Hats off to Jean Case, who, like Bill Gates, has come forward to share mistakes made and lessons learned in her recent blog. As two of the biggest names in philanthropy, one could argue that it is easy for them to make admissions of error. After all, who is going to fire them? But their very stature makes then easy targets, and their assets mean that their bets matter.
Philanthropists often prefer anonymity and their giving can be quite personal. But the challenges strategic philanthropists are trying to solve are public ones. Their grantees are expected to be transparent and these foundation leaders are modeling that behavior. Efforts like the Foundation Center’s Glasspockets initiative can help, but even more so can the words of those philanthropists who dare to—even feel obliged to—share their experiences.
If we all took a page from the book of Bill Gates and Jean Case—and the many Global Philanthropy Forum members who eagerly share errors made—we can make mistakes matter. Each offers a teaching opportunity. A commitment to learning is a distinguishing feature of strategic philanthropy; tales of failure can be the source of its future success.
While acknowledging that crowing about flops remains rare in any sector, let’s celebrate and emulate those who share triumphs and failures.