Face Plants: The “We Blew It!” Edition

By Arbor Brothers Staff

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an occasional series exploring funder failures and mistakes. We call it ‘Face Plants.’ You can find earlier posts in the series on our main blog page. Today’s contribution comes to us courtesy of our friends at Arbor Brothers, which finds, funds, and supports the most promising early-stage education and workforce development nonprofits in the New York tri-state area. The Arbor Brothers team regularly includes a “We Blew It! (lessons learned the hard way)” column in its quarterly newsletter. Today’s piece combines some of the latest, with passages from the Fall 2018 and Winter 2019 newsletters. Our thanks to Arbor Brothers Co-Founder Sammy Politziner and his team.

As with every young organization, we are making some mistakes as we grow. By acknowledging and reflecting upon them, we hope to avoid making similar oversights in the future.

1. Gotta Scope Some Projects Differently. When we scope our grantee projects, we aim to schedule enough time to cocreate tools and ensure adoption. For some of our projects, the hardest part for the grantee is not the system’s creation, it’s the implementation, as that’s when the issues reveal themselves. When two grantee situations arose this summer and we were crunched for time, however, we realized we’ve been leaving too little time to support full team adoption. We’ll be re-scoping this year. 

2. Can’t Just Turn Our Chairs Anymore. When we were just two friends occupying a 72-square foot office, we were able to frequently turn our chairs to face each other and make decisions throughout the day. Now that we have a more seasoned team often operating independently, we are not always in the office at the same time, and it has been taking us too long to make internal decisions. It’s time to be more intentional about creating space to come together.

3. Why Truman Wanted a One-handed Economist. Fleshing out pros and cons for the sake of analysis is great (and a big part of our job) but sometimes grantees just want to know what we recommend. As much as we aim to teach fishing rather distribute fish, we heard in our grantee survey that the Socratic method can sometimes be frustratingly obtuse. We pledge to be more forthright, especially when asked. 

4. We Promise: We’ll Get to It. We often work to help grantees identify the important and help prioritize it over the urgent. Sometimes that means pushing back on grantee project preferences (e.g. we mandate building a Theory of Change before tackling Performance Management). We always tackle grantees’ proposed issues, but need to better communicate the “why” around re-ordered project timelines.