Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Learning from a donor #fail

We don't live in an ideal world. Things go wrong all the time. But how do we celebrate these bumps in the road? One Princeton professor took it as a path to enlightenment and posted a CV or resume of all of the things that didn't work out the way they were supposed to. It's amazing, check it out here.

Imagine if we in the nonprofit world did the same thing? At conferences we often put best practices forward to our audiences and attest to our grand successes. This sets unrealistic expectations for our attendees. What about the bumps along the way? What about the projects we tried to do that got stalled in committee? What about the projects that fell flat with our administration and donors? What about the errors that while no one died as a result of them, they just did not work? When we try something new and fail, we learn more from those mistakes than we ever do the projects that sail through and make us look like heros.

A little vulnerability goes a long way. The same can be said for attempts with our donors. I'm thinking of a few examples from my life and others:

The time I put out potpourri on display at an event and a donor ate it as snack mix.
The time someone mistakenly spelled "public" missing a consonant on a commencement program.
The time someone named a building in honor of someone without considering what the acronym spelled.
The time someone eliminated immediate gift receipts and mailed them all in January instead because it was easier on the staff.
The time a donor chose the text on their building signage and put a quote from their beloved dog.
The time someone came up with a brilliant young donor program and then excluded everyone under 35 in the mailing list pull.
The time a first time donor postcard with the words "we wish you were here" was sent out without pulling deceased donors from the list.

And there are many many more. Most of these are innocent mistakes that are fun to talk about and even at times can be funny. But the reality is that they all happened. But no one ever gets to hear about these. I think we should celebrate them and talk about them more, allowing us to have a more open dialogue about how failure pushes innovation. If you need proof of this, think about the videos lately of Elon Musk's rocket ship and its failed landings and then boom on the 5th try they nail it. If they would have stopped at 2 tries, we would never have seen this.

We talk all about our successes but what were the failures along the way? Celebrate them, embrace them and tell us your stories! You can remain anonymous with your #epicfail, but celebrate them and what you learned from them. I can't wait to hear from you and your examples. Comment below!

Cheers,
Lynne

13 comments:

  1. At the end of an event, we give our centerpieces to donors to take home. One donor got carried away and was lugging out the rental palms we had for d├ęcor.

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  2. We bought beautiful pins to put at each place setting at a dinner commemorating our 40th anniversary. I forgot to put these pins out. So, then, I thought I'd save the day by saying that we'll just start mailing them out with thank you letters. I didn't check into any sort of post office regulations, and, soon enough, tons of envelopes (standard #10) came back torn to shreds because mail is automatically sorted through a machine. This was a giant fail all around!

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  3. The time years ago when I wrote my VP's thank you letter to a retired faculty member and accidentally wrote please "except" my sincere thank you instead of please "accept" my since thank you. She was a retired English professor who didn't let that one go unnoticed.

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  4. On the day of the dedication for the science building, we didn't know the summer research program was active in the upstairs labs. Halfway through the speeches, the overwhelming stench of rotten eggs drove everyone from the lobby!

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  5. We sent out a nice invitation postcard for a building dedication--and forgot to include the date. We ended up sending a second postcard that something like, "Oops! We forgot something." Internally, we joked that we probably got more attention for this event because of our mistake.

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  6. Mailing special thank yous to gala committee and the envelopes were empty. Subject lines in direct mail "lapsed donor" or something careless/insulting. Assuming that a piece of clothing left behind at a major alumni event belongs to a child or small woman; it was a major donor (male) who is slightly built.

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  7. The time my parent fund chair wanted a lunch for all of the parents of seniors over family weekend. We sent invites out and very few came back and people were calling and saying they never received the invite. Well, we sent the invite in an Annual Fund envelope - so few people opened it, we should have sent it in an "Office of the President" envelope - live & learn!! Event went well - despite the mailing!

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  8. We decided to hold commencement in our new arena before the final contractor walk through was completed. Our processional across campus with 800 graduates was delayed by 30 minutes due to a sprinkler malfunction that flooded the lobby. Once the ceremony began we had to move a whole section of guests when the seating started to sag and collapse. Nothing funnier than watching the VP for Admin run across campus in full regalia!

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  9. I love all of these!! Keep them coming! You guys are inspiring!

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  10. Those times when you proof your renewal email text but don't look clearly at the subject line and misspell Renew....

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  11. We create calendars each year that are sent to our giving societies. Our president chose not to have an inauguration because of the budget issues at the time of his arrival. For his 5th anniversary as President, we dedicated our entire calendar to him...12 months with 12 different pictures of him in action around campus. Our donors HATED this! and to top it all off, the President left us in June for a new appointment, but we still got to see his face for 6 more months on the calendar!!

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  12. One year I decided to to try and make DIY pedestals to use as center pieces for our annual fundraising luncheon rather than pay for flowers. It took myself, a coworker and two interns over a week to paint and put them together. The day of the event I loaded them all into the back of a van to transport them and as I turned out of the drive way to head to our event venue to set up I heard them all crash into each other and fall apart.

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  13. At our annual fishing tournament, I had the college caterer prepare sack lunches for the anglers and had them "delivered" in a large bag to each boat. I had NO idea that bananas, aka "the perfect fruit for snacking," were something that should NEVER be aboard a boat! The Captains were furious that we had violated a major superstition of the sea! Two captains tracked down our ED in his boat and had their crews throw their bananas at him! Who knew? Because of that fruity faux pas I will, forevermore, be known in those circles as "Banana Brenda!"

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