Why We Need To Talk About Failure
Nonprofits often focus on uplifting stories, stories of success, but this is not true of life. Life is full of struggle and uncertainty, of challenges, and sometimes things don’t always turn out for the best in the end.
Don’t get me wrong. Talking about outcomes, about what we have achieved, are important (I write about this a lot), but our failures and setbacks are important parts of the story. It is the challenges we encounter and the scale of the problems we are facing that will inspire people to support us, to understand why we need their help.
Think about the stories we read and watch and tell each other every day. If they were all sweetness and light they would be rather dull. No, they involve a challenges that the protagonist must face, a darkness that threatens the world. Similarly once the adventurer sets out to defeat evil and restore balance to the world his quest is thwarted by obstacles that he must overcome. It is these obstacles that provide drama and suspense that makes us empathize with our heroes and will them to succeed.
In the same way nonprofits need to make people understand the challenges we face, to share the moments of failure, to make people care about our causes and understand the implications of failure, failure to support you.
By sharing our failures and our challenges we can create compelling stories filled with drama, communicating the consequences of inaction, and through them compel people to support what we do.
Failure is not a bad thing. We all fail. How many charities are likely to fulfill their mission statements in our lifetime? Not many I would imagine. The scale of our ambitions are such that it is likely a long time before hunger is irradiated, that we all have access to drinking water, that human rights are respected and there may never be a time when human nature changes, when war becomes unnecessary or workers cease to be exploited.
What makes us strong is to continue in the face of those obstacles, to strive for something better and to make incremental changes to the world. One of my favorite quotes is by that irascible Irishman Samuel Becket who said try, fail, try again, fail again, fail better. I think this describes failure perfectly, as a continuing process of improvement, a necessary part of reaching towards our goals.