Permission to Fail in 2018

| by Shannon Williams

We are eleven days into 2018. At this point, the new year still holds promise. No matter what your 2017 was like, on January 11th most of us still believe this year will be better. 

Michael Green, CEO of the  Social Progress Imperative says in a recent Non-Profit Times article, “The world is going to get better in 2018.” Although, I am generally a glass half full kind of girl, I can see why some people might question this statement during a time where uncertainty and unpredictability loom around every corner, and in every tweet. 

Green is confident in his prediction because he is a numbers guy. In fact, his organization tracks the Social Progress Index, which he says:  

has been tracking the real quality of life — measured in terms of health, education, rights and all the other stuff that really matters — of about 95 percent of the world’s population since 2014. And what we have found is, overall, steady progress. To be precise, from 2014 to 2017 world social progress rose by 2.6 percent from 63.19 out of 100 to 64.85. A small increase, but significant. 

Sounds like good news and it is, but Green says the news could be even better. 

A deeper analysis of Social Progress Index data shows that we could, if we used the resources already available, be doing a lot better. To do that we would need to increase flows of aid from richer to poorer countries and do a better job of scaling the ideas that work at the expense of those that don’t. 

And this sentiment, rings true not only on a global scale, but likely in most local communities as well 

The Armstrong McGuire team recently had a chance to spend time with some of our state’s leading foundation leaders and this theme surfaced in our conversation as well. Even though there is much to be proud of across North Carolina’s non-profit sector, the question remains, are we doing all that we can?  

Whether you are on the non-profit or the funding side of the fence, we asked whether we are truly maximizing our resources. The key elements in our conversation were focused on program and sector innovation, leadership at the board and staff level, organizational partnerships that transcend the need to receive or take individual credit for collective success. 

We did not have all the answers, but we did agree that in order to promote innovation and leadership, funders have to be able to tolerate—maybe even celebrate failure. We cannot always expect to measure return on investment in outcomes based measures. Sometimes the return might come through the lessons learned from a program that did not achieve the expected results. Sometimes the results are not quantifiable—and that can still mean success. 

Failure has been called the foundation of innovation. But current non-profit culture largely lacks innovation because we are deathly afraid to fail. We have been programmed against it by funders, donors, the media, government—who all want non-profits to achieve remarkable results with unremarkable resources. At times, we have been more interested to how much blood we can squeeze out of a turnip than in the notion of growing a bigger, juicier turnip. 

In our conversation, our collective outlook on 2018 was positive. Like Green, we believe our little part of the world will be better in 2018, but ultimately, we took a longer view. And, we concluded that in order to be all that we can be as a non-profit sector, we need to develop a culture of innovation, and that does not come without some failure along the way. And that has to be ok starting in 2018 if we going to have a better 2019, 2020 and beyond. 

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