Archives For failure

Dealing with Failure

December 2, 2016 — 3 Comments

Recently, some friends asked if I would provide a keynote address at an organization’s 10-year anniversary. It’s an incredible privilege to receive invitations like this; they offer opportunities for deeper relationships, collaboration, and (hopefully) encouragement. I take these invitations seriously.

In preparation for this event, I thoroughly researched the organization and carefully prepared my remarks. Knowing that this was a major organizational milestone, I wanted to ensure that my comments helped advance the organization’s mission.

The talk went well—or so I thought. As I sat down after the talk, the fleeting glow of a job well done was replaced by horror as I realized that throughout my remarks, I had referred to the organization by the WRONG NAME! It wasn’t that I’d simply fumbled it once or twice—the organization’s name had two words, and I’d consistently switched their order throughout my talk.

In the world of special events, there are few things worse than an external speaker who gets the name of your organization wrong. And to my great embarrassment, that’s precisely what I’d done. Beyond embarrassment, I felt like I’d let the organization down.

How do we respond when we make mistakes?

Unfortunately, I seem to have experienced my fair share of leadership blunders, and know that mistakes can have a dramatic impact on your future effectiveness. They can sideline you. It’s easy to spend so much time obsessing over your failures that you are rendered helpless to accomplish anything else.

If you feel like you’ve failed, you’re in good company here. Welcome! Here’s my simple process for not allowing it to defeat you:

1. Own it.

Don’t try to sugarcoat your mistake. Refuse to blame somebody else or pretend that it didn’t happen. Don’t run from what you’ve done or attempt to cover it up. Acknowledge your mistake, and own it as yours. Go directly to the person you’ve offended, and admit what you’ve done. Cover-ups never work, and pretending that it never happened simply isn’t honest. Running to escape it will keep you at its mercy. Instead, choose to be honest with yourself and others. You may find that it’s a far bigger deal in your own mind! In my instance, the CEO of the organization was deeply gracious when I apologized profusely and helped me see the bigger picture of the event beyond this blunder.

2. Learn from it.

What lessons can you glean from your experience with failure? Moments of weakness can and should be redeemed, bringing deeper wisdom, greater empathy, and better practices. Following my experience, I have made it standard practice to always print the name of the organization at the top of my remarks, just in case. If correct pronunciation is a concern, I write the words down phonetically and practice saying them ahead of time to ensure that I don’t misspeak in the moment.  I sincerely hope that my error was the last time I will ever make a name mistake like that.

3. Get over it.

If you’ve owned your mistake and learned from it, it’s critical that you refuse to let it take you away from the good work that lies ahead of you. Instead of regretfully looking back, look hopefully forward. Welcome the next challenge that comes your way as a new opportunity to learn and grow.

And remember that getting over it doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting it. Use the memory of your experience to more quickly extend grace to others when they find themselves in a similar position. Moments of failure are never easy—but they’re an inevitable part of our shared human experience and serve as one more unifying thread that bonds us together. What a relief to know that we’re not alone in failure and that there is always, always hope on the other side of it!

Fail ImageAfter weeks of application questions and initial interviews, the time for my final interview with HOPE International’s board of directors had finally arrived. Things seemed to be going smoothly—that is, until Tom, one of the board members, asked a question that I was completely unprepared to answer.

“Do you have any experience fundraising?”

Fundraising? Even though I was applying for a position with a nonprofit, I had somehow failed to understand that ensuring there were adequate resources to implement the mission was going to be an important part of my job.

I am incredibly grateful that, despite my complete lack of knowledge or experience in this aspect of my role, the board still offered me a position at HOPE. The 11 years since then have been a steep learning process, including some unforgettable lessons on the do’s and don’ts of fundraising.

Knowing that I’ve learned more through the times of failure, here are my Top 10 Fundraising Fails—lessons that I hope you don’t have to repeat!

1. I verbally vomited on people.

Early on, I would charge into meetings and nervously gush HOPE’s mission, key objectives, and plans for the future, without having any idea if the person on the other side of the table even had any interest! Since then, I’ve learned that even more important than what I want to communicate is taking the time to get to know who I’m taking to—their calling, mission, and special areas of passion. I’ve tried to adopt the 70/30 rule: Listen for 70 percent of the time and talk for 30 percent.

2. I didn’t follow up.

There were times when I would promise to send a person additional information, but then get inundated by the avalanche in my inbox and forget the specific details of what I’d promised. I’ve learned I can’t trust my memory, so today, I have a stronger system in place to immediately capture all items right after a meeting, while the conversation is still fresh in my mind.

3. I focused too much on new relationships.

At times, I have focused more on seeking out new donors than caring for existing supporters. I’ve realized that attrition is a crucial indicator of long-term success. In fact, I consider that statistic as even more important than the amount of funds raised on an annual basis.

4. I failed to give sacrificially first.

How can I ask others to do what I’m not willing to do myself? Early on, I was asking others to join HOPE’s mission but was not personally contributing toward it in a deep and sacrificial way.

5. I focused on short-term goals not long-term relationships.

I put immense pressure on meeting quarterly fundraising goals—even if it meant sabotaging long-term relationships with potential partners. Impatience is a killer of every relationship.

6. I failed to move on.

I put inordinate amounts of energy into several relationships that simply were not a fit in terms of mission and passions. I’ve learned that it’s important to give yourself the freedom to move on.

7. I jumped when I should have waited.

Every time I’ve made an “ask” without being asked for one, it hasn’t gone well. My friend Terry says that a good ask is like a marriage proposal—the person ought to know it’s coming, and you ought to have a pretty good idea of what the answer will be!

8. I failed to honor others.

There have been times when I’ve shared stories about the families HOPE serves in a way that might have generated a donation but did not honor them. Each time I talk about HOPE’s clients, I’m committed to doing so in a way that celebrates their incredible gifts and dignity.

9. I failed to talk about failure.

I believed that in order for donors to offer their support, I had to pretend that everything was going perfectly well. But actually, the opposite is true. If there isn’t honesty in the times when HOPE doesn’t meet our goals or has operational failures, it’s not a real partnership. In the corporate world, you get put in prison for not divulging key information to your stakeholders, and yet somehow in the nonprofit world it’s become standard practice! Honesty and transparency are crucial to any successful partnership.

10. I said “yes” to every invitation.

By accepting every invitation to meet with donors, churches, and organizations, I was actually saying “no” to the ministry and joy of loving my family at home. I also wasn’t empowering other members of my team to rise up, gain practice, and expand HOPE’s impact through their gifts.


giver gift cover

Learn more about how fundraising can be a life-giving, generous partnership between both the giver and the recipient:

The Giver and the Gift:
Principles of Kingdom Fundraising

by Peter Greer and David Weekley

Order now: Givington’s | Amazon

The Shadow Side of Success

February 27, 2015 — 1 Comment

Success tends to be a spiritually precarious place to be.

“My greatest failures in life often came on the heels of my greatest successes,” a friend recently shared.

Even the Apostle Peter’s greatest moment of revelation—“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”—was followed just a few verses later by his greatest rebuke—“Get behind me, Satan.”—after he thought he knew best the way Jesus should accomplish His mission.

mountain_shadow

We long for success, but if we don’t handle it well, we will be wishing we never experienced it in the first place. How do we keep our success from leading to our downfall?

A first step might be to understand the shadow side of success, those attitudes which often accompany success:

  1. Arrogance
    The moment that we begin to think that our gifts, our wisdom, or our expertise are the reasons for our success is the moment that the decline begins. Leadership expert and author Jim Collins calls it “hubris born of success.” Pride is the root upon which all other vices grow.
  2. Expectation
    Every investor knows that “past results are no guarantee of future results.” Yet if we experience success, we tend to expect that every indicator will forever be up and to the right, and we’re crushed when exponential growth doesn’t always follow our best effort. Organizations rise, and organizations fall; leaders rise, and leaders fall. Our only expectation should be that God will be present and faithful, whatever the circumstance.
  3. Complacency
    Thinking “we have arrived” can lead to complacency. Yet there is always more to be done—projects to begin and improve, relationships to build and deepen, goals to set and strive toward. It’s not that we become obsessed by doing more or that we don’t stop to celebrate achievements; it’s simply a recognition that there is always room for improvement in our pursuit of excellence. There is always room for more fully love God and love our neighbors.
  4. Insularity
    Success tends to bring greater isolation, propping some up on a precarious pedestal. When we cut ourselves off from others, we often miss opportunities to hear wise messages of caution, experience, and vision. We need to seek out connections with others, especially those who challenge us with different viewpoints and perspectives. Criticism may be hard to hear, but it’s crucial to our health.

In 2 Samuel, we see the shadow side of success in the story of King David. On the heels of his military victories, he stays behind to gaze upon Bathsheba. And later, despite the fact that there are no current threats to the nation of Israel, King David orders a census to count the number of men who could serve in his army.  This was not in preparation for battle but to be impressed by his own greatness. Ultimately, David’s hubris and unwillingness to listen to Joab’s warning results in a devastating plague.

When we forget the source of our success, there are always consequences—though, much less devastating than the ones King David experienced.

As followers of Christ, we aren’t called to success but to faithfulness. Faith leader J.R. Briggs writes this in his book, Fail: “Many of us long for the equation to a fruitful ministry. Fortunately, there is none to be found. Some will try to offer it—and may be ‘successful’ in the eyes of others—but it won’t last. Faithfulness is needed.”

Or, as King David put it in Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

Being known as faithful is a far higher compliment than being known as successful.