Admitting failure can be a good thing

(and not just because of schadenfreude)

By Sue Wixley 15 April 2010

Everyone loves failure, as long as it’s not their own.

Indeed, I expected participants at a seminar we organised with the Charity Finance Directors’ Group and Farrer & Co today to arrive with paper bags over their heads lest anyone assume their charity or foundation had more than a passing interest in ‘Handling a failing project’ – the topic of our discussion.

But, the more I heard from the speakers and the audience this morning, the more I realised how important it is that charities embrace failure and own up to it.

Apparently this report on Age Concern England’s Heyday membership scheme is required reading for anyone interested in the subject of charity failure.

These were no small mistakes: “There were critical flaws both in the underlying strategy [of Heyday] and in the way in which it was executed. The market research on which it was based was inadequate and the governance process did not provide sufficient effective challenge.”

And these are not the charity’s words but those of the man who led an independent review, Sir Christopher Kelly – who, it seems, took on the independent review of Heyday as light relief from the MP expenses scandal he was examining last year.

Wouldn’t it be great if more charities ‘fessed up to their mistakes? And better still, if they did this publicly, say in an annual report, so we could all learn from them.

(To read previous posts on learning from failure, see here and here.)