Why Nonprofits Shouldn't Be Afraid of Failure?

Running a Nonprofit is no small feat. Trying to balance a cohesive fundraising strategy with the constant pressure to please donors, volunteers, the board and the public at large can sometimes make you feel like there is no room for failure. Unfortunately, this mindset can limit the ability of an organization to fulfill its mission.

Becoming Failure Friendly

Unlike for-profit businesses, today’s Nonprofit sector is not failure-friendly. In business, failure is often embraced as an important part of a company’s development because it can lead to innovation. Meanwhile, many Nonprofits live in constant fear of disappointing, losing or fatiguing their donors.

Instead of investing in new and innovative ways to generate revenue ‒ some of which may not be successful ‒ Nonprofits often end up sticking with what they know. Traditional fundraising activities, such as special events and donor outreach, might raise considerable amounts of money, but what if you want to raise more so you can make a bigger impact at a faster pace?

Charities need to have the courage to dream big, and that starts with embracing the idea that it’s okay to take risks and potentially fail. Why? Because embracing failure creates a culture of innovation. The lessons learned from a failure can enable an organization to learn, change and, ultimately, grow.

This can be challenging in part because Nonprofits are inherently risk-averse. It happens when you rely on donors to gift you money trusting that you will use it wisely. While playing it safe to please your stakeholders is understandable, it may not always be productive. As a result, organizations are often more concerned with maintaining the status-quo than looking for new opportunities for growth.

Taking Calculated Risks

Being fearless and confident about taking risks produces a mindset that is contagious. Once you break ground, others are likely to follow and your passion will spread like wildfire. This failure-friendly change starts internally with Nonprofit leaders and the decisions they make regarding the growth and future of their organizations.


Taking calculated risks and not fearing failure can be the starting point for something really great.
In 1994 Jeff Bezos left a cushy job as vice president at a Wall Street firm to open an e-commerce website out of his garage. Most people thought he was crazy, but he knew the potential rewards outweighed the risks. Today, Amazon.com is an online retail giant selling $67.9 billion in 2013 alone. This is just one example of a for-profit company embracing risk and the possibility of failure in order to grow.

Any time an organization tries something new, it’s a gamble. But by taking big bets and experimenting with new strategies, you can gain a fresh perspective. Brainstorm new ways to reach donors, like starting a YouTube channel or investing in a social media peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. Reach younger audiences by optimizing your Nonprofit website for mobile. Start a sustained giving campaign that encourages donors to give not just once a year, but automatically once a month. Invest money in a marketing professional who can provide strategic insight into how you can reach untapped markets.

For fundraising events, brainstorm new themes and concepts that might bring in more attendees and larger donations. Leverage the ‘wow’ factor of experiential travel by reaching out to top-tier donors before an event and ask what their travel interests are, then select packages to offer based on their feedback. Once donors realize you can offer a variety of exciting travel opportunities, they can even start making their year-round travel purchases through your organization. A win-win for both the donors and the Nonprofit mission.

Turning a big idea into a reality can mean dramatic growth and the opportunity to make a bigger impact. Even if the calculated risk doesn’t pay off, you can always learn from it. Lessons revealed through failure are invaluable. For example, learning what people aren’t interested during one auction (no on in the audience bid on the car or the puppy but the crowed went wild over the Napa Valley and Kentuck Derby trips) will give you the information you need to make changes in the future. Whether you find success or failure, always evaluate to see what can be learned and then make adjustments going forward.

Are you ready to embrace failure in order to create a culture of innovation at your Nonprofit? We’d love to hear about it! Please share any successes – or failures – you’ve experiences that have ultimately lead to growth within an organization.


Winspire Communications Director

About Ian Lauth

With an extensive background in marketing, design and event production, Ian’s role is to develop external communications for the Winspire community. Ian serves as the Editor-in-Chief for Winspire News, creating and managing blog content, newsletters, eBooks and other resources designed to help nonprofits maximize their event fundraising revenue.