How to fail – my top 5 mistakes (plus an infographic of some things I did right)

After six years and quite a few job titles, the time has come for me to move on from the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign to an exciting new role as Director of Fundraising and Marketing for Dignity in Dying. In my last few weeks of an epic three month notice period I took stock of what I have learnt.

What I learnt, was how to fail.

My top 5 #Fails

1. I late adopted

Sometimes the “next big thing” is the last thing we want to hear about. When you are a one and a half man digital team (half of me, one web manager) you don’t want another profile to manage. For this reason, I was very late to the Twitter party – what opportunity did I miss when my head was buried in Facebook?

I think I made up for it later, and a combination of getting colleagues posting their own content on Twitter coupled with a bit of content curation (like Storify)  is paying dividends now. But it all should have happened a year sooner I think.

LEARNING: You’ve got to be in it to win, fail fast

2. I made my mind up

I’m stubborn. Once I have decided something is a waste of time, it is a waste of time.

I would tell people not to waste time messing around with Google+. “Meh to Google+” I would say, *tumbleweed*. But the goal posts are always moving, especially in digital places, and a closed mind will fast go down the path of making big mistakes. Is it time for a rethink?

Fortunately I often caveat my Google+ advice by saying,  “if three people ask you why you are not on there then, perhaps, you should consider it”. So I might just wriggle my way out of that one. But I am still questioning my thinking on it. I am a fan of Google products and have heard the Google+ described by a very smart man (smarter than me, as I have forgotten his name but it was in a Google+ hangout at BarcampNFP) as “a platform unlike any other”. Also I recently read that Google+ is Google. Deal

LEARNING: Beware a closed mind

3. Nothing is optimised for mobile

Not one stinking page on the sites I looked after. It’s all pinch in, pinch out, thumb around and pinch again. I know how important it is, but I have failed to make it happen. I’ve included it in my handover, but that is lame. Utter fail.

LEARNING: Try harder, it’s always possible/worth it

4. I spend more time capturing data than analysing it

So much bloody data! Email data, web analytics, Facebook insights, social media monitoring, direct mail response rates, dashboards, heatmaps, reports, income forecasts…will it never end!

But what did I do with it all? Did I notice what the data was showing me and recommend the right way forward?

Well, some of the time I made good changes and some of the time I spent ages crunching numbers, slaving over a hot spread sheet only to realise I don’t know what the bloody hell is actually going on. But I can make a nice graph.

LEARNING: Always be clear about the difference between reporting and analysis?

5. I work too hard (no really)

I wanted to prove how vital adoption of digital tools and tactics to an organisation like MDC was and is. To a certain extent, I think I may have, but in doing so I have made my remit and workload too large. After an intensive three day handover with my replacement, it dawned on me how much stuff beyond what is the core of my job I do.

I’m always sticking my nose into other people’s problems to – I like to fix things. I like to show people how to do stuff – I’m part trainer/part coach and I love that. But it does mean to get all the core work done, you have to read draft copy on the way in to work, arrive a bit early, leave a bit late, skip a proper lunch break and tweet from the train on the way home. I’m a victim of the ease of mobile working. (Got your violin out yet?)

In all seriousness, no matter how good someone is at their job and developing their role, the more they do that the harder they are to replace and the bigger the risk of them leaving is to your organisation. I know one (or perhaps two) small organisations that might very well close shop or shrink dramatically if one key member of staff left. That’s a genuine concern for the our sector I think.

LEARNING: Stay focussed, delegate something

Final thought (and the promised infographic)

A recent study has shown that if you want to learn from failure, the path to learning is to forgive yourself after you make a mistake. Sometimes that is easier than others, but I can always take solace that I did do some things right. To mark some of those things I did do right (I think) at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, I have created the infographic below.

It is by no means a masterpiece. I cobbled it together using Hubspot’s  Marketer’s Simple Guide to Creating Infographics in PowerPoint. But what it does do is mark the end of a huge part of my life and the start of an exciting new chapter in my career.

Thanks to all the people at MDC, who made this infographic possible 🙂


A beginner’s guide to #BarcampNFP

I didn’t know what to expect of an ‘unconference’ before I went to Barcamp, if only there was a handy beginner’s guide…

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It’s not a conference

It’s an unconference! So don’t be surprised if you don’t get registered the moment you arrive. You might turn up at a session with no one leading it because they got caught up in something else. So?

That predictable stuff is for boring conference dwellers, at an unconference you just get stuck in: “as no one seems to be leading this, shall we just start chatting about social media fundraising.” So we did.

Out of chaos comes order

There is no pre set agenda, that as much was clear beforehand, but exactly what was in store I did not know until I got there. But then again, no one knew.

“One of the major rules of each barcamp is participation. This is exactly why the organisers almost expect all attendees to prepare to contribute to the day with their insights and willingness to take part in discussions. From this point of view all attendees are speakers! “

This actually made me a bit nervous, I’m often the person in the room who knows the most about digital/social media (it’s why I get invited to meetings) so this room filled with expertise had potential to intimidate. A bit.

But it was fear of the unknown really, the atmosphere was friendly and welcoming, the knowledge on the floor varied and so the emphasis on participation felt right, not daunting. I started to learn stuff.

Bring Questions, take answers

Because the day is free-form, you can help shape it. A great chance to really make use of the experience of others to help you do what you do. I took the opportunity to throw out a few questions underlining some of what I’m working on at MDC.

Getting to know how other people approach explaining digital tools and why they should use them to the “non techy”, how to show the value and impact of social media (if, in fact, it should be called that) and how to go about managing a website with multiple contributors. These where all things I got help with.

Share answers, take questions

I especially enjoyed Laila Takeh’s lunchtime session called if digital is integrated – who owns it? It covered a lot of ground, I enjoyed being involved but what I took away were questions. Who does own digital? I hope it’s me.

Learn stuff

I learnt a lot of stuff and have a bunch of ideas to take back to the orgs I work with, stuff like this.

I hope this beginner’s guide will be useful to someone; if you have any questions, just ask.

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The best of the web

No, not an incredibly egotistical blog post, but a new challenge. Ruth Martin, who edits the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s Target MD magazine, has tasked me with pulling together the content for the new best of the web section.

I’m using this post to explore a few things that caught my eye and if Ruth likes the end results, you might see them in print early next year. But I better hurry, yesterday was the deadline!

Only now it dawns on me this is not that easy, I think a lot of what we do online is worthy of being in our mag, and if I have a byline (which I do, and will therefore start refering to ‘my column’ and make trumped claims of being ‘a columnist’) will people get upset if I don’t incdue them? They might…but I may also be a tad paranoid, but if it does come up I will refer to this blog to explain my rationale, because what I think is the best of the web is when people collaborate, share things and tell stories. So there we are, that’s my entry criteria for the best for the web.

Storytelling,  collaboration and sharing


Now for the good bit, what can I include that our supprters are interested in. My first choice is Abbi’s Campaign – 1 in a million

I think the reasons are pretty obvious, a family sharing their story, to raise awareness of Ullrich congenital muscualr dystrophy and raise funds for a cause they believe in.

I met Abbi’s parents, Gary and Sarah, at our National Conference (here’s my conference blog). They came along to see my social media spiel and, since then, I’ve really enjoyed watching them grow their Facebook page and use it to promote their fundraising. Gary did a shark dive recently and raised a whopping £2,182. So they are my first candidate for the best of the web.


This week I published a new page on our website called Brad and Dan: Bloggers with Becker muscular dystrophy, what delighted me about this was I didn’t have any involvement in creating it whatsover. Brad tweeted about it and I thought our supporters might like it so it became a guest post, we did exactly the same thing with Martyn Sibley’s post last month, he wrote about a day in his life living with spinal muscular atrophy.

I’m keen to find more bloggers like these guys we can team up with, so if you see any send them my way.

Thanks again to Brad, Dan and Martyn for letting us use their stuff.


After taking pride of place in the last Target MD, I wasn’t expecting to talk too much about our forum, Talk MD,  this time. But it burst back onto the scene via this Follow Friday tweet from Donna.

I thought it was a bit like a coffee shop , so I was delighted someone thought of our forum as their second home. The other people mentioned in the tweet are our forum modertors. You can find out more about what they do in this introduction to the forum on You Tube.

More sharing

If any of this caught your interest, you can check out what our team are up to on Twitter. I’m afraid that I’m so addicted to tweeting, that I somewhat dominate the Twitter list I set up.  So, for a more balanced view, here are a few highlights from our team on twitter on storify.


There is a lot to cover and with only four issues a year of Target MD, this means I’m going to have to leave a lot of stuff out. So what to include could be a pretty big decsion. So if there is something you want to see in the best of the web section of Target MD, please do let me know.

One question remains though, can my content for the magazine be submtted in the form of a blog? Is that allowed? Ruth?

A fundraising lesson from Howard Buffet

What can the grandson of the legendary investor Warren Buffet tell us about fundraising? Well, regardless of your opinions on the validity of Buffet’s ‘private-sector savvy to the growing world of mega-philanthropy’ he is still a donor. And here’s that donor’s approach to giving:

“We will give you money to execute your mission,” Buffett says, “if you work together and identify the most cost-effective and successful ways to achieve that.”

How Howard Buffett Will Use His Grandfather’s Recipe For Riches To Disrupt Philanthropy, Fast Company

Putting aside the arguments about targeting philanthropy at an overall problem, using a scoring system, rather than giving to a single nonprofit (read the comments below the article), the message to me here is pretty clear.

Donors don’t like waste. Don’t waste their money. Show them you are not wasting it.

If I stick with that premise, I can’t go far wrong. Can I?