[Idea File] FailFaire: An event of errors

Confronting mistakes head on is often done in the business sector, but not so much in the nonprofit world. Why? There can be a lot at stake – maybe you have to answer to donors, or you work with vulnerable populations, or you’re worried about offending someone.

But mistakes happen. They happen often. And if we’re honest enough to admit our mistakes to ourselves and to others—and have a sense of humor about it—we can learn a lot.


Photo via Kristen Taylor (Flickr)

This is the philosophy behind FailFaire, an event hosted by MobileActive.org. The gathering focuses on errors related to MobileActive’s mission (using cell phones in development work). Attendees discuss how X project slipped through the cracks or why Y grant never came through. But instead receiving stern looks of disapproval, the atmosphere is open and supportive. Drinks and food are served alongside failures, and presenters are encouraged to be honest, light-hearted and even irreverent.

The idea is quickly catching on. The first FailFaire event was held in New York City this summer. The World Bank co-hosted an event in Washington, D.C. a few months later, and recently the Social Capital Market’s Conference copied the model and held one in San Francisco revolving around social entrepreneurship. The potential for FailFaire to be replicated all over the world, covering not only facets of the nonprofit sector but other fields as well,  is enormous.

If you’re failure-friendly, the site has a tip sheet of how to host your own event and a blog with some great stories and advice.

FailFaire could very well be the beginnings of a cultural shift in the nonprofit sector – and I have a feeling it won’t fail.

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