I’m an avid skier but mostly on-piste, making me a novice backcountry skier and it’s this bit of knowledge that makes me more likely to take backcountry risks. Paradoxically, more knowledge and training only increase the risky decision making. Why are the most well-trained backcountry skiers the most likely to die in avalanches?
Some of this is self-selection bias. If only experts go, only experts die. But the multi-year sample size of tragedy in the backcountry has enough novice to expert variance to prove this isn’t the only explanation. This matters because for decades the answer from the industry to prevention was more training.
That changed when an avalanche expert, Ian McCammon, made it his life’s work to dig deeper after losing someone close to him in an avalanche. He relied on behavioral science and the mental heuristics we tend to use in lots of contexts to identify the most prevalent mental shortcuts taken in the backcountry that led to bad outcomes.
And he created two frameworks, one for understanding the problem (FACETS) and the other for trying to correct for it (ALPTruths). Since the former contains root cause for mistakes in lots of contexts, I thought it worthwhile as we enter ski season and turn the corner on end of year fundraising to apply it to our world.
F: Familiarity. Something that is more familiar to us feels safer. This looks like a slope we’ve skied dozens of times before, with no bad consequences.
- Fundraising: Relying too heavily on familiar fundraising methods, potentially overlooking innovative or more effective approaches.
A: Acceptance. This is the desire to fit in.
- Fundraising: How many meetings is there constructive dissension and debate? How many meetings to people go along to get along? As one of the Wrigley brothers famously said, if two people are in business together and always agree, one of them is unnecessary.
C: Commitment or consistency. We’ve come all this way; we can’t turn back now. You’ve committed to friends, you’ve spent hours, and good money to be here.
- Fundraising: Continuing with a fundraising plan due to all the sunk time or because it’s what we did last year, even when data suggests a change in strategy might be necessary.
E: Expert halo. Someone in your group with high knowledge or expert skiing ability, or simply the confidence they exude can influence the entire group and dampen all other concerns. If there is a perceived expert in the group, other group members might not speak up if they have alternative opinions, thinking that the “expert” must know what they’re doing.
- Fundraising: Over-reliance on the opinions or strategies of perceived experts in fundraising, potentially suppressing diverse perspectives and innovative ideas.
T: Tracks/scarcity. The race for first tracks can cloud our judgment. In addition, the thought that the resource (fresh powder) is quite limited, and you must go now while the getting is good.
- Fundraising: The urgency to follow trendy or scarce fundraising opportunities without fully assessing their long-term viability or fit for the organization.
S: Social proof or social facilitation. Previous tracks on a ski slope will give you a false sense of security and therefore does not mean it is safe. Just because other people are in the same zone, does not mean that zone is safe.
- Social Proof: Using fundraising strategies simply because they are widely adopted, without analyzing their effectiveness.
Knowing these traps is one thing, avoiding them is another which is what the ALPTRUTH checklist is for. McCammon found that 3 or more of these were present in 90% of avalanches triggered by humans.
ALPTRUTH Framework in Fundraising
- Avalanche (Recent Changes): Assessing recent changes in the fundraising landscape or within your organization that could impact fundraising strategies.
- Loading (External Pressures): Considering external pressures or changes, like economic shifts or changes in donor behavior, that could impact fundraising.
- Path (Strategic Direction): Evaluating whether the current fundraising path aligns with the organization’s goals and donor expectations.
- Terrain Trap (Potential Risks): Identifying potential risks in fundraising strategies, such as over-dependence on a single source of funding.
- Rating (Evaluation of Strategy): Regularly reviewing and rating the effectiveness of fundraising strategies and being ready to adjust plans based on these evaluations.
- Unstable Snow (Signs of Instability): Being aware of signs that suggest a need to change strategies, such as declining donor engagement or reduced fundraising effectiveness.
- Thaw (Changing Conditions): Recognizing and adapting to changes in the fundraising environment, such as new technologies, changing donor preferences, or regulatory changes.