Is the Knowledge in the Room?

Is the Knowledge in the Room
     I have a client who is convinced that his organization should be going after potential male donors/members who are  20-30 as potential donors. He said, "We want to be considered the cool, hip group to belong to." I asked him what research he based their potential as donors.  His reply was that he knows a lot of guys in this age range, he was a guy in this age range and he knows them. I asked him how many of them gave to their favorite nonprofit. He continued to state that he really knew this demographic. I thought to myself, I've had appendicitis, I have friends who have had appendicitis, however: I wouldn't have the slightest idea of how to surgically remove an appendix. Being a consultant, I kept this analogy to myself. The fact is that this group gives the least. In 2017, the average graduate from an institution of higher education is $37,000 in debt. Also, women in the 20-30 age group give more than men. While the 20-30 age group are fabulous volunteers, especially since most of them had to volunteer in high school, for fundraising, it is frankly us old farts who have the bucks. I am compiling data including sources for my next meeting with him.
     Last night I met with the development committee of another nonprofit. There were six on the committee ages 23-72. The discussion was focused on re-branding. One woman said, "I don't really know anything about this. I worked in retail, and I've seen it done badly, but I don't know how to do it well." A graphic artist said, "I can do a brilliant logo, but rolling out an identity change is not my area of expertise." We all agreed we all knew a little, but not enough. I have a friend who is a branding strategist. He works strictly with pharma, although he has run other full-service firms. That means that he has knowledge and would give us an unbiased point of view because he would not bid this project. I have a call into him today for an hour of his time to tell us what we don't know about the process and putting us on the right track. We had some wine, and everyone went home knowing that someone would share point us in the right direction.
     How many times are you making decisions in a committee or the board room because people have opinions without knowledge?
Here are some steps to better decision making:
  1. When someone makes a statement, ask for the source. If it is highly anecdotal, ask if s(he) has data and ask for the issue to be studied and sent out. If some else is a research geek, ask that (s)he would be willing to look into it. For instance, the information on the giving habits of millennials is easily available.
  2. Slow down the decision making. The Chair needs to ask the question: Does anyone have experience with this? For instance, human resources is a very complex field. Sometimes you need an expert in compensation, sometimes an attorney and sometimes an insurance expert.
  3. Give alternatives and consider an RFP (request for proposal). Your board secretary's college roommate may or may not be the best choice to manage your endowment portfolio.
I promise not to remove any appendixes if you consider making sure the knowledge is in the room before making decisions.


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