'I Made a Mistake'
“The best of us must sometimes eat our words.” ― J.K. Rowling
Wisdom from the author.
While I believe all of us in the nonprofit arena have noble intentions, we all do make mistakes.
As board members, fundraising professionals, CEOs—no matter what our role—we should be able to grow from our errors and not repeat them. If not, they become habit.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a good friend who is a respected CEO. She was afraid to make a needed staff change. “What will the board think?” she worried. She had hired the person and was afraid of the perception that she had made a mistake. The reality is that the board was probably already thinking it.
I can recall two instances from years ago of new CEOs at major nonprofits who came in with great acclaim. But, it became increasingly apparent that these “show dogs” were not going to get results. In both instances, the board hired coaches, and tried to support and protect them for years—afraid of how it would look if they failed. The organizations both suffered because the board leadership was afraid to admit that they had made a mistake.
Early in my career, when I was chief advancement officer at an independent school, I misspelled the name of one of our top donors. The donor was very sensitive about his name and not happy with my transgression. I called to apologize and felt that he would never forgive me. Years later, I co-chaired a major campaign with him, and when I left the school we were close friends.
Just last year, another major nonprofit finally transitioned out a CEO—someone who should have been gone five years earlier but the board chair stubbornly did not want the “mistake” to happen on his watch. Then, this board chair hired the ousted CEO’s “executive coach” to find a replacement. Board members were outraged at the results they had gotten with the coaching, especially when they learned that the organization’s national office would have conducted a search for free. When confronted, the board chair dug in, not being willing to admit his mistakes. Since then, the organization has shed many programs and branches, and continues to be in a free fall—financially, ethically and culturally.
Mistakes happen. What matters is how we deal with them—and that we do deal with them. People and organizations that face their mistakes, apologize humbly and genuinely, and do what needs to be done to right the wrong and ensure it doesn’t happen again are the ones that will survive and thrive.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.