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Given Lemonade? Just Add Sugar.

Turning mistakes into opportunities

I recall, early in my career, one afternoon when the entire staff from the development office was running around like chickens with their heads cut off, screaming at everyone because a donor’s name was misspelled on the roster.

Did the donor care? Nope. And if she did, she forgot fast. If Americans can forget 911 (yes, unfortunately, many have), do not flatter yourself by thinking they are going to remember your typo. Sorry.

Shift your attention. Instead of focusing on blame, use mistakes to your advantage.

I once received an email from a fundraiser who admonished me for having a couple of typos in our magazine Giving Tomorrow. She said she’d somewhat lost respect for it.

Giving Tomorrow magazine is not supposed to be a literary work. It’s a paper for ideas. To train, educate and inspire.

So what did I do about the three typos? I used them to my advantage:

  1. I thanked her and sent her a Starbucks card.
  2. Then advertised 7 intentional typos for the next issue and blog, offering gift cards to the first 7 responders who found them.

It worked, and it worked well. The only thing I did not take into account was receiving an email at 6:45 AM from Jeff Comfort over at Oregon State (see the webinar we’re doing together), who claimed I was neglecting a key point:

“Viken, this is not fair for West Coast people who are three hours behind.

Jeff was one of the winners.

Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch

And here’s one of my favorite examples of turning a gaffe into gold, from back in 2011: A Red Cross employee using Hootsuite (a multiple social media platform management gateway) accidentally published a personal tweet to the charity’s corporate site:

“… found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer … when we drink, we do it right. #gettngslizzered

The tweet was up for only an hour before it was removed — calls came in the middle of the night — but the nonprofit’s staff realized the mistake could cause some serious damage if a response wasn’t posted. It quickly used humor to defuse the situation:

“We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.”

The employee who accidentally posted it sent a tweet as well, apologizing and accepting responsibility for the mistake, and assuring people she wasn’t “slizzerd.”

It Did Not Finish There!

But here’s where their quick, funny response really paid off: The Dogfish Head brewery itself stepped in with a tweet encouraging Dogfish fans to give to The Red Cross. They included a donation link and the hashtag #gettnslizzerd

It was a brilliant recovery; a perfect example of a nonprofit’s ability to turn a mistake into a marketing opportunity. (And if you read Graham-Pelton President Elizabeth Zeigler’s Q&A about responding to a crisis in Giving Tomorrow, you’ll realize it backs up her point about communicating frequently and directly, too.)

The takeaway from these examples is this:

Mistakes happen. Learn from them, and use them to your advantage.

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