April is one of my favorite sports times of the year. We say goodbye to college basketball and March Madness and just a few days later we turn our eyes to baseball opening day. (Go Cardinals!) As I was flipping channels a few weeks ago, I came upon the movie, Moneyball. The film adaptation of Michael Lewis’ bestselling book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. If you haven’t seen it and love a good sports movie, I do recommend it, plus…Brad Pitt. It’s the story of Oakland A’s baseball manager, Billy Beane,

The Billy Beane story is one of the best-known data analytics case studies. Facing one of the smallest budgets for player salaries of any team in baseball in 2002, the Oakland A’s were in a bind. He reached out to Paul DePodesta, a Harvard alum with a background in economics who had a knack for baseball statistics. Spoiler alert: Beane bet big time on analytics and his efforts paid off. The A’s started to win, even against baseball teams that had much larger budgets.

Don’t worry you haven’t stumbled across the wrong blog, I am going to make a fundraising bridge to all this. How many of you have had those ‘this is one of the smallest budgets, how am I a going to make this work’ moments? It’s a trend in nonprofits. Here is $5 to spend, please turn this into $5000. And I get it, you want to make the best use of the donor dollar and you are tired of hearing, “But you have to spend money to make money!”

Let’s look at just a few lessons from Mr. Billy Beane.

  1. Their analysis revealed that baseball scouts were overlooking statistics that could accurately predict how many runs a player would score.

Take time and give yourself that 7th inning stretch. Block off a few hours to really look at all the data. Is there something you are overlooking? Are you focusing too much on one-time gifts, rather than those valuable sustainers? Do you truly understand the health of your file and where unsubscribes stand? Are you looking at event participants and donors and folding them into other communications to keep them moving along in your file? This past week I took on a task with an organization to figure out what the average number of days was from registration to the first donation. This isn’t something that is bench-marked but what the numbers told me was really eye opening and will affect further communication plans to participants.

  1. Beane realized that players who scored high on these overlooked statistics were undervalued by the bidding market. He began seeking out these “bargain” players, or players who were flying under the radar of other teams but whose statistics suggested that they would score runs.

After you check out those overlooked statistics, then ask yourself what groups might be flying under the radar. In the event fundraising world, I find that we typically focus on high performing and zero dollar fundraisers. And yes, they are important, but what about that person that comes back year over year and raises $250? With a little strategy can you push them to double that?

In the decade that has passed since the A’s legendary season, sports teams have been integrating statistical analysis into the way they play. “Technology will transform the social fabric of sport,” Beane writes. The same principal applies to nonprofits. Technology will continue to drive us towards greater diversity and increased access. The question is, are you ready for that to come your way? Exciting and daunting all in the same breath. Continue to push yourself in analyzing the data, understanding your audience, testing where appropriate and push the limits of tools we have at our fingertips.