Giving Compass' Take:

• Learning from his mistakes, nonprofit leader Atta Tarki, discusses how he thinks differently about nonprofit innovation and the challenges that come with seeing these models through. 

• How can donors be sensitive to nonprofit problems? How can funders strengthen those relationships to benefit organizations? 

• Read more about nonprofit innovation. 


I felt confident because I had been in the same position before. I am the CEO of a 100-person data-driven executive search firm. After bootstrapping for a few years after our founding in 2010—a period during which we honed our value proposition and business model—my organization began doubling in size every two years after we hired a talented sales executive to do business development (instead of relying on my rolodex and word-of-mouth). I told the board that I wanted Beautify Earth to replicate that growth strategy. Our value-proposition was clear, and we were ready to take the message to large donors. And so I convinced my fellow directors to hire an experienced executive from the private sector and set her loose as a fundraiser. The position would chew up a large portion of Beautify Earth’s budget—and some of the trustees and directors were skeptical—but I assured them that it would more than pay for itself.

Looking back, I cringe at my blind exuberance and optimism. In that crucial early meeting, I laid the seeds for my proposal’s eventual failure. We hired a talented sales executive, set her loose, and it all failed. After three months, we decided to let her go, with no major gifts in the bank, and a large depletion of our operating budget. Beautify Earth has since recovered and continues to do great work, but the opportunity cost in terms of time and budget was significant.

We now approach innovation in a totally different way. Through introspection and conversations with my fellow directors, I have taken away three major lessons from the failure that I believe will make me a better nonprofit leader.

Read the full article about new models of nonprofit innovation by Atta Tarki at Stanford Social Innovation Review.