After reading Dawn’s blog last week, I accepted the challenge and read Suzanne Smith’s article, “The Social Sector’s F-Word — Failure”. As a former Founder/Executive Director of a local nonprofit, many of Smith’s points brought back memories and lessons learned. It reminded me that daring to risk failure can lead to greater success.
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, whether it was freelancing as a photographer or graphic designer, starting a campus ministry, creating products or launching a nonprofit. I tend to lean toward serving the social sector.
As Smith says, “With high stakes in the social space, it is hard to admit when we have let down our clients, organizations and communities.” Nonprofit work is not for the faint of heart. Real needs push us to succeed. That usually means stretching way beyond our comfort zones. Cue fear.
An Unexpected Journey
Twelve years ago, my then eight-year-old son, was suddenly diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. At the time, I knew nothing about it except that my grandfather had lived with it as I recalled open boxes of Oreo’s and bottles of hot Cokes in the front seat of his car.
I soon learned it was a rare, genetic form of diabetes and there was nothing we could have done to prevent it. It was here to stay until a cure was found and this uninvited guest was going to take us on an unexpected journey to the fear of the unknown. Cue God.
After a year and a baptism by fire learning all that we could about managing this disease, I couldn’t help but think there were families just like mine who found themselves a little lost and alone navigating this world. It was time to do something about it. Cue Tyler Type One Diabetes Foundation.
Failure and Lessons Learned
Of course, I knew nothing about running a nonprofit. I simply jumped in with both feet and took off running. I could list a hundred failures and more than a handful of successes in the beginning and over the last 10 years. Like taking a thousand photos just to get 10 amazing shots, it is a lot of work, but well worth it in the end.
Some months we had nearly 100 at support group and some months barely 10. Some events we’d have 500 and other times 50. My heart would sink on the months that attendance was down, but I kept reminding myself month after month, year after year, that it wasn’t about the numbers. Lesson learned. It was about consistency, the ebb and the flow, being there when families needed help through various seasons typical of a chronic long-term disease.
Over time, I learned the real meaning of success based on our organization’s mission and services. Smith’s article reminded me that failure was just part of the equation. Failure plus lesson’s learned equaled success.
Sharing Our Failures
When I passed the baton to my successor a few years ago, I sat down and shared the highs and the lows of running a nonprofit. Sharing the failures in leading the organization was just as important as sharing the successes. Smith says, “We need to share our failures liberally to learn from them and then transform them into future successes.”
It just so happens, as I write this, Diabetes Awareness Month is just around the corner in November. Once again, I’ll jump back in to raise awareness and funds to help the cause closest to my heart. It has my Giving Fingerprints all over it for good reason and always will. I want Tyler Type One and those living with it to have the future success Smith talks about. Success based on shared failures — stronger, wiser, more resilient and better prepared for the storms ahead.
Today as a Grant Manager for Your Philanthropy, I get to work with a mentor of a lifetime and an amazing team to help family foundations reach their giving goals. I understand the two sides of giving now and I would not be here if I hadn’t dared to risk failure starting a nonprofit 10 years ago.
What causes are closest to your heart? How will you risk failure helping your favorite nonprofit succeed?
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Guest blog: by Margie Boyd, Grant Manager, Your Philanthropy