My Fabulous Failure

I was talking to a friend today about how I came to be in fundraising. It was an odd transition from retired Canadian Forces Air Navigator to some odd job contract work to volunteer management to fund raising and kind of all over the place in not for profit work. I love my job and I’m getting the results I need to keep it but I’ve not always enjoyed success.

I learned mostly from volunteering at events like Pride London and political campaigns to volunteering for what was then the AIDS Committee of London and my biggest, most fabulous failure the London Area Rainbow Coalition (I think that was the name? It was a while ago).


At the time people in London were agitating for change, for a place where the Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, 2-Spirited, Queer and Questioning communities could gather.

Some friends and acquaintances formed a board to address the issue. We created mission, vision, and values. We held a couple fundraising events but when push came to shove we simply could not deliver anything concrete to the community. We all wanted something to happen but our early enthusiasm petered out as we went months without being able to move the agenda forward.

As quickly as we formed we dissolved in a boring meeting over coffee and donated the funds raised to a local charity.

It was a fabulous failure. I learned a lot about myself, leadership and community collaboration. I’m still embarrassed that we couldn’t make it work but looking back we didn’t know any better, none of us having served on a operational board. We made some classic mistakes that people who’ve never been on a board do. We may have been using the wrong model to address the issue.

Community building is hard work. The types of folks who agitate for change tend to be quirky, at least I certainly am, passionate and strongly motivated to make change happen. It’s hard to coordinate complex tasks among a completely volunteer team where common available time is scarce on the ground. That’s why in many community collaboration endeavours there is funding for a backbone, a staff person, a space to keep the process moving forward.

My fabulous failure taught me that I need to be realistic about the time commitment I can make to a specific project. I need to be mindful of managing conflicts that arise in groups. I try to be genuine so I have little patience for drama and subterfuge, wherever they creep up, but I need to also be open for people to change. My thoughts on giving and receiving feedback. I need to remember to extend the benefit of the doubt to others, to address conflicts discreetly and quickly and to stay focus on the reason that brought me to volunteer.

Staying focused on the mission/objective/desired outcome anchors group work in a very special way. I love this video about collective effort and community impact:

Since my failed attempt to change the world I went on to serve a 6 year term on a not for profit board that is now coming to a close. I know now what it takes to make change happen and I’m excited about some possibilities in my life to share with others what I’ve learned along the way to nicer.


One response

  1. Thanks for sharing Nat, that was a good read! We are always feeling obligated to present ourselves and our organizations in the best possible light. As a result, we often leave out the mistakes and failures when we share our histories. I have often felt that I learn so much from the things that I failed at, or the things that didn’t go as planned. The other thing this blog got me thinking about was the power of diverse boards. Having allies on board who support our causes but are not necessarily ‘like-minded’ has been a valuable experience for me.

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