What is your fund development mindset: abundance or scarcity?
As non-profit leaders and fund developers, how many times have you lamented the lack of resources, be it time, money or human capital? Have you thought you’d love to steward donors more, if only you had the time? Perhaps you cringed when another non-profit announced a transformational gift? And, rather than being happy for them, you wished it had come your way? Do you believe the current economic or political climate prevents you from being either strategic or successful?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have succumbed to the non-profit scarcity mindset. While there’s no denying fundraising can be challenging considering rising competition for donors, a lack of fundraising skills and changing government funding models, you must resist.
As renowned educator and author Stephen Covey writes in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:
“The third character trait essential to Win/Win is the Abundance Mentality, the paradigm that there is plenty out there for everybody. Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else. The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life.”
When times are tight, and pressures are real, decision making can be skewed. Leaders start looking at donors like ATMs, the stewardship officer is let go, and time is shifted from relationship building to searching for low-hanging fruit with short-term payoff.
Princeton University psychology professor Eldar Shafir, PhD and Harvard University economist Sendhil Mullainathan, PhD explored how our minds are less efficient when we feel we lack money, time, calories or even companionship. In summary:
This scarcity mindset consumes what Shafir calls “mental bandwidth” — brainpower that would otherwise go to less pressing concerns, planning ahead and problem-solving. This deprivation can lead to a life absorbed by preoccupations that impose ongoing cognitive deficits and reinforce self-defeating actions. Shafir and Mullainathan offer insights into how to ease the burden in the 2013 book “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much” (Times Books).1
An abundance mindset, for example, understands the value of investing time and resources in relationships. As Global Philanthropic CEO Guy Mallabone summarizes, “People give their money (as well as their time and love) to things they are closest to. If you believe this fundamental truth in life, then our job as fundraisers is all about one thing only: Bring people closer to us!”
The following true story highlights a near miss which almost occurred due to a scarcity mindset. A local Rabbi shared this story with me about a friend who was a Rabbi at a small synagogue in the U.S. This friend called up a local charity to inform them he wanted to drop by with a donation. The folks at the charity encouraged him to donate online or simply drop the cheque in the mail. Perhaps they did the math around a Rabbi’s salary and determined the size of gift wouldn’t be worth their time to meet in person. Time is precious, after all.
But the Rabbi persisted and eventually a meeting was arranged. On the day of the presentation, the Rabbi and his wife showed up to present a cheque for several million dollars. The tunnel-vision of this struggling organization’s leadership almost cost them a transformational gift. How could the Rabbi and his wife afford such a generous gift on his modest salary? It turns out his wife had received some investing tips from her friend, who happens to be married to Warren (Buffet).
The Impact of an Abundance Mindset
A blog post by Social Velocity talks about the impact of an abundance mindset on strategic thinking.
…when a non-profit leader chooses instead to come from an abundance mindset – the idea that there are an abundance of resources and you need only to get crystal clear about what you want to achieve, and those resources will come to you – it is amazing to see what she can accomplish.2
I’m currently aware of a vital non-profit facing tough choices related to changing government funding models and a few tough fundraising years. However, they are responding with bold, innovative action that will transform the sector, resulting in enhanced sustainability and better outcomes for clients. Stay tuned.
What can you do each day to covet an abundance mindset? Want to continue the conversation? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Psychology of Scarcity, Amy Novotney, American Psychological Association, February 2014, Vol. 45, No. 2, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/02/scarcity
- Nonprofit Scarcity Thinking Will Get You Nowhere, Nell Edgington, Social Velocity, March 20, 2018, https://www.socialvelocity.net/2018/03/20/nonprofit-scarcity-thinking-will-get-you-nowhere/
The Scarcity Mindset, Shahram Heshmat Ph.D., Psychology Today, April 2, 2015,