Ask your donor to sponsor a spreadsheet. Or tell them a story of failure.

21 Jan

ImageEngineers without Borders Canada ran a gutsy appeal in 2010 asking donors to sponsor a spreadsheet, instead of a child. The point of this appeal was that all too often, donors are so caught up in the business of supporting hardware, or visible symbols of change like a school, books or uniforms, that many of them don’t see the value of the detailed planning, the software, that goes into running the school well.

Or so we think. Surely a donor would understand that his or her money is better spent in getting the neighbourhood school running, rather than in building a new school? Then why is so much of our fundraising about hardware?

I’ve often heard that raising money for the soft stuff needs a different breed of donor. What it actually needs is a gutsy ask.

One form of a gutsy ask is telling your story of failure, which is told – if at all – in hushed boardroom conversations.

David Damberger talks about this in his riveting TED talk about learning from failure in development. A project to bring clean water to Malawi failed and 10 years later, another project, funded by a different donor, built the same things all over again. There was no acknowledgment of, leave alone learning from, the previous failure. No surprise then, that the project failed in exactly the same manner 10 years later.

What didn’t work? Why? And how has that changed what I’m asking of the donor?

Drag failure out of the closet. Acknowledge it, learn from it and try telling the donor what you plan to do differently. I’m guessing you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Want to know more about admitting failure? Or take a look at EWB’s 2010 failure report.


One Response to “Ask your donor to sponsor a spreadsheet. Or tell them a story of failure.”


  1. Learning from failure | CSL4D - September 15, 2014

    […] others to share their lessons, too. And they started an awakening call, asking donors to “Sponsor a Spreadsheet” (for maintenance planning) instead of a […]

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