As any unsuccessful political candidate can attest, it is not easy to learn from loss. As any nonprofit manager can attest, it is very difficult to learn from the loss of reputation, community support and funding that can result from wrongdoing that causes harm to a service recipient, volunteer or even employee. Learning from disasters is necessary, even if it’s painful.
At a nonprofit risk summit, Melanie Herman, executive director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, and Aaron Lundberg, president and CEO of Praesidium, examined the reasons why it’s so hard to determine the “why” when something goes horribly wrong. They referred to case of a volunteer coach who was discovered to have sexually abused a nine-year-old boy, a case that caused Praesidium to come into existence.
- So, why is it hard to learn from loss? Herman and Lundberg offered several simple and even apparent, but compelling, reasons. The speakers quoted Sidney Dekker, a professor at Griffith University in Australia, who also founded the Safety Science Innovation Lab:
- We look for simple rather than hard, but truthful, explanations.
- We favor backwards-looking accountability.
- We worry that dwelling on losses will exacerbate mission harm.
- “Multiple, overlapping interpretations of the same act or event are always possible, and might be necessary” (the speakers quoted Sidney Dekker).