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Congrats to our Fail Forward Winners!

Congrats to our Fail Forward Winners!

October was a month of celebrating failure with our third annual Fail Forward Contest! Throughout the month we witnessed the power of reframing failure as an opportunity to make positive change, and we reflected on the benefits of sharing setbacks with donors, internal teams, and local communities. Most importantly, we had the honor of hearing how all of the 2016 Fail Forward Contest participants proudly failed forward. You blew us away!

We were so inspired by all your fail forward stories and by the resilience, perseverance, and teamwork in your organizations.  This year we had a record number of submissions, and we are excited to introduce you to the 2016 winners and finalists! And the winners of $1000, $600, and $400 are…

2016 Fail Forward Contest

2016 Fail Forward Contest

Ashlee Cox is a current Program Team Fellow and author of this blog post. 

Bill Gates’ first company failed to sell any products, JK Rowling was initially rejected from twelve publishers, a young Amitabh Bachchan was turned down for a job at All India Radio, and staff from 2015 Fail Forward contest winner Sumando Manos Foundation spent four years attempting to find  a solution to malnutrition in a remote Argentinian village.

What do all these success stories have in common? When they failed, they failed forward.

Failure is a word that many of us shy away from, but failing forward is a practice that allows you to examine, share, and critically think about how you can build upon your failures to fuel future success for your organization. As the 2016 Fail Forward Contest approaches, we want to change the way failure is perceived and encourage you to share your Fail Forward stories!

Why Didn’t The Narrative Project Work For Fundraising?

Why Didn’t The Narrative Project Work For Fundraising?

Alison Carlman, GlobalGiving

This is the third article in a three-part series about GlobalGiving’s experiments testing the findings of The Narrative Project. Read the first article here and the second article here.

When the results of our first test of The Narrative Project email appeal started to appear, I hoped they were just a fluke. But soon the numbers grew to statistical significance: the Narrative Project language was performing significantly worse than our control language in terms of dollars raised per email opened.  I suspected it could just be a matter of the particular cause featured in the email appeal, so then we ran tests with entirely different topics.  When that test copy also underperformed the control, I blamed it on my own writing. So in our final test we pitted language from another major nonprofit against phrases pulled directly from the Narrative Project User Guide. The Narrative Project language still failed compared to the control.

At the same time that we were running A/B tests, my GlobalGiving colleague was running experiments with stories in our database. We have more than 50,000 reports written over the past 8 years by nonprofit leaders detailing their progress for their donors. While these emailed reports don’t usually generate a high volume of repeat funding, it was still possible to detect that reports that were highly correlated with Narrative Project Themes generally underperformed other reports in a statistically significant way.

After all of our testing, we could not prove that stories and reports that contain the themes of independence, shared values, partnership, and progress drove any more funding via email and online donations than stories or reports that don’t. In fact, they performed worse.

Meet the winners of our 2015 Fail Forward Contest!

Meet the winners of our 2015 Fail Forward Contest!

Failure. Failed. Fail.

These aren’t words most people like to say, but we think it’s time to change that and embrace failing forward. If you haven’t heard of the concept of failing forward before, it’s a learning tool that allows you to examine and share your failures, and critically think about how you can build upon them to fuel future success.

While many of us are happy to examine our experiences of failure, we often feel apprehensive about sharing them. But it’s precisely the act of sharing failure that’s critical to an organization’s learning, innovation, and growth.  That’s why we recently invited our nonprofit partners to share a time they failed with us and their supporters in our annual Fail Forward Contest.

Deepak Sharma, who works with Rajasthan Samgrah Kalyan Sansthan and took part in this year’s contest, summed up the spirit of failing forward perfectly: “Failure is an opportunity to begin again more intelligently, it is not opposite of success, it’s a part of success and we believe it.”

We loved learning from all of this year’s Fail Forward Contest stories and we hope you do too!

Fail Forward Winners

Sumando Manos' "Pediatric Services In Remote Areas Of Argentina" project.

Photo from Sumando Manos’ “Pediatric Services In Remote Areas Of Argentina” project.

Winner, $1,000:  Sumando Manos – “We learned that there is no short term or one time solution and there are realities that even we cannot imagine…We learned about ourselves, we learned to listen more, to be more patient and compressive, so we can understand the specifics of each situation, in each place, and meet the people and their needs.” Read More.

Yspaniola Incorporated's "Literacy For Dominican-Haitian Youth In The Batey" project.

Photo from Yspaniola Incorporated’s “Literacy For Dominican-Haitian Youth In The Batey” project.

2nd place, $600: Yspaniola Incorporated – “We realized that for volunteers to truly learn and employ the complex host of professional and educational skills required by Summer Camp, more is not necessarily better. Rather than providing opportunities to as many young people as possible, we could better serve the community by putting more resources into fewer volunteers.” Read More.

Military with PTSD's "Help 2,500 Disabled Veterans With PTSD" project.

Photo from Military with PTSD’s “Help 2,500 Disabled Veterans With PTSD” project.

3rd place, $400:  Military with PTSD – “When we reflect on our choices and actions, we can see that yes, mistakes were made. It did not end us, so we look at what we can learn, where can we improve, and we laugh at ourselves. In the end, we spent much more on the cost of the program than we received monetarily, but learning how to evaluate ourselves and find areas to learn and grow is not something we can gain without the experience we went through. Which will better help us prepare and execute ‘Explosion of Kindness 2016.'”  Read More.

More Great Fail Forward Stories 

Awamaki's "Capacity-Building For Rural Women Artisans In Peru" project.

Photo from Awamaki’s “Capacity-Building For Rural Women Artisans In Peru” project.

Awamaki – “To measure economic success, we have started doing observational studies of the women’s homes to gauge wealth. We visit and observing the number of household appliances, the material the floor and roof are made of, whether there is a bathroom, etc.). We have also started running focus groups to approach the answers we sought from the Well-being Survey. We plan to invite a small group of women to the office, serve food, ensure a comfortable environment, and have a general conversation among the women instead of a direct interview with each individual. We think that these issues will be easier to address in a low-key group setting, rather than a rushed interview that puts each individual on the spot.” Read More.

Smiles Forever's "Send Homeless Bolivian Woman To School For A Year" project.

Photo from Smiles Forever’s “Send Homeless Bolivian Woman To School For A Year” project.

Smiles Forever: “For nearly all of our 15 years of serving the indigenous women of the Cochabamba, Bolivia area, we have inadvertently excluded young mothers.  Last year, we listened when young mothers knocked on our doors.  They wanted a better future for themselves, so that in turn their children’s lives would benefit.  These mothers had extra incentive to succeed in a career.  We no longer turn away women who have children.  We have discovered another calling in educating these women who already understand responsibility.  Our students who are mothers act as role models!” Read More.

Cycle of Learning

One of our core values at GlobalGiving is Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat. But sometimes the first three steps — Listen, Act, Learn. — teach us that we shouldn’t Repeat, at least not in the same way. And that’s a good thing. A solution is more often than not an iterative process. So we encourage you to keep that cycle of learning going by continuously listening, acting, and learning — and don’t forget to share your findings with your supporters and constituents to show your pride in trying new things, and your tenacity to try again in a different way.


Fail Forward Contest 2015

Fail Forward Contest 2015

Last year, we held our first Fail Forward Contest to push our Project Leaders to recognize, learn from, and report on failure. The results included a collection of stories dedicated to failures in meeting needs of constituents, making and keeping contracts, and fundraising effectively. Not only did our Project Leaders succeed in acknowledging their failure, but they also reflected on how this failure shaped future actions.

Failure is rarely a one-time occurrence. While our nonprofit partners may have learned from their failures, new failures are bound to happen. Since the last Fail Forward Contest, GlobalGiving has experienced failure a number of times. We are true believers in the power of experimentation. While Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat. is one of our values, we find that we sometimes, do not need to repeat after completing the first three steps. An example of one our recent failures is the Generous Giver Card.

Generous Giver Card

Listen – We’ve heard from our community that it’s important that we are continuously seeking ways to motivate donors to give to the amazing projects on the GlobalGiving platform, and we couldn’t agree more with this sentiment. We knew we needed to find a new way to motivate donors to give.

Act – Last year, we designed a program we hoped  would incentivize  giving behavior. The Generous Giver Card was designed for our repeat donors who did not yet want the commitment of a recurring donation to the same project. We hoped to motivate and incentivize repeat donors to give monthly to different projects, and we hypothesized that the Generous Giver Card would motivate donors to give on a monthly basis. The idea of the Generous Giver Card was inspired by Frequent Buyer Cards,  also known as Loyalty Cards, which you may have used before at  some of your favorite local establishments. Frequent Buyer Cards work to create a sense of loyalty with customers and provide an incentive to come back. The idea is to reward you for choosing that establishment. At your local coffee shop you might sometimes get a regular cup of coffee and might at times get a Latte, but the point is that you got it there. So, we gave this concept a try. The Generous Giver card included four areas for checkmarks. If a donor returned each month to give to a project then he or she would receive the next checkmark in the series. At the end of the trial period, a randomized set of donors with all four checkmarks would have their donations matched.

Learn – 98% of donors who were randomly entered into the Generous Giver Card program did not return to give after the first month.  When the experiment ended, only one donor successfully checked all four boxes. While we had expected the Generous Giver Card to be an excellent option, the proof was in the numbers. The Generous Giver Card was not a success.  We were definitely shocked! How could something that we really thought was going to motivate donors fail so clearly? Now, it was time for us to learn.  First, we examined the results. And, we found some design flaws. One being, experimenting with the Generous Giver Card during the months of November – December. At GlobalGiving we’ve found that most givers during these month are one-time givers, so we began to question the donor set that we were working with. If we conducted this experiment in say May, would it have been more successful? We also questioned our requirement of four months. If we had designed an experiment with two check boxes, would it have yielded more success?

Repeat? – Sometimes, when you fail, you can have even more questions than you started out with, and this is where repeat comes in. Perhaps, a card designed for less than four months would have been more successful. This year, we are deciding if we want to try out the Generous Giver Card experiment again but with different variables. What we do know is we are not going to move forward with the Generous Giver Card as it is now.  

We now ask you to reflect on a time when your own organization has failed and share it with us and your supporters in GlobalGiving’s second Fail Forward Contest.

September 17th through October 16th, organizations that submit Fail Forward stories via GlobalGiving project reports will be eligible for cash prizes and social media promotion.

Need some inspiration? Check out this website for more examples and information about why this is important. Looking for more ideas? Take a look at last year’s winners here and read through and complete the failure worksheets here.

How does the Fail Forward Contest work?

  1. Submit a GlobalGiving project report for your donors featuring a story about a time that your organization tried something that didn’t work, but that allowed you to learn something that ultimately helped improve your work. Make sure that you include the word “fail,” “ failed,” or “failure” in your project report title in order for the report to be eligible.
  2. Once you’ve submitted your report, use this online form to send us your project ID and the date of your report between Thursday, September 17th and 5 pm EDT on Friday, October 16th.
  3. GlobalGiving will review all submissions, and the top three Fail Forward stories will be featured in GlobalGiving’s social media outreach; plus, these organizations will receive a monetary prize to be used for their work.  First place will receive $1,000; second place will receive $600; and third place will receive $400.
  4. Those who participate will also be eligible for GG Rewards points for two DIY cycles. More information about this will be sent to each Project Leader who submits the submission  form.

What is GlobalGiving looking for in a Fail Forward story?

A clear and compelling story that includes the following:

  • What your organization was trying to achieve and why
  • What the idea or method was that you tried
  • Why the idea or method failed – admit responsibility!
  • What your organization learned from the experiment
  • How your organization is using that experience to improve its work

Don’t forget — the most important part of failure is learning from it, and in order to learn from it we need to talk about failure. We’ve shared one of our failures, now it’s your turn. Together let’s create a culture where failure isn’t the end of world, but rather a cycle of learning that allows us to move forward and ultimately succeed even if it’s in a way that surprises. us.  

If you need guidance on how to recognize and learn from failure, check out our Social Impact Academy session on failure, featuring a failure expert and last year’s Fail Forward Contest winner, here.

Still have questions? Email us at