Fail Forward Contest Posts

Announcing the 2017 Fail Forward Winners!

Announcing the 2017 Fail Forward Winners!

In this year’s Fail Forward contest, we acknowledged that we all are constantly learning. Failure is one of the key components to organizational growth. This year, project leaders did not just share their stories of failure, but they shared how their organizations grew greater from the experience. Organizations transformed their challenges into successes by listening, acting, learning, and repeating!

Thank you to all the participants this year. We were overwhelmed by your wisdom, growth, and adaptability. Three organizations shared their story of learning through failure particularly well. The 2017 Fail Forward winners are:

Submit to the 2017 Fail Forward Contest!

Submit to the 2017 Fail Forward Contest!

By Sonja Knudson, Program Team Fellow 2017-2018

Innovation is impossible without failure.  If you look at very successful people, their careers began with failure. Before he founded Microsoft, Bill Gates’ first product was a complete disaster. In high school, Michael Jordan was denied from the varsity basketball team. Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first job at a news station before her huge success as a television host. At GlobalGiving, we recognize the importance of failure. One of GlobalGiving’s core values is ‘Listen, Act, Learn, and Repeat– we try, fail productively, and continuously strive to learn from our experiences.

In our fourth annual Fail Forward Contest, we want to celebrate your failures! But not only that– we want you to share with your donors how your organization failed and then ‘Listened, Acted, Learned and Repeated’ in order to grow as an organization.

Enter the Fail Forward Contest by submitting your failure story today through October 27th, 2017 midnight EDT and your organization will be entered to win a cash bonus prize and promotion on our social media & blog! Sign up here and see submission details below.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
– Henry Ford

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…

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

Two years ago, GlobalGiving invested a lot of time and energy to rebuild our fundraiser feature.  The fundraiser tool allows donors to raise money on behalf of their favorite projects on GlobalGiving, usually around a specific event like a birthday or marathon.  We thought this would be a great tool not just for our donors, but for our nonprofit partners as well.  We wanted to encourage our nonprofit partners to use the tool, so we created a special campaign that would reward organizations when their supporters raised money through the fundraiser tool for their projects during the month of September 2013.  We wrote the terms, set aside several thousand dollars in prize money, held a training webinar, built a leaderboard, and answered a LOT of questions. We set goals for the campaign around the number of organizations that would participate and the total donations that would be raised.

Fundraiser Campaign Leaderboard

Fundraiser Campaign Leaderboard

When the end of the campaign came around, we discovered that we hadn’t hit our goals.  Fewer than a dozen organizations had actually participated in the campaign and we hadn’t helped them raise the funds we were expecting.  On top of that, we found that our team had spent a lot of time managing the campaign – answering questions, training organizations, and trying to make a very complicated campaign easier to understand.  Because we track how we spend our time each day, we discovered that we actually spent significantly more time on this campaign than almost any previous campaign, but we raised far less money.  By any measure, this campaign was a failure for GlobalGiving (although the few organizations that did participate did an excellent job!).  We could have just ignored this campaign and never talked about it again.  Alternatively, we could have ignored the results and done the exact same campaign the next year.

Instead, we reached out to some organizations that participated and some that didn’t participate to find out what these organizations thought of the campaign. We learned that the rules of this campaign were too complicated – GlobalGiving didn’t do a great job explaining these complicated rules to our nonprofit partners, and likewise, it was difficult for them to explain the rules to their donors.  We also learned that the timing of the campaign didn’t align well with many organizations’ outreach–it was hard to dictate when their advocates wanted to use fundraising pages based on our campaign’s timeline.  We met as a team to figure out what went well and what could be improved about the campaign. We shared those results, both internally within our staff and with some of our external partners. Ultimately, we decided to not run the campaign the following year and instead use the time and money to add an additional Bonus Day in 2014 – the type of campaign that our partners said they valued the most.

It is hard to admit when an idea or experiment doesn’t work, but it’s especially important in the development arena to not just admit when something fails, but to learn from that failure. (Let’s call these “Fail Forward” stories!) nonprofits can’t afford to make the same mistakes again and again; our missions are too important. Sharing your failures with your peers can help move the whole sector forward.

That’s why we want to hear your Fail Forward stories – and we’re offering some incentives!


Now through October 10th, organizations that submit Fail Forward stories via GlobalGiving project reports will be eligible for cash prizes and social media promotion. This is a unique opportunity to share your organization’s story with GlobalGiving’s supporters.

Need some inspiration? Check out this website for more examples and information about why this is important.


How does it 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 learned something that ultimately helped improve your work
  2. Once you’ve submitted your report, use this online form to send us your project ID and the date of your report by Friday, October 10th.
  3. GlobalGiving will review all the submissions and the top three stories will be featured in GlobalGiving’s social media and will receive cash prizes.  First place will receive $1000; second place will receive $600; and third place will receive $400.


*What is GlobalGiving looking for in a Fail Forward story?

A clear and compelling story that includes a description of:

  • 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 — part of talking about failure is admitting responsibility. We’re not looking to create a circle of blame, but instead, to take ownership over our own work, and also to be set free from past mistakes because we’re learning and growing, and ultimately improving from them!