The Benefits of Humor and Play in Nonprofit Work

Recently, I was reminded of this powerful quote: “Don’t be afraid to start over again. This time you’re not starting from scratch, you’re starting from experience.”

Nonprofits, just like any other organization, go through cycles – periods of growth, stability, and, yes, even struggle. Sometimes, despite all our best intentions and hard work, things don’t go as planned. The fundraising campaign falls short, the community outreach isn’t attracting the right people, or maybe the grant proposal didn’t get approved. It’s tough, but it’s also okay. Seriously, it is. Because every one of these “setbacks” isn’t really a setback at all – it’s an opportunity to grow.

When you’re faced with these challenges, don’t forget the goldmine of experience you’ve built up. Experience is the invaluable asset that can pave your way forward. Starting over doesn’t mean erasing everything and going back to square one. It means taking what you’ve learned, applying it, and carving out a more effective path.

Remember, each attempt, each experience, is a valuable chapter in your organization’s story. Sure, it might be tempting to hide the chapters that didn’t quite go as planned, but I encourage you to resist that temptation. These experiences, these stories of perseverance, are what makes your nonprofit authentic, relatable, and, most importantly, human.

Perhaps a project didn’t yield the results you were hoping for. It happens. Instead of considering it a failure, think of it as a valuable lesson. What did it teach you about your organization, your community, your mission? What can you do differently next time?

Keep in mind that learning from experience is not exclusive to your team alone. Share these experiences with your donors, supporters, and the community you serve. Transparency fosters trust, and people love to support a cause they trust.

Yes, starting over can seem daunting, but let’s flip that narrative. A restart can be refreshing if you’re in the right mindset. You now have the chance to reinvent and improve, using the lessons from the past as your guiding light. Isn’t it motivating to think of it that way?

Furthermore, when you start from experience, you’re armed with insights that weren’t there at the very beginning. You now have a clearer picture of what works and what doesn’t. You’re better equipped to anticipate potential pitfalls and to understand the unique needs and interests of your community. You’ve sharpened your strategies, honed your skills, and can now strike with more precision towards your goals.

When things don’t go as planned, it’s important to conduct a post-mortem analysis, or a “learning review”. This doesn’t have to be a solemn, somber affair. Rather, consider it a celebration of learning and growth. Here’s a simple roadmap to guide you.

1. Gather Your Team

First, get your team together. After all, every setback or challenge is a shared experience, and therefore, the review should be a collaborative effort too. Encourage everyone to participate openly. It’s vital to foster a non-judgmental space where people feel comfortable sharing their insights.

2. Identify What Happened

Next, lay out the specifics of what happened. Be as detailed as you can. For example, if a fundraising campaign didn’t reach its goal, outline the strategies employed, how much was raised, and the feedback received. This will give you a clear understanding of the situation.

3. Discuss and Reflect

Now, it’s time for reflection. Ask your team: What worked? What didn’t? What could we have done differently? Be open to all perspectives. Remember, this isn’t about finger-pointing; it’s about uncovering insights to strengthen your approach moving forward.

4. Highlight the Lessons

Once you’ve gathered everyone’s insights, distill them down to key lessons learned. These lessons will serve as your building blocks for future initiatives. They are the experience you’ll start from next time around.

5. Turn Lessons into Action

Finally, it’s essential to convert these lessons into actionable steps. Create a plan for how you will implement these learnings in your next project. Will you change your outreach strategy? Adjust your fundraising goals? Partner with different organizations? Whatever they may be, having these steps will give your team a clear roadmap to success.

Remember, the goal of this process isn’t to dwell on what went wrong, but rather to illuminate the path to improvement. The beauty of it is that you’re not just reacting to a setback – you’re proactively turning it into a stepping stone for future success. That’s the power of starting from experience.

So let’s not be afraid of starting over. Let’s not view it as a step backward, but as a productive leap forward. Let’s take that quote to heart: “Don’t be afraid to start over again. This time you’re not starting from scratch, you’re starting from experience.”

Every nonprofit journey is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s filled with ups and downs, twists and turns. And just like any marathon runner will tell you, it’s the experience, the perseverance, and the lessons learned along the way that truly count.

Mission Forward

Mission Forward is a weekly LinkedIn Newsletter written by Paul Durban with tools, tips and tricks to help nonprofits reach their goals. Subscribe to the newsletter on LinkedIn.