Is your non-profit organization failing enough?

beth kanter_Movie MondaysWelcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

Yesterday, I started cleaning out my email inbox, which is when I came across a whole bunch of old emails from my friends at They are the folks who publish those amazing FREE “Movie Mondays for Fundraising Professionals“.  I came across Episode #237 featuring one of my favorite social media bloggers Beth Kanter. With a title like “How smart nonprofits are using failures to become more successful,” I couldn’t help but click the link and watch.

At the end of the video, my AH-HA moment was “This will make an amazing ‘O.D. Fridays’ post. All I have to do is pair this video with a post from John’s blog, add a little bit of my non-profit thoughts and PRESTO it will be another great Friday post.” Unfortunately, it hasn’t been that easy. After spending an hour combing through “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly,” I was hard pressed to find many posts that speak to the idea of failure.

So, I’ve decided to turn this Friday’s post into three segments:

  1. The challenge
  2. The summary
  3. Additional resources

The challenge

I think organizational development is fascinating subject matter, which is why I dedicate my Friday posts to echoing John’s blog or bringing a non-profit flare to his posts. As I wrote in last Friday’s post, non-profits tend to get caught in a starvation cycle, which in my opinion is nothing more than a blatant disregard for investing in organizational development.

However, I find it hard to believe that there aren’t more posts by John about failure and the great things that can come from celebrating it and fighting the stigma associated with it.

So, here is the challenge, John . . . “Your mission if you choose to accept it is: a) how about writing a post or multiple posts about failure and/or b) highlighting successful people or organizations who embraced the idea of failing.

The summary

Beth Kanter shares some incredibly interesting things in the Episode #237 video. For example, people tend to have three typical reactions to failure:

  1. Blame someone else
  2. Blame yourself
  3. Deny it

It is for these three reasons non-profit organizations (and probably all of us) tend to avoid taking risks because the costs associated with failure are huge.

However, Beth is a great storyteller and she is masterful at highlighting examples of where agencies took risks, failed and amazingly great things came from doing so. She speaks to the idea of changing your organizational culture to celebrate failure, which changes the risk/reward calculation and stimulates innovation in your workplace.

If you have six or seven minutes, I strongly encourage you to click-through and listen to what Beth has to say.

Additional resources

As I searched my blog and John’s blog archives for posts about failure, I did find a few things that are related. If you have a few minutes, you may want to click-through the following links and contemplate how your agency’s culture helps or hinders programmatic, fundraising, board governance innovation or limits an individual from reaching their full potential:

Does your non-profit organization celebrate failure? If so, how? If not, why not? Do you have an example of where your failure blossomed into a triumphant success? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Charlie Brown would’ve been a great non-profit executive director

charlie brownAs many of you know, I spent last week in California visiting friends and a whole lot of wineries in Sonoma County. During my adventures, we stopped at the Charles M. Schultz museum in Santa Rose, CA. It was one of the highlights of my trip. Not only did I get to walk down memory lane (because Snoopy and his friends were a big part of my childhood), but I was reminded of why I loved this cartoon/comic strip so much.

As I passed through one of the many exhibits on Charles Schultz’ amazing career, I was reminded of this very famous quotation by William Hickson:

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

How many times as a child did you see Lucy pull that football away from Charlie Brown as he flew through the air and crash to the ground?

It is an image burned in my head as I am sure it is for countless numbers of people around the world.


Charles Schultz drew this image over and over and over again because he wanted kids to understand:

  • Failure is part of life.
  • It is OK to fail.
  • When you fail, you simply pick yourself off the ground.
  • You never stop trying.

What an incredibly important lesson to learn!

On my first day back from vacation, I had the privilege of having lunch with a friend who is the executive director of a non-profit organization. While breaking bread and catching up on things, my friend reflected on his career path as a non-profit professional and he said something that made me think of Charlie Brown. He said people who strive to be an executive director need to understand that they will fail, and they will do a lot of it.

Wise words from a very wise man.

The following is just a short list of failures that I’ve seen in my years from executive directors and fundraising professionals:

  • Recruiting the wrong volunteer to do the wrong job.
  • Pairing the wrong fundraising volunteer to solicit the wrong donor.
  • Pursuing the wrong strategies at the wrong time.
  • Not adhering to best practices when they are so desperately called for.
  • Cutting corners and thinking the ends justify the means.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all failed. And we’ve all picked ourselves off the ground and pushed forward.

Do you have the soul of Charlie Brown? Do you look for this quality in the people you hire? What about in the people you recruit as volunteers? Please scroll down and share a story in the comment box about a time you missed the football and how it made you a better non-profit professional.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847