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The Big Oops: Our Guide to Recovering Gracefully

Piece of paper with "oops" written on it and pinned to a corkboard with green overlay and blog title: "

I have a confession. I made a mistake. A few weeks ago, we sent out an email to over 20,000 DRG subscribers—all addressed to “Ashley.” 

It’s me. Hi—I’m Ashley, and I wrote the email you may have received with my name plastered across the top. 

Now, when it comes to donor communications, there are two things DRG teaches nonprofits to always include: personalization and the correct information

We strive to always do our best to walk the walk here at DRG, but we also recognize that errors are inevitable in nearly every facet of our work. We all make mistakes, but how we handle those slip-ups makes all the difference. 

So, I’m putting it all out there. We’re flipping this big oops on its head and using it as a teachable moment—because the good part about a mistake is there is always a lesson to be learned. 

As soon as we realized the mistake had been made, here’s the apology we included when we resent the email with the correct salutation: 

Hi [correct contact name],

You may have received an email this morning addressed to Ashley. We know you're not Ashley. You're [contact name], and you're a rockstar! We apologize for the mistake as the real Ashley works out some kinks in our new email builder. Thank you for your grace and understanding, and we hope you'll still read the message meant for you below!

The responses we received were warm, kind, gracious, and some even made us laugh out loud. Here are a few for your reading pleasure: 

“I love this, double tap. You got me to engage. Great work here.”

“No worries... it happens to all of us sometimes. I only had a major "I know I haven't had my tea yet, but?" identity crisis. If that's the worst that happens today, it will be a great day! Hope you have one, too.”

“Bahaha! This is my favorite email of the morning so far. New email builders are rough. We had an email builder transition last year where I used to work and I cannot tell you how many issues we had! Wishing Ashley all the best! I feel that goofed up email pain! Happens to the best of us!”

“This is hilarious! Thanks for sending an apology. I totally noticed and even showed a colleague. Now I get to show them the thoughtful acknowledgment of the error. Well done in terms of correcting a mistake in a way that acknowledges it on a personal level, but also adds some levity to the situation. Is it weird to love a mistake? I have to because you course-corrected this one like a pro!”

“Ashley is cool. That’s a nice name too. No worries. It happens to us all. ”

By acknowledging the mistake and being honest with our audience, we actually opened up a dialogue with our community. We became human and in turn, we were rewarded with empathy and understanding. (Thanks for that, by the way!) 

So, what do you do the next time you make a mistake? Here’s a guide on how to own our errors and turn them into opportunities to build trust with donors:

  1. Take a Deep Breath First, take a deep breath and remember that everyone makes mistakes. It may feel like the end of the world, but don’t panic. It happened. Now is the time to focus, address it, and create a plan of action. 

  1. Acknowledge the Mistake Quickly Sure, you could pretend like nothing happened, but that tells people you don’t care when you mess up. That’s not exactly the message we want to send to donors entrusting us with their money. The key is to own up as soon as you realize there is a problem. This shows you are proactive, attentive, and committed to transparency.

  2. Apologize Sincerely Make sure you acknowledge the faux pas genuinely. Don’t be vague or passive by saying something like “mistakes were made.” Instead, take ownership and say “we made a mistake.” This conveys authenticity and shows you take responsibility for your actions—which can actually help strengthen the trust others have in you.

  3. Be Authentic and Add a Personal Touch Just because you’re acknowledging a mistake or offering an apology doesn’t mean you have to adopt a formal tone. Infuse your personality into your apology—it will make you more human and relatable, and it shows you’re sincere. You can also include a personal touch where appropriate, such as, “I’m looking forward to seeing you at [upcoming event].” Making the apology personal and authentic can go a long way to smooth over the mistake and reinforce a positive relationship.

  4. Provide an Explanation or Solution As a mom, I teach my kids that there is more to an apology than just saying “I’m sorry.” You have to let the person know why you are sorry, and what you’re going to do to make it better. The same lesson can be applied here. (In fact, there are many parallels to parenting and donor relations—but that’s another blog for another day!) Be sure you say more than, “We’re sorry for the mistake that was made.” Offer a brief explanation, and where applicable, share the solution you’ve put, or are putting, in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again. 

  1. Learn from the Experience Last, and most importantly, use the error as a learning opportunity. Recognize why the mistake happened and establish a plan to prevent it from happening in the future. It could be new proofreading and/or testing processes, additional training, or a shift in responsibilities. When you learn from the mistake, you can then move forward and prevent future errors. 

Mistakes are inevitable—they are a part of the learning process in life and in our work. But when handled with honesty, authenticity, responsibility (and sometimes a tiny dose of humor), our missteps can be transformed into opportunities to enhance trust and likability. If you own up to errors gracefully, you will fix the problem(s) while demonstrating qualities that will often turn supporters into lifelong fans and advocates. 

Written by the Real Ashley


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