Make the most of your nonprofit’s mistakes

Overcoming a problem at your nonprofit is a great opportunity not just to learn from a mistake but also to help your staff, board, supporters and partners see how you are working to improve the way you do business.

Did your annual fund or capital campaign fall short of its goal? Did your earned revenue miss its target? Was the impact of one of your programs less than you expected it to be?

If in response to disappointing results your nonprofit took stock of itself, identified what had gone wrong, and adjusted your operations, programs or expectations, one outcome ought to be better results.

Another possible outcome, often overlooked, is the opportunity to tell a great story about the way your organization adapts to problems.

So tell that story.

Explain what you did to identify the problem and its cause. What metrics, outcomes and business processes did you look at?

Describe your method for finding a solution. What roles did your staff and board play, as well as any consultants you may have hired?

Spell out your new approach. What are your new goals, what indicators are you using to measure success, and what results are you showing?

And talk about the lessons your nonprofit has learned. How will you now be able to better serve the people who count on you for services, and what difference will you make in their lives?

Keep your story short, and use language that is clear and easy to understand.

And, as appropriate, share your story with the audiences you depend on to do your job, including your staff and board, your donors, funders and other supporters and partners, and your constituents.

Problems are opportunities for your organization to learn and grow. Learning and growing, in turn, are opportunities to show your supporters and partners your nonprofit means business and is working to make the most of the investment they make in you to better serve your community.

Want help?

Philanthropy North Carolina is a consulting practice that provides writing and strategic communications support for nonprofits, foundations, colleges and universities, and others working for social good.

To find out more about hiring Philanthropy North Carolina to work with your organization to improve your communications, contact Todd Cohen at 919.272.2051 or

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