How DoSomething Transformed A Mistake Into Learning: Creating A Culture of Impact | Beth's Blog

How DoSomething Transformed A Mistake Into Learning: Creating A Culture of Impact


You’ve heard the mantra: Learn from failure. But no one likes to screw up and you can’t learn when people are feeling shame and pointing fingers at each other. knows that mistakes happen, but also knows how as an organization to transform mistakes into organizational learning that leads to better results in a program.   This how you create a “culture of impact.”

Earlier this month the Chronicle of Philanthropy wrote about how the organization corrected a mistake with a text messaging campaign.   The mistake: they sent a text message intended for a small sub-group of  4,000 members to its entire list of 2.1-million teen activists who had opted in to giving the organization their cell phone numbers and emails.    The message was intended for Jewish teens who volunteering to collect canned goods during Thanksgiving for a Jewish organization.  Over 11,000 people responded to the errant text with a mix of confusion, amusement – and also anger and anti-Semitic.

The response required more than sending out a simple apology text.  There were many “teachable moments” from this mistake that eventually helped them improve their overall text campaigns   According to the article, the staff has three questions to reflect and take action on?

  • Should the group remove the young people who sent hateful messages from its list?
  • How should it acknowledge the mistake and rebuild trust with members?
  • And what steps could it take to make sure the problem didn’t happen again?

In this blog post by staff, they describe what they did to remedy the mistake.  The staff reached out to the young people who replied with hateful messages and initiated some difficult conversations.   Next, they needed a way to apologize — and rather than fall on sword – they used their humor and put together an apology playlist on Spotify and sent a text with a link to the playlist to the more than 11,500 people who responded to the mistaken message about the food drive.  One in three recipients clicked through to the playlist,  the highest click rate for a link sent by text message that DoSomething’s data scientists had ever seen.  Finally, they looked at the process and procedures for sending text and email messages and improved it so a mistake like this would not happen again.

Dosomething has a culture that isn’t about shame and blame.  It’s about reflection and improvement. They stepped back and incorporated a formal checklist to use before sending out messages.   According to the blog post, it includes:

  • Language: Bottom line: we should never send out a message to any one person on our list that we wouldn’t want our whole mobile list to see. Now we make sure to run all broadcasts (even the small ones) through our content team.
  • Settings: We’ve now put checks in place so that a single person doesn’t have to bear the weight of broadcasting to 2.1 million people — which can feel like pressing the red button to end the world. Now, multiple people check that the transmission was set up correctly.
  • Context and Segmentation: These two things work hand-in-hand. We should always keep the context of what’s going on in our users lives in mind, and segment accordingly. That text was sent a few days after Thanksgiving, when many of our members would’ve been on fall break, yet it didn’t mention that or anything else that might have been going on in their lives. We also didn’t segment according to activity or demographics. Superusers and new users would have both received that message, and we just know that is not a best practice.

Mistakes are going to happen, even “a beluga whale of a mistake” like Dosomething’s mistake.    The most important thing to remember is that when your organization treats a mistake as an opportunity to learn, it can be a fun and rewarding process.     I’ve written a lot about how organizations incorporate this “learning from failure” into their culture, but Dosomething remains an inspiring reminder for everyone in the nonprofit sector on why adopting a culture of impact leads to better result.  I can’t wait until their new book, “The XYZ Factor: Creating A Culture of Impact” launches next month.



5 Responses

  1. Lisa Cannon says:

    So glad you wrote on this. I agree that it makes a great case study on truly learning from mistakes. However, one thing about their apology bothers me. The DOSomeThing blog quotes a text from Alyssa who says, referencing the mistake:I texted u about being Jewish.” Then it says there is a link to the I F&$@ed Up playlist. The wording doesn’t feel right, especially in the context of the text and the broader controversy. It sounds as if being Jewish is a mistake or a slur of some kind. I don’t think that is the intention. Where were the reviewers? And were any of them Jewish? But it is an instance of putting your foot further in your digital mouth.

  2. I definitely admire the creativity of apologizing through a playlist. It’s both light and humorous but proves it took time and thought to create and is overall creative, which led to all the more clicks. But I am not completely sure as to why this text message mistake was such a big deal. It is incredibly easy to delete or simply not read a text and I feel that anyone who freely gives their information to a company should expect some type of advertising- and it is hardly advertising, but a campaign for a good cause. Moreover I would feel no reason to apologize to an anti-Semitic (but I suppose the company didn’t quite have a choice).

  3. […] ever been on the wrong side of a mistake that seemed unfixable? In her blog, Beth Kanter covered a slip-up on the part of The organization fired off a text message campaign to over 2 million more people than they meant […]

  4. […] Use the 2-part sentence formula. You’ve probably seen this a lot – headlines like: How DoSomething Transformed A Mistake Into Learning: Creating A Culture of Impact, from nonprofit thought leader Beth Kanter’s […]

  5. […] probably seen this a lot – headlines like: How DoSomething Transformed A Mistake Into Learning: Creating A Culture of Impact, from nonprofit thought leader Beth Kanter’s […]

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