No Fear of Failure

Let me start by saying we were very pleased with the feedback we received about the new Community Connections e-newsletter. There are a few things we can do to improve the links, yet people were appreciative of the content. If you did not receive the e-newsletter, please let us know by sending an email to

In January 2011, Federation announced it would use up to $300,000 from its total campaign effort and put towards new, innovative Community Impact Grants (CIG). As you may recall, Federation received 64 proposals asking for a total of $3.5 million, and in June we funded 13 new programs. Program goals were based on the following fundamental tenets: connection and engagement, tikkun olam/social responsibility, pluralism, collaboration between agencies, and innovation. Keeping to our promise to inform the community about the progress of the grant recipients, we have included a mid-year update for your review.

Let me share that I am proud Federation took this bold step. We are very pleased by the results to date (some more successful than others), and look forward to sharing additional information when all the projects are completed. These grants are making (and will make) an incredible difference! If you have any questions about any program, please do not hesitate to contact me by replying to this email. We will also provide an additional update at the end of the fiscal year in June. In addition, Federation’s Governing Board will make decisions about potential future Community Impact Grant funding in the spring.

At the same time, and please do not take this as a reflection on any of the current CIG projects, I want to talk about an important issue -- the value of failure.

I recently read an article by Dr. Richard Marker, a nationally acclaimed philanthropy consultant, who talked about the challenge for non-profit organizations to take risks – all because of the threat of failure. Federation saw the CIG process as our community’s “risk capital” (by definition, risk means some possibility of failure). Federation went out and raised additional dollars specifically for this purpose, as well as used resources from our Annual Campaign. Dr. Marker wrote, “Good grantmakers need to develop a tolerance that some percentage of their grants will not accomplish everything that they wished or that their grantees strived to do. Grantmakers who support start-ups, early stage organizations, new approaches to almost anything, need to accept that, if they are doing it rightsome failure is not only inevitable but indeed desirable.”

One could argue that Federation’s general allocations every year to partner agencies run the risk of failure. After all, every grant is a bet on the future -- nothing is ever guaranteed. Despite the risks, it is Federation’s role and responsibility to provide the resources necessary to meet the Jewish communal challenges of today and tomorrow.

Dr. Marker describes two types of “appropriate” failures. First, we should not penalize the non-profit organization that was true to its proposal yet it just did not work. Secondly, let’s remember that as the “resource provider” for these projects we provided our endorsement by funding it because we agreed it was worth the risk. 

Haven’t we all heard from parents, teachers, and coaches in the past that “failure is okay” as long as we learn what went wrong and what might be done better the next time? Perhaps with this type of attitude more non-profit organizations will be willing to take risks and try new things.

Unfortunately, the non-profit world seems to rarely reward failure (while in for-profit settings it may be encouraged). Non-profit organizations understand that we are stewards of very precious communal financial resources – from people like you. Think how corporate foundations may be unwilling to take risks with shareholders’ money due to any negative public fallout. The same holds true for Federation and other non-profits. It would be easy to be “less adventurous” with our grantmaking strategy, but will that truly have the results we are looking for? I do believe the old axiom holds true – “nothing ventured…nothing gained.” 

If we are all truly committed to “making a difference” then we must recognize the “rewards” that risk can bring. And if a new program or service does not work well, we will learn from our mistakes and move forward in new ways. Just so we strive for excellence in all that we do. 

Federation, together with you, is planning for our community’s future. We are evolving along with our community to make an impact each and every day. And this can only be possible if we take risks while understanding the chance for failure.

Let our exploration and learning continue!

Shabbat shalom.


P.S. I am excited that another of our Community Impact Grant projects is about to take off. Under the guidance of the Oregon Jewish Museum, six:social playground is designed to engage a younger audience by celebrating the next generation of Jewish talent in the fields of music, food, sports, film, independent media, and design. On February 2nd at Holocene, Heeb Remixed will be a night dedicated to emerging Jewish musicians and songwriters, headlined by local folk-pop band WEINLAND. Click here for more information.


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