Celebrating failure

Have you ever seen a new fundraising volunteer crash and burn … aka FAIL?  I know I have seen this phenomenon too many times in my 15-year career, and I am never comfortable when it happens … until today!

While reading an assigned textbook (Co-Active Coaching) as I study for my business coaching certification, I came across a section that talks about celebrating failure. It talked at length about how failure is one of the fastest ways of learning and used the example of toddlers learning how to walk. This got me thinking and sent me scurrying off to Google to do a little research about celebrating failure, which is when I came across a YouTube link for FAILfaire.

FAILfaire is an annual conference where technology non-profit organizations come together to look objectively and with humor at failed projects with the goal of learning valuable lessons. This got me thinking. Why can’t non-profit fundraising professionals engage our fundraising volunteers in a similar way with our annual campaigns? Here is how it might look:

  • During your organization’s annual campaign period, host periodic “report meetings” (e.g. weekly, bi-weekly, monthly).
  • In addition to the traditional activities associated with an annual campaign report meeting, add one additional agenda item titled “Celebrating Failure”.
  • Set ground rules (e.g. no mocking, no mean-spirited criticism, a “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” policy, etc) and remind all participants that there is a HUGE difference between failing and being a failure.
  • Ask volunteer solicitors (could be some or it could be all) to please share something that happened during a recent solicitation visit that didn’t seem to work (or didn’t feel right).
  • Engage the group in a short, facilitated discussion around why it didn’t work and what else could be done next time to get a different result.
  • Get silly and celebrate failures. Consider giving out a “traveling trophy” for the best story or the best suggestion for change.

This type of activity can take the shame out of failure for our volunteer solicitors and help fundraising professionals better coach volunteers towards becoming better solicitors.

If you don’t like this suggestion, I am sure there are countless other ways for you to help fundraising volunteers celebrate failure because if you don’t do so then it is likely that your volunteers will 1) stop taking risks, 2) continue repeating the same mistakes over-and-over again, and/or 3) possibly even quit.

I know this approach is not something to which  many of us currently subscribe; however, I think this actual “tweet” on FAILfaire’s Twitter page sums it up nicely: “RT @rgkirkpatrick RT @TonyYLyu However much room you give people to fail, is exactly how much they can potentially succeed #singularityu“.

Does anyone out there do a good job of celebrating failure with their volunteers? How do you do it? Please use the comment box of this blog to share your best practices!

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC