Latest news, alerts, and events.

May 9, 2024
Posted Under: Fundraising President's letter

The classic vicious cycle in nonprofit operations is the need to raise more money to hire more people but needing people to raise more money.  It is an easy scarcity trap to fall into regardless of your organizational size, topic, or geography.  Scarcity thinking dominates nonprofit and fundraising culture. It drives us to believe there is not enough time, money, energy, or people, leading us to the inevitable conclusion that we are competing with one another. Countless nonprofit boards and staff believe this false narrative and because it is so pervasive it is easy to find evidence to be right.  And yet, we must resist the scarcity trap if we are going to be truly successful.

The alternative is an abundance mindset, one that asks you to think about what is possible rather than what is not. This way of thinking reminds us that there always is enough time, money, energy, and people for the things that truly matter.  To embrace this mindset requires an understanding of what matters most which takes thinking and planning about what is within your locus of control.

To be clear, having an abundance mindset does not mean that the playing field is flat with equal access and that there is no competition built into grantmaking. It just means that your energy isn’t in all the places it is normally placed -which is on someone else or some other group. Funders are also subject to scarcity thinking, which at times looks like they are purposefully fostering a Hunger Games landscape. But let’s remember the funders that are creating those spaces (which is not all of them by a longshot) are caught in the trap too.  They need reminding as much as everyone else.  To shift our mindset requires us to shift our perspective on the idea of competition.

In so many cases, it turns out that our greatest competition is not external but instead it is our ability to easily explain to the right audience at the right time in the right way, why our mission matters.  And again, there are some systemic and proven barriers to making our case but even when we have the privilege to do it, we mistakenly elevate our work by lessening that of others.  Making our case should never be about dissing the work of a similar group, instead, it needs to focus on why our mission makes a difference in our communities and how that work is in sync with the larger landscape including all the other groups.  Simply put, the scarcity trap puts our energy in the wrong spot—outside us.  This hinders our ability to raise more money in multiple ways. The donor, who likely also cares about the thing you just dissed, is turned off by your negative message, the message that your mission can solve any systemic issue alone falls flat, and your actual ability to follow through on your promise is shaken by your inability to see the bigger picture.

Here is a quick and real example to demonstrate how a shift in thinking can make a difference:

 A local government has an annual funding opportunity. In prior years, the nonprofits showed up on the appointed hour to present their written proposal in two minutes.  The body would deliberate and following the meeting would process the requests. One year, as the nonprofit leader approached the dais the funding body instead asked them to spend their two minutes talking about why their group was more important and better at what they are doing than the other groups on the docket –asking them to say why arts was more important than health or less important than recovery, etc.  The scarcity landscape stage had been set.  You might expect me to say that under that kind of pressure and power dynamics, the groups obliged the request, but, to their enormous credit, they refused.  Instead, they quickly organized and one by one at the podium the arts leader spoke up for the recovery leader and the recovery leader spoke up for the health leader, etc.  They leaned into abundance and the whole community benefited as a result.

Fast forward, I have shared this story enough times across our communities that other groups have rallied in similar circumstances with positive results.  We don’t have to accept the power and privilege that comes with setting a stage of competition if we choose to show up differently – together.

An abundance mindset reminds us that this work is bigger than us, that we have a role to play to make it better, and that if we succeed it isn’t just our organization that “wins” but instead what “wins” is the positive impact for the community.  In this way, we say, “money goes through your organization, not to you” because donors are not giving you money, they are funding the results of the mission within the community.

Abundance thinking of course is not magical thinking. No wands or wizardry are present in this work but small shifts in our actions, words, and context will help us move to what we can do rather than have us spinning on what we can’t.

Unfortunately, too many scarcity traps exist to name them all. We’ve created a top ten list to see how small shifts toward an abundance position can make a remarkable difference in your organization’s efforts to generate the revenue your mission needs to thrive and not just survive.

A shift in any practice will not change the reality that as a country we are seeing a dramatic shift in philanthropy. Still, plenty of evidence shows that when the people leading this work (board, staff, volunteers) shift their thinking, words, and actions, the positive results are very real not just for those who are doing the work, but also for those who are donating to it, and those who are benefiting from it in our communities.  The choice then is to lean into the vicious cycle we were all taught to believe or shift our context toward a more productive space for everyone. Which will you choose?


P.S. Want to learn more about fundraising planning? Check out this blog: Where’s the Magic Wand for Fundraising? Or sign up for our upcoming class on understanding a fundraising plan.