Failure is the best teacher, yet we are often embarrassed to share our greatest flops. Here are five failures to learn from. We hope they will offer some lessons you can learn from and encourage more people to speak out about failures as well as successes.
Wow, can failure be embarrassing! Who wants to admit that they screwed up a project or slipped on a banana peel? Success breeds success, we are told. Failure is not an option.
Thankfully, many of the people we are speaking to are sharing some of their biggest mistakes with us. This post focuses on some of the mistakes start-up organizations have made. It’s not a comprehensive list, but it is revealing.
1. I don’t need a designer, I can use paint
One respondent talked about how proud she was of the logo she designed for her young organization.
“I used one of those logo design applications. It took 30 minutes, and I added a bird. I was so proud of it. It was awful.”
After hiring professional designers, visits to the site increased dramatically. Visitors began returning to the site, staying longer, and reading more than one post.
“Better design led to increased traffic regardless of content.”
2. Money is not money
Organizations need funding. But some money comes with too many strings attached. Reporting on every dollar spent and every action taken can begin eating away at a small organization. One donor required grantees to audit their audits. That’s double the fun!
“Knowing what I know now, there are a number of grants I would turn down. Reporting was just too difficult and took too much of our energy.”
3. You want us to do what?
A good scope of work is not a luxury. It’s a requirement. Or it should be. You might think everyone involved agrees on the project and what is expected of them, but that is not always the case. Make sure you write down your expectations for every project before you begin. Know what you are going to do. Know what every person and every organization involved will do.
Write it down!
“We had an agreement with the project manager. We thought we were all in agreement. When he left the organization, we were surprised to find that there was no record of that agreement. The expectations changed. We were overwhelmed and ended up looking bad.”
4. Failure is not an option
Donors expect success from NGOs and don’t want to hear about failures. This makes it difficult for us to learn from each other. Everything must be reported as a success.
“Being prepared to fail at something but get the experience of putting a project together is something I think that people in the NGO community are not willing to do. When things fail a lot of blame gets thrown around as opposed to the fact that it just didn’t work. We had this great idea, and it didn’t work, it doesn’t mean that you throw away the whole idea, sometimes it does. Sometimes it just means that next time you do something slightly different…”
5. Guilty by association
Not everyone working for an NGO is living in a free society. Many are in societies with restrictions on association and sources of funding. One of our respondents reports facing problems when the laws changed in her home country, forbidding any NGO or individual from receiving funding from US sources. Suddenly her organization, which was not receiving any funding from US sources, was faced with a problem. They had partnered with several organizations that had. Their logo was splashed all over other’s websites. Some of the organizations were quick to take it down. A couple of the organizations refused to take down their logo. This put the activists in real danger.
Eventually the problem was solved, but only when lawyers got involved.
What was learned? Be careful who you partner with. Make sure they care about you and take your concerns seriously.
Plan for the worst. Work for the best.
Featured photo by PSParrot, some rights reserved.
This post is also available in: Persian