Seattle Works

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Be transparent: Owning up to failures and other lessons February 13, 2013

Filed under: Grab bag — seattleworks @ 5:39 pm

On Monday Bevin, Ben, and I wandered down to South Lake Union to hear Beth Kanter speak about Data, Transparency, and Measurement. We knew she’d be excellent, but we weren’t prepared for how awesome the entire panel ended up being.  Moderated by the always engaging Erica Mills, Kanter was joined by Paul Shoemaker (Social Venture Partners), Jane Meseck (Microsoft Giving) and Eric Stowe (

Nancy White at Full Circle Associates did an awesome post about the event that goes more in-depth but we’ve got a few lessons learned below.

One of our key take-aways? Embracing that transparency means failing out loud. The audience all was encouraged to stand up, raise our hands, and loudly say “I failed.” Instead of presenting the picture-perfect nonprofit we were encouraging to talk to our donors about the realities, programs that worked alongside programs that didn’t work. Paul Shoemaker talked about the importance of funders leading in this area and sticking by NGOs that are making mistakes and fixing them. Jane said “Funders and NPOs should enter data together and we should fail together.”

Which brings us back to one of the central questions of the evening- what is success? Without knowing what success and failure look like how can you be sure your program is doing good? If you can’t prove your doing social good Eric Stowe thought your nonprofit status should be taken away. Or more directly “If someone says it’s too hard to measure; don’t fund them.”

We know measurement and evaluation is hard- but this whole talk really enforced the necessity of it from both a donor and nonprofit standpoint. And as Beth said ““If I can learn to love measurement, you can too!” The more accountable everyone is the more good that’s going to get done. Both hard data and stories were cited as important for learning and sharing your organization’s story. What are your kickbutt indicators that show how strong your nonprofit is?

Check out Kanter’s blog on the subject if you get a chance! An excellent summary.


2 Responses to “Be transparent: Owning up to failures and other lessons”

  1. Thanks for sharing perspectives on what was–indeed–a lively and somewhat mind-blow conversation! For those who weren’t able to attend and/or those who like ‘reruns’, here’s a “Highlights Reel” post with links to the webcast.

  2. […] can’t agree on a metric to see what a high performing teacher is. I immediately thought back to Beth Kanter’s recent event and the importance of data and transparency in order to be […]

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