Redefining Success


We raised $5.7 million.


We raised $5.7 million!

Why does one character change that statement so much?

This was the feeling I recently had with a major campaign effort whose goal had been to raise $8.5 million towards ending family homelessness. After two years of valiant efforts, storytelling, and engagement, the community raised significant funds but not what they intended when the effort began.

So, did they succeed? Is it really this cut and dry? How do we define success for ourselves, and how does that lead to our ability to approach the next challenge with enthusiasm and resolve?

When we set goals for ourselves or our organizations, they are often the measure by which we’re evaluated. Did we hit the goal or not? Good or bad? Promotion or demotion?

You’ve heard the axiom, “what gets measured gets done” right? Well, that is often true. But just because you’re measuring it, doesn’t mean it gets done. And, if it does, in fact, “get done” what makes that successful?

Author Simon Sinek suggests that we use infinite versus finite mindsets in defining success. According to Sinek, someone with a finite mindset views everything as win or lose. Everything is a competition, and the scoreboard is always on. An infinite mindset is where the player understands the game will go on. There really is no end. This is just the next evolution of where we’re going.

I think we enjoy sports because of the simplicity of defining success. There is a winner and there’s a loser. There are rules, points and an end. Performance is quantitatively evaluated. The result is either good or bad, win or lose. 

The arts, on the other hand, are measured differently. There is not a scoreboard to track the success of a symphony’s first movement. There are no statistics of goals, yards, or runs batted in, to assess whether a sculptor’s work is good or not. Of course, there are technical aspects in art to evaluate and appreciate, but so much of art is about how it makes us feel.

As I have worked with more goals, plans, teams, and success measures, I’ve come to view goals more as checkpoints to aim toward while we grow. It’s the growth that truly matters, not the goal itself. 

Legendary coach John Wooden’s definition of success is still something that resonates with me. Wooden said, “Success is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” It is, in fact, the becoming, that we should give greater credence to developing.

So, back to whether the nonprofit I mentioned at the beginning was “successful” in raising $5.7M of their $8.5M goal…

  • They inspired and coordinated collective efforts of dozens of agencies and leaders coming together around a common cause.
  • They created new partnerships and program efficiencies.
  • They engaged an array of business and political leaders to better understand a critical community issue.
  • They directly prevented hundreds of families from experiencing homelessness or eviction, while placing many more into new homes.
  • And they managed to bring in nearly $6M in new funding that will support their mission for the next several years. 

When we take time to celebrate what gets done, appreciating the progress we’ve made, it inspires the next round of action to build upon those efforts. 

To me, this is success. The next milestone will be set, and the journey begins again. The success is in our growth – and this is something that will always continue.

What about you? How might you redefine success?


Rules to Break V2This Month's Focus

This month, we're challenging conventional approaches and bringing fresh perspectives from our experts with DBD Group's "Rules to Break" series. Join us as we challenge best practices and find out what rules should stay... and what rules need to go away. 


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Posted by Jason Fry
Jason Fry

Written by Jason Fry

Jason brings more than 20 years of working with nonprofits building impactful programs, establishing dynamic community partnerships, and creating capacity for greater impact. Jason understands the power of generosity, and how it can unlock a community's potential. Jason’s experience and understanding of the challenges facing nonprofit organizations makes him an ideal partner and catalyst for change.

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