How many times have you heard somebody (probably your mother) say to you, “Learn from your mistakes!”
It turns out that your mother was on to something. We can, in fact, learn a lot from our failures, missteps, and missed opportunities.
When it comes to training fundraisers to make the all-important face-to-face ask, encouraging them to intentionally make mistakes creates a safe, funny, and playful opportunity to learn how to do it effectively.
Let’s face it — getting it right the first time creates lot of pressure. Intentionally practicing the visit the wrong way injects a lot of comedy into your training and reduces the stress of possible failure.
Fundraisers behaving badly – an improv role play
To demonstrate how much you can learn from other people’s mistakes (not to mention your own), here’s a simple exercise from our colleague Rachel Muir at Pursuant. Thanks, Rachel!
- With your group, brainstorm all the bad behaviors and mistakes you might make when meeting with donors. Write these suggestions on a flip chart.
- Recruit a person to play the donor – yes, this is a role play – or perhaps two people to play a donor couple. (Because you can make different mistakes when you’re talking with two people…!)
- Everyone else lines up to meet with the donors. Each solicitor gets one minute with the donor(s) to demonstrate as many bad behaviors as possible. Prepare for laughter, because it’s funny watching other people behave badly.
- After a minute, ring your bell. The first solicitor leaves, the second steps in, and the conversation continues exactly where it left off. Repeat until everyone gets a chance to make the visit.
- Debrief by asking the group the following questions.
- What mistakes did we all make?
- How did it feel to participate? To watch others?
- What did you learn?
- How can we behave better with donors? (Make a list on your flip chart).
- Repeat the exercise. This time, instruct the solicitors to practice the ideal donor meeting, using the positive behaviors you just listed.
- Debrief as before.
When you find the bad, you feel good
My friend Amy O’Connor wrote a really, really, REALLY bad fundraising letter for training purposes. She would hand it out during workshops, ask people to gather in small groups, and instruct them to count all the errors in the letter. The team identifying the most errors won a prize.
For a financial management workshop, I did something similar, creating a faulty profit and loss statement with lots of mistakes. Same training model – small groups, locate all the errors, win the prize.
People get excited by these exercises. It’s like working a puzzle. When you find the mistakes, you feel smart.
I’ve tried these types of exercises both ways – for example, handing out a strong appeal letter and asking participants to itemize its virtues. This works fine, but there’s a lot more energy when the group critiques something terrible.
I wouldn’t design an entire workshop based on this principle – things can go negative pretty quickly – but in small doses, it can be very useful.
Building from bad
As a trainer, how you can you build productive “mistake practice” into your agenda?
Think about something you want people to do really well. Then see if you can create an exercise or activity where the learning comes from doing the work as poorly as possible.
Then you can ask, “What did you learn from your mistakes?”
Your mother will be so proud.