We do not like to think of ourselves as failures. Society drives us towards success and very different people are all measured by the same expectations and milestones. Employment, education, relationship status, parenthood, wealth - just some of themes that make up the life success-o-meter.
I myself am a quadruple failure when it comes to driving tests. In fact, it isn’t a failing humble-brag where my fourth driving test led to an epiphany. Almost 10 years in, I still can’t drive (legally), my theory test has expired and I am around £2,000 poorer than had I not bothered trying to learn in the first place. I suppose I have learned three things:
1. Everyone has their own pace and their own achievements
2. You can adapt very successfully to accommodate your failures
3. Finally, but possibly the most important, if you are not very good at driving (and fill examiners with fear), are you a failure for not passing your test(s) or, are you a superhero for saving humanity from a hideous driver? It’s all about perspective!
But how do we take what we know about failure and learn from it as fundraisers?
The first step is to stop comparing yourself and your charity to others. Just because another charity is having great success with a certain income stream and you aren’t, doesn’t mean that you are a failure. You have to consider the variables. The hospice down the road is naturally going to have higher legacy income than your skills and training organisation. Similarly, a charity that is comparable to yours may receive significantly more corporate income because their board of trustees has connections to a large company. Rather than measuring your success against other organisations, look internally and analyse your charity’s strengths and opportunities. Do you have a really engaged volunteer base that could support the growth of your community income? Is your event stewardship programme fantastic so participants always want to get involved with your work? Focus on what you are good at and use this to support growth.
Secondly, consider the value of communication. Rather than sweeping the failure under the carpet until it trips you up, be transparent. Adjust expectations and minimise the damage of your actions before they spiral out of control. It is always better to under-promise and over-deliver than to let people down. Have you set widely-ambitious targets for a challenge event and your income is going to be a lot less than you first anticipated? Let your colleagues in finance know so that they can plan and you can take learning forward for next time to help you to set more realistic goals.
The final point is to use your failure to your advantage. Without relying on phoenix clichés, you don’t need to rise from the ashes but you can use your failures to highlight areas for personal and professional development. Fundraising can be a fast-paced sector with charity’s having to adapt to changes in statutory funding, public perceptions of the voluntary sector and wider technological developments. No one is infallible and no one expects us to be (except ourselves). If you aren’t great at something, or have more to learn, use your failings to demonstrate this and don’t be afraid to ask for support in this area. Being mindful of tight (often non-existent) personal development budgets, you don’t have to seek out expensive courses. Instead, find someone who is great at the area you want to develop and ask for help, you may just be able to return the favour and help them in an area they are failing at.
If we open up about our failures, we open ourselves up to improvement and peer support and can continue driving forward – except for me, because I can’t drive.
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