I have a suggestion for the conference planners at AFP, DMA, CASE and every other association in our nonprofit galaxy:  Scrap two hours, 13 minutes of “seen this, heard that” sessions, serve free popcorn, and treat your registrants to a screening of Moneyball.

I’m serious.  Here’s why.

Moneyball, the 2003 iconoclastic bestseller by Michael Lewis  — now  a very popular and acclaimed movie starring Brad Pitt — is an entertaining and effective study in successful and counterproductive behaviors. I recommend it as ‘must reading’ or ‘must viewing’ for all fundraisers, development committees, boards and executive directors.

“It’s the biography of an idea,” says Moneyball author Michael Lewis. It deals not only with wins and losses, but also with the quest of a man who wanted to revolutionize a sport; someone who, in Lewis’ words was willing “to rethink baseball: how it is managed, how it is played, and who is best suited to play it, and why.”

That man was Billy Beane (charmingly played by Brad Pitt) the provocative general manager of the Oakland A’s with unconventional ideas about what a team with limited resources could do to compete with wealthy powerhouses like the New York Yankees. Billy takes on the system by challenging the fundamental tenets of the game. He looks outside the conventions of baseball with its cherished dependence on the intuition of scouts and hires a brainy young number-crunching Harvard-educated economist to help him figure out a better way.

Together they tackle conventional wisdom with a willingness to reexamine everything. Armed with computer-driven statistical analysis long ignored by the baseball establishment, they go after players overlooked and dismissed by the business-as-usual baseball world for being too odd, too old, too injured or too much trouble, but all of whom have key skills that are universally undervalued.

As they forge forward, their new methods and roster of misfits rile the old guard, the media, the fans. Using ‘sabermetrics’ (data analytics) the Oakland A’s found the good players they could afford, while successfully challenging many tenets of baseball’s hallowed conventional wisdom.

And just as in every other specialized field of human endeavor the detractors, the old-guard and the high priest experts argued that this focus on numbers dehumanized the game and ignored the intangibles that only ’trained scouts’ could see.

Although data analytics is an element in the story, that’s not really what Moneyball is about. More broadly it’s a real-life story of innovating to succeed, or as Billy Beane puts it in the movie, “Adapt or die.” Beane the entrepreneur innovating out of necessity.

And so it is in today’s world of nonprofit fundraising, communications and management. More than ever survival depends on innovation, the willingness to challenge old assumptions and, to no small degree, the ability to discover and use better measurements, benchmarks and other metrics that are based on more than myth and convention. Metrics that help us more strategically, accurately and competitively steer a course into a successful future.

It’s more than coincidence that Moneyball begins with a quote from Yankees star Mickey Mantle:  “It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about the game you’ve been playing all your life.”

Ain’t that the truth. And for this reason over the next few posts in our “Flat Earth Fundraising” series, and with your help and suggestions, I want to focus on challenging some of the conventional wisdom and  fundamental tenants in our craft, while also introducing  you to some innovative approaches that might help us all change the game for the better.

What sacred cows would you like to challenge?


P.S. Interested in innovation? Then try the webinar I’m moderating that will present a new approach and tool for pre-testing packages, developed by DonorVoice. Seats in the February 9th  (11:30 EST) Direct Mail Testing Webinar are going fast. Agitator Readers can register here FREE.

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