3 Folders You Need in Your Fundraiser's 'Fail File'
"Embrace failure!" we're often told by motivational speakers and experts on the art of success. "Creativity is about allowing yourself to make mistakes." "Failures are signposts on the road to achievement," etc., etc., etc.
And it is true. We can learn more from what we do wrong than from what we do right … but only if we put in the time and effort to do so.
Consider: Out in Ann Arbor, Mich., there's an operation called NewProductWorks or, more commonly, the Museum of Failed Products. It's a huge warehouse that stands as a living memorial to things that must have seemed like good ideas at the time.
There you'll find a startling array of consumer mustn't-haves like Richard Simmons's Salad Spray, McDonald's' wildly unsuccessful McSpaghetti, Clairol's Touch of Yogurt Shampoo, Downyflake Toaster Eggs and thousands of other grim reminders that about 95 percent of all new products fail miserably.
In just about any endeavor, especially in the creative world, failure is inevitable. Unfortunately, part of human nature is we want to dwell on our successes and put our failures behind us as quickly as possible.
So what typically happens is we take note of a package or campaign that didn't do well, say to ourselves, "Well, we won't make that mistake again," and forge ahead with the next project. But we rarely spend enough time trying to fully understand what went wrong and what can be done to fix it.
Most copywriters maintain a "swipe file," a collection of direct-mail packages, emails, print ads, even magazine articles and books we use to generate new ideas. I recommend we also maintain a "fail file" so we can not only remember past mistakes, but understand them.
To make sure you learn from history, so you're not doomed to repeat it, make sure your fail file contains:
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.