Accepting Failure as an Essential Part of Program Growth

Posted on 10/19/2016

failureMichael Jordan, viewed by some as the greatest basketball player of all-time, once said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

No matter how hard you try, you’re not going to succeed all the time. In fact, 39 percent of annual giving programs report that something went wrong during their last fundraising year. This may raise concern for some, but it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re trying.

What should cause concern, however, is the fact that 84 percent of annual giving programs report that their current year plan is either exactly the same or only slightly modified compared to their plan from last year. While they may be trying, it seems that most are not trying hard enough.

How much has your annual giving strategy changed? Are you sending the same number of appeals, scheduling around the same dates, organizing your prospects in the same segments, relying on the same leadership donors and volunteers? Repeating the same old strategy year-in and year-out might feel safe, but it isn’t usually a very good recipe for growth.

Some of the most important ingredients of annual giving success are creativity and innovation – it’s important to try new things. Don’t be mistaken; you don’t need to suddenly abandon the tactics that are working well, and there’s certainly no virtue in making radical or unfounded changes. But don’t be afraid to add or adjust along the way, either. The fear of failure can often leave programs complacent and unwilling to take risks. Pushing the envelope and venturing into uncharted territories can not only keep things fresh and interesting for your donors, volunteers and colleagues, it’s generally the best way to make progress.

Accept failure. Think of it as evidence that you’re trying, and an important part of program growth. As Michael Jordan might say, it’s OK to lose. When you do, just don’t lose the lesson.

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