top of page

How to Turn Failures Into Opportunities

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Henry Ford

We set lofty goals for a reason: to challenge ourselves to succeed. But what happens when your organization misses the mark? It’s natural to feel embarrassment, disbelief, and anger in the face of failure. There is often a desire to assign blame, or to avoid

addressing the failure altogether. “Let’s just move on and try again.” unfortunately, these knee-jerk reactions impede your organization’s ability to derive valuable insights from your failures and identify actionable opportunities.

Yes, you should move on. Yes, you should try again. However, there are valuable steps you can take first to inform your next moves. If you can build a culture that supports failure, and implement procedures that help you report and analyze what went wrong, you’ll be poised to identify opportunities and take action based on your findings.

Step 1: Foster a Culture of Failure

Each failure is an opportunity to reevaluate your strategy. When failures are swept under the rug, your organization loses the chance to discover valuable information about your fundraising campaigns. To create and foster a culture of failure is to communicate the value of failure to your staff and supporters, and empower them to take intelligent risks. By communicating failure as an inevitable and important part of serving your cause, you will create an environment where your team feels they can openly discuss and break down the results of each campaign.

It’s one thing to speak about the importance of discussing failure. Your team is more likely to enter meaningful dialogue if a system is in place to support this exercise.

Step 2: Create and Communicate a Procedure for Analyzing Failure

Your team will feel more comfortable discussing their failures if they can refer to an existing protocol.

There are several ways for your organization to facilitate this analysis. Set up an open forum on a recurring basis to gather the team’s thoughts on any recent campaigns. Or, add a debrief at the end of each campaign where the lead reports on his findings first and then opens up the discussion afterwards. Whatever method you choose, ask your team to gather their thoughts beforehand.

Here are some questions you can raise to your team ahead of time to help fuel the dialogue.

Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

When we fail we have an opportunity to ask “why” to learn what we could have done differently. In the 1950s, Taiichi Ohno, Former Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation and developer of the Toyota Production System, saw problems on his production floor as opportunities to improve their product. He urged workers to ask, “why” five times to get to the root cause of any problem. Today, this tradition is still upheld by Toyota, and it is a common topic in many business operations classes. Answer each why and then dig deeper with the next. For example,

  • “Why did our fundraising campaign fail?”

  • “Because we didn’t receive enough donations.”

  • “Why didn’t we receive enough donations?” And so on.

In addition to finding the root cause of the problem, it is also helpful to consider three “what's. In order to understand which elements of your campaign are worth preserving and which can be improved upon ask these questions:

What worked well?

Many elements go into a successful fundraising campaign. Ask yourself if you included these essential components before digging deeper.

  • A soft launch to your biggest supporters to gain leverage and work out any kinks