The Sample of 1

Making development strategy decisions based on a sample of 1 is not always a bad idea.  For instance, if you are developing strategies for  major gift prospects and you have a good sense based on past interactions that a local bank executive will respond favorably to an ask for both scholarships and capital dollars, then that sample of 1 (the bank executive) is all you need to develop sound strategy.

However, in many instances the 1 person sample is not the donor, it is instead a development staff member, the CEO, or a professor or administrator from another area.

Have you been in development strategy meetings when someone says, “I wouldn’t give based on that approach”?  Depending on how much influence the person has making such a statement, the strategy may be killed.   And that’s when things go bad.

As humans we have the unfortunate inclination to believe that our perspective, our thinking patterns, likes and dislikes are “normal” (whatever that is).  Therefore, when we are presented with a development strategy we can easily fall into the trap of thinking, “I don’t like it so I can’t understand how others will.”

The way to overcome this sample of 1 trap is to do your research.  When you send out a direct mail letter, solicit via social/electronic media, or conduct a phonathon, utilize two or more distinct versions of content to those in your database. Code the responses so that you can compare the effectiveness of each version.  No need to make this a huge undertaking, but do something so that you can have baseline research findings.

Not only will such an approach help refine (and make more successful) your future development strategies, you also will be able to say to the self-proclaimed sample of 1 person in your meeting, “I understand you may not like this approach, but the research we did during our out last solicitation suggests this is a good direction for us to go.”


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