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Failure Isn’t Fatal: Nonprofits are changemakers.

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 Sheila Bravo | President & CEO of DANA

They are the community’s innovators, identifying opportunities to create positive social impacts in our neighborhoods and the State.  We have seen many new nonprofits start in the past two years as social issues simmering in the shadows bubbled up and the health crisis made it impossible to ignore the disparities within our neighborhoods.  These start-ups are invigorated with the possibilities of what can be done, seeking resources from the community to help them make a difference.

A few years on, as a nonprofit’s brand gets established, it starts to add employees and facilities. It makes more commitments to donors, partners, and clients. The early days of trying out new things fade away as the stakes become higher.  The grants and contracts secured are designated for specific activities, and nonprofit leadership becomes focused on honoring those commitments and serving their clients and patrons. Most resources are designated for programmatic implementation, little is left for evaluation, contemplation, and innovation.  Nonprofit boards also become more focused on preserving the mission and the organization’s assets.  This includes not just funding, but also the brand. Trying out untested approaches becomes too risky as failure could have high consequences.  It could cost a donor, a volunteer, a client, and for some nonprofits, a life.

However, failure is also a necessity. Without learning from our errors, without trying new things, our ability to serve in the future can become less meaningful and impactful.  There is comfort in our routines, yet tried and true methods eventually become obsolete.

The pandemic pushed us to new levels of thinking differently.  Nonprofit leaders stretched their imaginations and their resources to adjust to the whirlwind of uncertainty. Decisions and choices were never perfect, and yet, they had to make the call, leap into the unknown, and plan to mitigate any risk that may occur.  Their organization’s survival required constant adaptation.

Our communities will forever be changed by the happenings of these past two years, and what is to come. The glaring social disparities must be addressed.  Rapidly changing technology, sizeable demographic shifts in our communities, a considerable infusion of federal investment in infrastructure, an ever-widening wealth gap, and the impact of a changing climate will require new approaches.

As the crisis subsides and society settles into a new “normal,” I encourage nonprofit boards and leadership to not become complacent – rather harness those innovative juices that spurred us to navigate the pandemic and discover ways to serve.  I also ask donors to trust nonprofits to give them latitude to try and fail, so they can ultimately find the right solution to create the transformative impact they know can make.

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