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Dining Together: Finding and Befriending Your Inner Statistician

“It is the mark of the truly intelligent man to be moved by statistics.” - George Bernard Shaw.
In my last article, we explored the different job titles that apply to a grant writer. The first title was “Statistician.” Upon re-reading that article, I wonder if I buried the lead by putting the more engaging titles at the end. After all, how many people do you know who revel in the joys of statistics?


The description in that article was simple, but understanding what it means to a grant writer's day-to-day experience requires a more sophisticated definition:
collaborating with scientists, providing mathematical modeling, simulations, designing randomized experiments and randomized sampling plans, analyzing experimental or survey results, and forecasting future events (such as sales of a product) …
                                                News of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, 2014
Alternatively, maybe it requires a less sophisticated approach.
Friday nights, my family hosts friends for dinner. We have been doing it for a year and a half, and have seen about a dozen people come in and out of our home. Before the Friday night gatherings started, we had a Tuesday night gathering for more than five years.
It all centers around the food. Pizza, sandwiches, casseroles, anything you can think of, we have had for dinner. Moreover, with every dinner we hosted, my anxiety rose with the forks.
Janice ate more last week. Does she not like what we are serving? Too much salad. I need to buy less next time. The meat was tough; maybe I should try a different recipe. Oops, I forgot Alan is lactose intolerant. Why are people avoiding the casserole? Is it the casserole, or is it because Steve had a hard week, so people are not focused on the food?
Over the last six and a half years, I have more than 350 data sets to compare for these dinners. Some weeks, this helps us project what we should buy for the new people who will be joining us. Other weeks, it becomes overwhelming as my eyes dart back and forth between plates, serving dishes, and the trash can.
My work life can feel like Friday night dinners, but I have found that the statistician hiding inside of me can make things easier. The statistician becomes a guide when you get to know her.
Attendance was higher last week. Do they not like what we renamed the program?
Is this a large enough sample to make that judgment?
Too many data points to track. We need to find fewer, meaningful data points next time.
Plug it into a mathematical model, and see if your results change.
Tracking the response rate to the calls was tough, maybe we need a different tool.
Was it your tool, the commitment of the staff, or are you trying to collect the wrong data?
Oops. I forgot that this program director likes quarterly updates.
            That is why you have a calendar.
Why are people not making progress toward their goals? Is it the program, or is it because Joe is still out and morale is low?
            Isolate the variable. How are people, who did not know Joe, doing?
The dialogue with your inner statistician will develop its cadence. However, like any friend, you need to spend time together to build rapport. Is a Friday night gathering not your thing? I recommend using chocolate chip cookies to find your inner statistician.
What does your inner dialogue sound like? Do you need to identify ancillary statistics that will make the programs come alive to you? What statistics will make the programs come alive to each of your funders?
Jen Hurst, M.A. has developed programs and strategies for nonprofit organizations her entire career, all the way back to middle school when she and a few friends started their philanthropic work by raising $150 for the local animal shelter.