Efficient or Effective?

by Bob Lupton on


I am no connoisseur of beer. I couldn’t tell a lager from an ale. But the other night, as I was watching TV, a beer commercial captured my attention. Samuel Adams Boston Lager was advertising as the beer that uses the very best hops in the world, grown on a small family farm in Bavaria. According to the commercial, this unique location has the perfect soil conditions, sunlight, climate and moisture to produce spicy, floral, citric hops that gives Sam Adams beer its world-class taste. The commercial ends with a brief printed line: brewed inefficiently.

How odd, I thought. Strange for a brand to market itself as inefficient, especially in a culture like ours that prides itself in proficiency, productivity, timeliness. Unless, of course, the creative marketing firm that designed the commercial has recognized something in our fast-paced consumer culture that our hurry-up delivery systems are missing. Perhaps inefficiency has been given a new meaning – something different from disorganization or ineptitude. It may be that today’s marketing geniuses have identified a small eddy in the rushing river of American culture that senses the enduring value of patience – a recognition that some things cannot be rushed. Inefficiency may have a new expanded definition – like perseverance or patience.   

In a recent conversation with a foundation executive, this subject of inefficiency came up. Efficiency is one of the criteria his foundation uses to evaluate effectiveness. Inefficiently run non-profits seldom receive philanthropic funding, he said. But does efficiency really equal effectiveness? For instance, one of the most efficient food pantries in metro-Atlanta is run by a church. It maintains an amply stocked inventory, has a well-trained volunteer force, keeps up-dated computerized data on every recipient, has a detailed operating manual. It is a model of efficiency. But effectiveness? That depends entirely upon what they are measuring. If they measure the number of recipients that come through their door or the number of food boxes that are carried out, then they would doubtless get an A+ for efficiency. But if they measure outcomes (like the number of recipients who have become part of their church family, or the number of families who are stably employed and no longer need the pantry) their effectiveness score may be different.

I have observed, after four decades of serving and living among materially poor neighbors, that escaping a life of generational poverty can be a painfully slow process. Bad habits have to be broken. Old associations have to be replaced. New disciplines have to be adopted. Three steps forward, two steps backward – if you are lucky. Setbacks are the norm. The climb out of poverty is anything but efficient. So how does a non-profit committed to the inefficient mission of alleviating poverty get funding from efficiency-minded grantors?

Maybe our marketing geniuses can help. Forty years ago when FCS was in its infancy, an award-winning TV commercial was introduced. Orson Welles, in his deep authoritative voice, unveiled the secret of vintner Paul Masson’s esteemed white wine. And then, drawing a quote from the winemaker’s century-old journal, Welles completed the commercial with these memorable words: “We will sell no wine before its time.”      

Some things you cannot hurry.

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