Archive for October 21st, 2011

October 21, 2011

How to Snatch Success from the Jaws of Failure

I’m no stranger to disappointment, either in my personal or professional life. Most recently, the much anticipated baseball postseason ended prematurely for my Philadelphia Phillies. I was saddened. Judging from the faces of the players, the postseason elimination was even more painful for them.

Phillies Win 2008 World Series Trophy

The Phillies failure to go to the World Series got me thinking of my own failures and the challenges we all face in the development profession or even serving as a volunteer for a nonprofit organization. Two of the greatest challenges that we all face are dealing effectively with failure and rejection.

Interestingly, these are the same challenges faced by sales professionals. So, what can a salesman teach a fundraiser about failure and rejection? If that salesman is the legendary Tom Hopkins, the answer is plenty.

Hopkins made his first million dollars in sales by the age of 27. He accomplished this by making the subject of selling his hobby and by studying every aspect of the sale in incredible detail. Today, he is known internationally as a master sales trainer and the author of several bestselling books on the art of sales. You can learn more about him by visiting his website:

Hopkins teaches five important axioms for dealing with failure:

1) “I never see failure as failure, but only as a learning experience.”

You can look upon failure or rejection and simply choose to wallow in your defeat by feeling sorry for yourself. Or, you can learn from the experience. While you will never be a winner every time, you can improve your performance by learning from your experience and understanding what works and what does not.

Regarding his struggle to invent a long-lasting light bulb, Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He eventually invented the light bulb that changed the world.

2) “I never see failure as failure, but only as the feedback I need to change course in my direction.”

Failure or rejection can only slow us down if we allow them to. Instead, if we view failure or rejection as feedback, we can pivot off of it to our next action step which just might lead to a positive response from that prospect or another.

For example, I once observed a fundraiser ask a prospect for a significant donation. The prospect lived in one of the wealthiest communities in America. The prospect responded, “I’m sorry. I can’t help you out right now. Cash is tight. You see, my wife is having the gardener completely re-landscape the backyard.” The fundraiser’s heart could have sunk. He could have ended the conversation cordially and moved on. Instead, the fundraiser considered what the prospect said as useful information rather than as a rejection. Specifically, the fundraiser heard “I can’t help you right now” and that the family has a gardener. So, the fundraiser asked, “If things are tight right now, would you be able to make a gift of that size next month?” The donor cheerfully replied, “If you can wait until next month, that would be great. We’ll be done with the landscaping by then so I’ll have the cash. Are you sure that’s not a problem for you?” The fundraiser closed the gift.

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