn the best timing for a campaign, your donor base value, and even more importantly, you learn life doesn’t come crashing to an end when you don’t meet your goal. You keep going. And the experience will hopefully give you the stomach to do it again and not to lower the expectations for your org.
Spending too much money on tech
You’ve known for awhile now that you need to build a digital presence, so you get a quote from a developer, spend the money, and tell yourself it’ll be worth it. But tech is like a jet or a boat, every two-three years you’re paying for it all over again. Maintenance. Updates. Hosting. Security. The investment turns out to be a lot more than you originally thought or planned!
Instead of kicking yourself for overspending, realize there are two valuable lessons to be learned. One, you’ll realize the true cost of technology. Two, you’ll learn how to master the art of technology according to the unique needs of your organization. Consider enlisting crowdfunding platforms and other tech companies offering software as a service (SAAS) that allow you to “pay as you play.” This way, you will likely pay the same as if you built it yourself, but without the risk of large upfront costs.
Or invest in your own infrastructure and hire junior developers to experience the trial and error under your own roof, keeping costs low while simultaneously building your own org. Although technology is a means to save money processing donations in the long term, this is not just about building a glorified donation portal. Discover the best methods for you. When we invest in it right, we increase exposure, communication, cultivation, and ultimately grow our organizations.
Getting a big fat “No”
You know how it goes. You prepare for the meeting, buy the most expensive tie, binge on Tony Robbins videos, and basically drive friends, colleagues, and spouses crazy roleplaying your “ask” for days. Then you go to the meeting and get a big fat “No.”
Before you swear off asking for anything above $10K again, stop! That “no” is important. Rejection is important. Why? That “no” will teach you humility; it will teach you about your target audience, and it will teach you what you need to do next time.
They say for every 10 “noes” there’s a “yes.” Instead of obsessing over the current “no” in your life, change your perspective and be glad that it’s bringing you closer to that “yes.”
Trying to make everyone happy
We all know it’s impossible to make everyone happy, and yet we still make ourselves insane trying to do it anyway!
It’s time to face it. You will disappoint people. There will be donors who will give you money and who will never give you money again. There will be people who want to change your vision and mission to something that resonates more with their vision and mission. And there will be people who are upset when you spent donations on a project that they believe is inferior to another project. If you run a school, there will be parents who love your educational model and parents who want to change that model because they think they have better ideas on the direction your school needs to take.
As a public servant, you will fail people all the time. And what you’ll learn is that by staying true to your voice and vision, you will eventually build a base of like-minded individuals who are passionate about the work you do.
You will fail in programming
Every institution is trying to change the world through programs. If we are not taking risks with our programs, we have a huge problem. When we stop seeking new ways to solve problems, we stop innovating. So get out there and implement that new tech-driven curriculum, or use several smaller cars for food distribution as opposed to one truck to shorten delivery time.
Sure, last year’s circus-themed golf tournament fundraiser might’ve missed the mark, but at least you were implementing creative solutions, taking risks, and opening the door to greater achievement.
Because the real failure we can not afford to make is to play it safe.
Moshe Hecht, @moshehecht, is chief innovation officer of Charidy, @wearecharidy, a 360° fundraising solution. Moshe is an accomplished entrepreneur and team leader whose passion lies at the intersection of technology and charitable giving. When Moshe is not at the office, he is writing music and enjoying downtime with his wife and two redheaded boys.