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December 3, 2021
Don’t Let a Culture of Scarcity Thwart Your Organization
By Laurie Herrick

Laurie Herrick
Laurie Herrick
Many nonprofits today suffer from a mindset of scarcity when it comes to fundraising, which too often can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s all related to the language of the conversation that takes place in the organization, starting at the board level.

A client, a development professional from a national grassroots advocacy group, was preparing to approach a major donor recently, and shared her sense of fear and impending doom. The prospective donor seemed reserved, suggesting that perhaps his finances were in bad shape. The client had described the prospect as “one of her last options,” and “her salvation.” With scarcity language like that, who wouldn’t be intimidated to make the call?

If your organization lives in this culture of scarcity, here are some questions to ask to start to reveal this cultural conversation, of which we are typically unaware. Bear in mind, if we don’t reveal this culture, it will determine our future for us:
  • What is the language used by your board and staff regarding fundraising and available resources? Do your board members and staff colleagues encourage the “Eeyore Mentality” (Remember Eeyore, Winnie the Pooh’s donkey friend who always exhibited a gloomy, defeated attitude to all he encountered), or do they notice and articulate the richness of the community surrounding your organization? Do your board members say that they don’t know anyone who has any money? Do they make assumptions about what people can give based on their possessions? Pay attention to the words people use.
  • Is there an unspoken assumption and agreement in your organization that you are heading towards failure? Sometimes these unconscious communications have a spiraling affect: There’s a perceived scarcity of resources. People communicate it either directly or indirectly and arouse fear and worry in others. People in the inner circle get enrolled in it. It becomes a larger community conversation, anxiety increases, and scarcity and failure seem to stand out as prevalent and dominating, etc. It becomes a vicious cycle and a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • How much talk is there about the failed economy? Does the topic dominate and induce worry and fear in staff and board meetings? There are real economic issues across the U.S., yet many foundations and individuals are still giving away their money. Some organizations allow the economic downturn to slow down or stop their fundraising efforts. In the meantime, others are honing and perfecting their message and the necessity of their vision. Instead of looking at the opportunity of the economy, some are being defeatist and giving up. What is your organization doing?
Take your time examining these points. The more scarcity language you identify, the better equipped you will be to make an organizational quantum jump. Once you’ve identified the culture, how might you respond to it? First, become aware of times that you buy into or contribute to this culture. Do you encourage and jump into scarcity talk? Or do you communicate what you’re grateful for, or what you or your organization has in abundance?

Then, consider what you can do to generate a new cultural conversation of true abundance. Start to be the leader who demonstrates vision and articulates what is possible. Whether your title is director, CEO, or development director, actively encourage the leadership to speak their highest dreams. Be conscious of your words, even when facing naysayers who try to thwart progress with statements like “we tried that before” or “that won’t work.”

Your next move is to begin to create a critical mass of individuals ready for positive change and, as a group, identify the future to which your organization will commit. Notice board members, volunteers, staff, and anyone else in your community who articulates a clear vision and who has forward-thinking ideas. Empower and encourage them. As you bring on new staff and board, be sure they are “possibilitarians” (a term coined by Norman Vincent Peale) who will come up with fresh ideas and take consistent actions.

Organizational change is complex and clearly not something that happens overnight. Generating an abundant future for your organization begins with one person leading the process. Language is at the heart of long-term sustainable change: words make worlds.

Laurie Herrick is a partner in Quantum Jump and facilitator for its newly launched program, Foundations in True Abundance. For more information visit
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