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Owning It, The Oscars Way

by Dan Kimball

This past Sunday on live television, millions of viewers worldwide witnessed one of the more bizarre and chaotic moments in recent memory. In case you were locked up in a secluded space working on your next appeal letter, the following is a recap of what went down.

Not So Fast, La La Land

The movie La La Land was announced as the best film winner at the 2017 Oscars. But then they had to hand the award over to Moonlight after what some called the most dramatic moment in the history of the Academy Awards. Social media went nuts. News organizations quickly had to retract announcements, #envelope was trending, and words and phrases like embarrassing, shock, pandemonium, mix-up, epic flub, awkward, gasps of horror, and botched envelope handoff all made the headlines throughout the next day.

Of course, once the dust settled and the correct winners accepted their awards, the focus quickly turned to everyone asking, “What happened? And, whose fault is it?” Both fair questions for an organization that spends so much money on throwing the biggest prom of the year for movies stars, and one that also prides itself on the integrity and secrecy of the winners.


Enter into the picture, Price Waterhouse accounting firm, also know as PwC. Based in London, PwC has tabulated the votes for the Academy Awards for 83 years. And the Oscars, while not its most lucrative client, is perhaps its most important. The firm leans on its long history as Hollywood’s chief vote-counter to enhance its appeal in efforts like business development and recruiting.

The finger pointing will most likely go on for months. But what struck me was how quickly PwC stepped up, took responsibility, and apologized immediately for what took place. In other words, they owned it. They did not try to blame someone else, like an aging actor or an underpaid stagehand. Rather, they responded quickly with a statement and an apology, found on oscars.org. In their statement, they wrote:

We sincerely apologize to “Moonlight,” “La La Land,” Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the announcement for Best Picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.

We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.

Lessons Learned

For many of us nonprofit and church leaders, we have a great lesson to learn here in taking responsibility for when we mess up—regardless of the circumstances, big or small.

A number of years ago, I was in charge of the annual fund for a local nonprofit. Under my leadership, we accidentally sent an incorrect spreadsheet to our mail house for a springtime fundraising appeal. I had ample time and opportunity to double check and proof the final. But for whatever reason (one that I do not remember), I let it slide. This subsequently resulted in hundreds of letters going out to people with incorrect names and other wrong information. Talk about embarrassing!

Own Your Mistakes

I wanted to blame the staff, the mail house, the interns, and even my dog, but luckily I didn’t. Instead, a fundraising mentor gave me counsel and said these two words to me: own it. I immediately sent out a letter to all the donors apologizing for the mistakes and reminding them of their value to us.

Luckily, I survived that situation, learned from it, and it never happened again. It was embarrassing for me, though, as a leader, and for the organization that trusted me. That situation was certainly not on the level of the Academy Awards mishap. I am sure there are much bigger and even smaller mistakes that have taken place out there in the fundraising land.

Whether you simply missed an appointment with someone, accidentally overcharged a credit card, or left the expensive wine in your car for too long (happened to a friend of mine), leaders need to respond quickly, and with integrity.

Almost everyone I know of in fundraising, nonprofit leadership, or church work has come across some form of human error or mistake. The mistakes are not the things that define those leaders. Rather, it matters how they and their organizations respond and react. So own your mistakes and learn from them.

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