Kirsty Marrins: Make 2017 your year to take risks and fail

Three things our columnist hopes to see more of from charities in order to grow, develop and strengthen the sector

Kirsty Marrins
Kirsty Marrins

Warning: This is not a post about digital trends or predictions for 2017 — sorry to disappoint you if that’s what you were looking for but I am not a digital fortune teller. Rather, this is post about three things I would love charities to be doing more of in 2017 in order to grow, develop and strengthen the sector.

Take more risks

Be bold in 2017 and try something new. It’s getting harder on social media, and Facebook in particular, to reach your audience but it can be done with a bit of effort. Firstly, start with an audit of your content from 2016. Which posts got the most engagement and why? Analyse those posts – what were the keywords, what was the format (eg. video, photo or just text), what time were they posted and on which days. This should give you a really good idea about what your audience likes and responds to and what it would like to see more of. Now, take that knowledge and try something new — perhaps a ‘here’s what we hope to achieve in 2017’ message from your CEO in a Facebook or Twitter Live format if you’ve never used live streaming.

Talk about failure

We don’t talk about failure enough in this sector, in my opinion, which is a real shame as there is so much to be learnt from our own failures as well as the failure of others. Failure is not a dirty word — as long as you can learn from it. Put processes in place so that you don’t commit the same mistake again and move forward without dwelling too much on it then it can be a positive thing. Mark Goldring, CEO of Oxfam, recently admitted to a seminar of charity professionals, organised by Cass Business School’s centre for charity effectiveness, that Oxfam had made major errors over both the ‘perfect storm’ tweet and how it handled the row over their former ambassador Scarlett Johansson’s involvement with a company who had operations in an Israeli settlement on the West Bank. A CEO talking about failure is refreshing — and essential if you’re looking to create a culture where it’s ok to fail.

When I worked at JustGiving we were encouraged to share our failures in what was called ‘church of fail’ at our bi-monthly all staff meetings. Speaking openly about failure, particularly when it comes from the top down, allows people to be bolder and take more risks that may or may not work out. JustGiving, and a few of the big charities, operates with a ‘fail fast and grow’ mentality. This simply means thinking like a startup and working in an agile way where you don’t wait until something is perfect to launch, but rather launch with a ‘minimum viable product’ and learn and iterate as you go along. You’ll quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. Take heed though — this doesn’t mean rushing things.

If you take my advice above, then prepare for some of the new things you try to not work. And that’s ok — as long as you learn from it.

Share what you’ve learnt

One of the things I love most about the charity sector is our willingness to share knowledge with our peers and this is evident everywhere — from blog posts, conferences, meetups, webinars and free guides to online and offline groups. We can only grow stronger, be more efficient and effective through learning — from ourselves and from others. So, if you try something and it’s a great success then share some tips with all of us. Equally if you try something and it fails, share your lessons.

2017 is going to be hugely challenging for charities with government grants dwindling, the launch of the Fundraising Preference Service (not to mention upcoming changes to data protection rules under the General Data Protection Regulation) as well as trying to rebuild public trust. The more we can learn from each other, the stronger we’ll be.

Kirsty Marrins is a digital communications consultant and a trustee of the Small Charities Coalition

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