Kelley Marchbanks

Vice President and Senior Facilitator

About Kelley

I once had a coach who loved to say, “That’s a reason, but not an excuse.” Sometimes she would even say, “That is a very good reason, but still NOT an excuse.” There are all kinds of reasons things happen or don’t happen. In the real world, we must still take responsibility for our actions and the eventual outcome. Development is full of “reasons,” many outside of our control, that derail even the best laid plan. Yet, we are still responsible for helping donors connect to our organization in ways that are meaningful to them and to the organization.

Here are three options to consider when things don’t go as planned:

1. Full transparency

Share the reasons in-full. This is often the best approach when others can and should bear the weight or if there is a misunderstanding or misinformation that needs to be set right.

  • Find your inner Vulcan (use facts without emotion to be logical)
    • Stick to the relevant facts—ask yourself, “Is this relevant?” and “Is this factual?”
    • Leave emotion at the door—even if everyone else is a hot mess, keep your cool.
  • Be prepared and be brief
    • No good defense is made in haste. It takes time and thought to present a good defense.
    • There should be no more than three contributing factors. Lead with that. “Allow me to share three contributing factors that led to the issue.”

2. Suck it up and take the blame

Sometimes just saying, “I’m sorry, it won’t happen again” is all everyone needs to know.

  • This is not about falling on your sword and giving up. This is about living to fight another day.
  • Ensure, however, that you take the necessary actions to keep it from happening again…whatever they may be.

3. Let it go

Sometimes you are the only one obsessing about an issue. Don’t dwell on it and end up making it more of an issue than it really is.

  • Accept that not everything goes right all the time.
  • Has anyone else even said anything about the situation?
  • Sometimes you have to say, “Well, that didn’t go as planned” and move on.

There is also a fourth option but I do not recommend it…throw an epic fit filled with nothing but excuses. Scream, cry, accuse, blame, or otherwise compromise yourself in ways that could follow you throughout your entire career.

A couple additional thoughts to consider:

  • Don’t ever lie. Earlier I mentioned facts in order to avoid hearsay or assumptions. Here, I offer some simple advice—DON’T LIE!
  • Only burden those who need to know with the reasons. Does your colleague really need to know all the gritty details? There is nothing wrong with sharing, “I’m in a less than ideal situation and feel pretty miserable about it.” (That’s the PC version. I am guessing most of us would rephrase that with an expletive or two). Often, that’s all you need to say to get a little compassion from a friend or colleague.
  • The best defense is a good offense. Be proactive instead of being reactive. Avoid situations that will leave you having to justify your decisions. Whether that is listening to your “Jiminy Cricket” or recognizing when things aren’t looking good and adjusting accordingly before they get ugly.

When we step back and think about the reasons that led to this situation, it can keep us from falling into the habit of offering nothing but excuses. No one likes excuses, but who can argue with reasons? Come to terms with that internally and you will find that even the most embarrassing, traumatic, or damning outcomes can be addressed.


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