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Finding your hidden statistic

Finding your hidden statistic

diceFull disclosure for this blog post: I barely passed statistics in university. I was an Economics minor that took the remedial statistics class. I memorized my formulas and squeaked my way through the course.

Fast forward a few – almost 20 – years, and it turns out that I use statistics quite a bit in my daily life as a fundraiser. Thankfully I am not calculating statistics, but rather I use statistics to emphasize a point, demonstrate a need, or to highlight a social inequality.

Statistics – the big, the bad and the ugly

Not-for-profits spend a lot of time talking about big statistics:

  • “On any given night some 33,000 Canadians are homeless of which as many as 11,000 are youth.” Covenant House
  • “Almost half (48.7%) of male teens said that they can’t/don’t talk to anybody about their mental health concerns.” CHEO Website, Youth Net / Réseau Ado (YN/RA)

Standing a statistic “on its head”

These are huge, horrible statistics. But my question is – do they prompt people to act? Do they prompt people to volunteer, lobby or donate? I am not so sure.

I was recently in a case for support meeting with a client where we were having a healthy discussion about their three programs and the needs they serve in the community. I was playing devil’s advocate, asking each of them to advocate on behalf of their programs. One of the statistics that came up was that they had 77 high-performance athletes on their program roster. I thought about that for a minute, then asked “How many of those athletes are Olympians or Paralympians?” The program manager paused and said that he would get back to me.

It turns out that this organization has 18 Olympians and 13 Paralympians on their roster – a total of 31 athletes that attended the Olympics! That’s over 40% of the roster! By flipping the original statistic of 77 athletes on its head, we were able to highlight an important aspect of the program: it successfully attracts high-performance athletes to be a part of their youth engagement programs.

Now that’s something a potential funder would be interested in.

Sometimes we need to pause and reflect on a statistic

All too often we find ourselves copying and pasting standard intros and statistics into applications, printed materials and websites. Finding your hidden statistics requires a bit of reflection, and a dedication to “choosing a new way to say something that you’ve been saying for a long time.” Your hidden statistic might also present itself during group brainstorming.

Other ideas for making statistics “real”

Here are just a few ideas for finding a hidden statistic within your organization.

  • Using a map – One of my colleagues described using a large map to hold some of her best major gift discussions with potential donors – she was working in Nature Conservation;
  • Infographics – I love these! Not sure what they are? Here’s one from the Globe and Mail about Canada’s $21.1-billion deficit (2012-2013). There are arrows to scroll through on the sides of the pages;
  • The statistic of “one” – I recently gave to Plan Canada because of an incredible story that their telemarketers shared with me over the phone. It wasn’t about the countless homeless people in Africa. It was about one girl, and her struggle to stay in school. This was a statistic of one that had a tremendous impact on me personally.

Pull out your standard materials. Is there a better way to describe which needs you address? Can you look at something from a different angle, and use a statistic to make your point? That’s where you’ll find your hidden statistic.

Flickr photo credit: .thomas alexander