Next time a consultant defends some indefensible recommendation by telling you “It’s industry standard” … head for the hills. Better yet, fire the consultant.

‘Industry standard’ is to new ideas and suggestions that challenge the status quo what garlic is to vampires. A fictional defense invoked by the unknowledgeable to protect their self-proclaimed position of authority.

The phrase is often used in response to a serious question posed to a consultant. As in, “What do you think about trying a predictive model?” And receiving the response, “No, and it’s not industry standard.”

The other day, in my Flying Blind Fundraising, I lamented the fact that there’s a huge mindset gap between what needs to be done to keep pace with new knowledge and the seeming complacency to settle for the same old stuff — ‘industry standard’.

I cited this example reflected in a statement from a large fundraising agency in the U.S.:

“…As all of us working in nonprofits know, loyalty is challenging to quantify and understand. Plenty of well-intended fundraisers, agencies, and solution providers have tried to quantify the motivators and drivers for charitable giving — and all have failed…

“Why do I say they failed? Well, we wouldn’t still be using RFM (recency, frequency, monetary) predictive models…if anyone had been successful in finding a more effective way to target donors in an ROI-positive way.”

Aside from being absolutely untrue (you absolutely can “quantify and understand” loyalty”) I wondered at the time how often this sort of pronouncement is invoked in the name of ‘best practices’ or ‘industry standard’ to avoid revising approaches to fundraising and basing them on actual research and empirical insights.

I didn’t have to wonder long. Within a day, I learned of another consultant who also misrepresented or misunderstood the value of science — in this case predictive modeling — when put up against the ‘industry standard’ of RFM (Recency Frequency and Monetary value.)

The consultant’s defense of the status quo, despite direct proof that a more sophisticated predictive segmentation model worked much better …  This “new approach is simply not industry standard.”

This is not a post in defense of the science of predictive modelling, which has empirically proven its efficacy over RFM for years. (I’ll do a post on RFM and predictive modeling later.)

What concerns me is that our trade seems to be filled with science deniers.  Folks who hold themselves out as ‘experts’ who clearly don’t think or read and simply regurgitate what they’ve heard. (Even a 5 minute Google search of the literature — here , here and here — shows that RFM is a crude approach compared to other segmentation models readily available to fundraisers and marketers.

Instead, these science deniers blithely ply their daily trade of spouting advice and opinion with little or no understanding of the factual/empirical implications of what they’re talking about. And when faced with a new idea or challenged, they all-too-quickly cover themselves with the verbal shield, “It’s not industry practice.”

Why, at a time when everyone from the International House of Pancakes to Intercontinental Hotels is willing to use science in challenging and improving on the status quo does so much of the nonprofit sector avoid proven new practices because “It’s not Industry Standard?”

Have you experienced the “It’s-not-Industry-Standard” defense?


P.S. Which, of course triggers me to share one of my favorite videos with you — “The Expert”.


This article was posted in: Breaking Out of the Status Quo, Fundraising analytics / data, Fundraising philosophy/profession, Innovation, Nonprofit management, Research.
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