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

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