How Do You Turn Failure Into Adventure?

I took my kids on an adventure. Or at least I called it an “adventure.” My kids called it a “fail” (they are teenagers, that’s how they talk). I wasn’t willing to admit defeat.

What’s the difference in adventure and failure? I think it is in the learning. If you learned something from your failure, call it an adventure. Our family adventure involved a beach trolley, torrential rain, and an iconic pink hotel.

What about your fundraising activities? Are the failures ever adventures? Do you look for the opportunities to learn from what you did and improve for next time?

Here was the scenario and here’s how I want to apply it to our work in the nonprofit sector.

The plan was to take the beach trolley to the Don Cesar for ice cream. We were staying on the beach in Pinellas County and I wanted to take my kids to visit the Don Cesar. I researched the trolley routes online before we left. I timed our adventure after the afternoon thunderstorms blew thru. But (and these are a few big buts) I misread the trolley routes and a second, major thunderstorm came thru. That led to the three of us, huddled under a trolley shelter in rain so heavy our umbrella turned inside out.

3 ways to make the failure into an adventure:

✅ What would we do better next time?
For our family adventure, I’ll understand the trolley route better next time and know that we have to change trolleys to get from where we were staying to the Don Cesar. If rain is predicted, I’ll probably skip the trolley altogether and drive.

For your fundraising adventure, take a realistic look at what you did in the planning stage and the execution stage. Look for sacred cows, those things that are accepted as the way you do things in your organization but might not be the right or best way to do them.

✅ Can we adjust our expectations? Were our expectations realistic?
I thought my kids would enjoy the trolley ride but for them, it was too much like a school bus. Everyone’s expectations contributed to the challenges.

In fundraising, we often set the goal too high which leads to unrealistic expectations from CEO’s and board members. Research is a great way to set realistic expectations. Sometimes the best research is calling a colleague who has already implemented your activity to ask what their results were and what they’ve learned. One of the great things about the fundraising profession: we are very open to sharing with our colleagues.

✅ What was the final result? Was there anything good in it besides the final result?
The final result with my kids was delicious ice cream in a beautiful setting but getting soaking wet on the trip home. There was good in it because the Don Cesar is well worth the trip. Also, it was a memory that will live forever in our family’s history.

For your fundraising adventure, look for the successes, even beyond dollars raised. If the net amount raised was less than expected, determine if you succeeded in other areas such as reaching new donors, renewing lapsed donors or deeper engagement of current donors.

Our work as fundraisers is sometimes hard but always important. When you approach something new as an adventure, you will be more likely to take risks. Set realistic expectations, get ready to learn something new, turn your failures into adventures, and then let me know how it goes.

Sara Leonard
Sara Leonardhttp://saraleonardgroup.com/
IN HER 25 years of nonprofit work, Sara has held many titles and been a solutions-oriented advancement professional. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Tampa and an MBA from the University of South Florida. She is a Certified Fundraising Executive and has been named as a Master Trainer by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. As the founding director of the Nonprofit Leadership Center’s Fund Development Academy, Sara created an extensive curriculum of fundraising and board governance courses. She has had the privilege of working with organizations to achieve their fundraising goals through instruction, coaching and consulting. She continues to serve as an instructor for the Fund Development Academy. She has worked in the nonprofit sector raising funds for healthcare, educational and cultural organizations. She managed development operations including identification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship of donors, managing annual giving, major gift cultivation and solicitation, training and management of staff, board and volunteers, foundation and corporate support, sponsorships, annual funds, special events and in-kind support. She is widely considered an expert in crisis fundraising and has guided organizations through capital campaigns – both large and small. Sara serves on the board of directors of the Suncoast Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and New Tampa Young Life. She is a former board member of the AFP Florida Caucus. She lives in Tampa with her husband and two children.
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