I was recently perusing Admitting Failure, an interesting website dedicated to sharing stores of learning from failure in the non-profit sector, which led me to following a link to the Canadian Engineers Without Borders' website where I could delight in the stories of failure that this organization has, for five years, shared with any all through their annual Failure Reports. I so wish everyone would have at least a failure column in their annual report or on their website! And this includes foundations....
Anyone who funds internationally should read the EwB's past failure reports, since most of the stories have to do with programming in developing countries -- although a lot of the 2012 report talks about EwB's internal operational failures as well.
As it says on the Admitting Failure website:
"Fear, embarrassment, and intolerance of failure drives our learning underground. No more. Failure is strength. The most effective and innovative organizations are those that are willing to speak openly about their failures. Because the only truly "bad" failure is one that's repeated."
"We've been 'friends' for a long time. We call. You return our call a few weeks later." So starts a short, sharp letter entitled "Dear Foundation People" from Nancy Lublin, CEO of Do Something Inc. and founder of Dress for Success. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry. OK, maybe it won't do either of those things, but it sure cracked a wry smile from me.
I have harped virtually all through this Blog on making mistakes. A 27-minute video made by the Communications Network showcases Susan Herr, president of PhilanthroMedia talking to Grant Olphant, president of the Pittsburgh Foundation in a conversation called 'What's the Upside of Failure?' It is worth a listen. Grant talks about specific 'mistakes' in his past and why saying "oops" is worthwhile.
Susan also mentioned a new article, Philanthropy and Mistakes:An untapped resource by Robert Giloth and Susan Gerwirtz of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
It identified several types of common mistakes:
The article also briefly describes a few case studies about foundation failures, one that discusses the "dangers of outcome measures".
Cheers to oops!