Making a mistake usually results in negative consequences. A poor buying decision could cost you a lot of money, while a slip of the tongue during conversation could lead to hurt feelings.

But can a mistake ever turn out for the better in the long run?

Back in my years as a fundraiser, I was invited to a cocktail reception at our local small regional airport (I know, kind of cheesy, but when in Rome). They had a gathering space overlooking the one runway, complete with a small ensemble of instruments, hors d’oeuvres, a bar and cocktail tables. It was actually a nice setting.

The school at which I was director of development needed a new soccer scoreboard, and I was hoping to approach a local sports star who I knew would be there and get to know him better, in the hopes of eventually cultivating a major gift.

The problem was I had actually only had a few phone conversations with him and didn’t know exactly what he looked like (dating myself a bit, but this was before the Internet age).

Well, you can already guess where this story is going.

I found who I thought was my target and struck up a conversation as planned. He was very personable, full of laughter, and genuinely curious about me and my school. The conversation led to many other topics of interest. I could feel a relationship was starting to become established.

Eventually, another attendee came and interrupted us to introduce this person to someone else, at which point I realized I wasn’t talking to my major gift prospect.

I quickly asked a few questions while this person was gone and found out who he really was (saving myself a lot of embarrassment which was only a few moments away from happening).

This mistake did eventually lead to that major gift for the soccer scoreboard. Because we had built a rapport, I came clean to my new friend, and he thought it was all so hilarious that he made a donation.

My goal for that evening wasn’t to leave with a check in hand. It was just to build relationships. My very first fundraising mentor told me to “never eat alone!” Sometimes, you just have to get out from behind your desk and meet people. Donations can come from truly unexpected places.

A few key things I learned from my ‘mistake’:

When I think back on this experience, I can’t help but smile at how fun building fundraising relationships can be!

Have you ever turned a blunder into fundraising success? Let me know in the comments below!