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Shining a light on how to think…

June 28, 2013

This is my favorite quote on the year:  “You succumb to survivorship bias because you are innately terrible with statistics.” The “you” here is the Royal “You”. The author is Dave McRaney. And this gem of a statement is shorthand for saying that most folks could improve how they evaluate situations and make decisions, if they could only apply a more analytic and open lens when thinking. Or, another way to put this is that by only looking at success, one cannot make an informed decision about how to avoid failure. At this is the danger of suvivorship bias.

What strikes me about this post (in addition to simply how much I learned while reading the post), is that in fundraising, most of us suffer from survivorship bias in our decisions:Confident in Success?

  • Staffing: we value those who stayed, when perhaps we lost even better people. I often suspect some succeed over time due to others’ departures more than their own merits.
  • Productivity: we value those generate funds, when perhaps we lost even better opportunities (or solicitors). I am not asked very often to benchmark poor performers.
  • Customer Service: we value anecdotal, one-off feedback, when perhaps we don’t actually hear from the vast majority of satisfied or disappointed donors. I am always seeking actually survey data on satisfaction rather than the “last week we had a call from angry donor” variety (which, while seemingly plentiful, is actually a fraction of a fraction of the potential population).

If the notion of survivorship bias is new to you or you’re due for an intellectual re-boot, read this post. And, don’t think the irony is lost on me that the Internet (and social media, really) is essentially a function of survivorship bias. That is, I only saw this insighthful post and that cute cat meme seen by everyone on the planet this week because 10,000 like it never made it to my Twitter feed. If you have other and better suvivorship ideas, please share.

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