Helping NGOs do more with their money

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Help us to improve the way NGOs and donors learn from failure

Talking openly about failure can be difficult

Back in July we created a blog post about financial sustainability, with a focus on learning from failure as well as success. This theme was echoed at the recent annual Bond conference, where we heard influential figures in international development like Jay Naidoo reflect on the role of failure and learning from mistakes in order to increase our effectiveness.

The theme of learning from failure is a hot topic in many fields at present.  Dr Atul Gawande’s 2014 BBC Reith lectures examine the nature of progress and failure in medicine, a field defined by what he calls 'the messy intersection of science and human fallibility'.  He argues that much of failure in medicine is now due to ineptitude (failure to use existing knowledge), rather than the main cause for many centuries: ignorance (lack of knowledge).  He also stresses that there will always be natural fallibility, because life is so complex that it will be impossible to eliminate all failure.  He has introduced innovation by improving systems, through such simple tools as pre-surgery checklists, which have already saved thousands of lives in a few years and are now being shared globally by the NGO he has founded called Lifebox.

I have been struck by the parallels with Mango’s work which has been to push back ignorance and provide simple systems, (lots of checklists!), through our global training programme and our highly used on-line Guide to financial management for NGOs.  We also focus a lot of consultancy and follow-up support after our training on really embedding the systems which will help mitigate risk of failure.

It can be difficult to have open and honest discussions about failure, especially for NGOs who can be reluctant to speak up for fear of damaging their reputation and donor relationships. This is despite the fact that experience in other complex fields, like medicine, suggests that learning from failure and introducing systems to help prevent it can radically transform outcomes.

When financial management goes wrong

We want to break the silence and encourage members of the NGO community to share their stories on financial management setbacks and how they dealt with them. This is the first step in learning from our own mistakes, and helping others to achieve greater effectiveness by avoiding similar pitfalls.

Share your experience 

Help us to open up the conversation about financial management failures. Your stories could be about operational or strategic financial management problems. Here are some ideas for story topics to get you started: 

Send your anonymous story - be the start of a campaign!

If you are willing to share your anonymous story, please download this short form, complete it and email it back to us. Once we have enough stories, we will share them on our website as learning tools, and use them to start building a campaign for improved dialogue and understanding around failure between NGOs and donors. 


Spread the word

Please share this page with anyone you know who may benefit from taking part. Thank you! 


The author of this blog piece is Tim Boyes-Watson, Director of Mango. Find out more about Tim here, or tweet him using @tim4mango.

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