Right now, the NFL has a wonderful example of a somewhat esoteric topic:
How can this be, you say? After all, there are only two ways to gain statistical yards on offense in football: running and passing. (You can also gain or lose penalty yards, but those aren’t counted in these stats.)
The answer is in balance. An average pass gains 7.7 yards per play for the Raiders (7.6 for the Panthers). An average run gains 4.4 yards per play for the Raiders (4.2 yard for the Panthers). Yet the Raiders pass 50% of the time and the Panthers pass 58% of the time.
In other words, the Raiders are more efficient at running and passing; the Panthers more than make up for this by being more efficient at balancing their running and passing. (Of course, no team is fully balanced — even the worst team at passing gets more yards per play (Jets, 5.9) from passing than the best team at running (Cardinals, 5.2) — but that’s a topic for another time and blog.)
This is called Simpson’s Paradox — you can get one result from all the subgroups of something but have the opposite result for those groups put together because of the composition of the group.
This holds true for fundraising as well. You can and should put a great deal of effort into that mail piece, DRTV spot, telemarketing, or digital ad to make it as efficient as possible. That’s like the Raiders coaches and players working hard to improve each play.
But it can be undone if you are looking to see that your first dollar, last dollar, and each one in between is put to its best use. That includes:
All this is tough to manage to be sure. At best, they are on different Excel worksheets. Modern science has yet to name the phenomenon where we think things on different worksheets are in entirely different universes — may I suggest the Ellinger Conundrum? — but we do. At worst, they are managed by different people in different departments on different floors with different budgets spent on different vendors. And those different people hate each other.
There are barriers. But those barriers must fall. Carpe donum is our marching motto — we seize the donations where they are, not where we wish they were or budgeted for them to me. And we do not pick from the top of the tree until the low-hanging fruit are denuded on all the trees.
Because we don’t need to pick between being the Raiders or the Panthers. We can be good at each individual tactic and how they are balanced. Lives will be saved if we are.