“We currently live in a reality of scarce justice, scarce attention, scarce liberation…That scarcity is the lie. Actually the society we want to build, the society we want to structure and move toward is one in which there’s abundant justice, abundant attention, abundant liberation, where there is enough for all of us to feel attended to.”
–adrienne maree brown
Look, I’ve been there. As a young marketing and development professional at both local and national non-profit organizations, scarcity ruled my life and my work. Across my career, I was pressured to make choices I’m not proud of, and choices that didn’t work. They looked like:
- Marketing that focused on the deficits of the people we served, instead of their assets based on a belief that it would garner more attention,
- Conversations with mothers who had just lost their children in hopes that they would increase their financial goals for their walk team,
- Recommendations that we cut programs that served community members as opposed to considering partnerships to better provide those programs, and
- A complete and total failure to listen to those we served – devaluing those I was hoping to raise funds to support.
Initially, I was thrilled to report growth in social media metrics, success in walk team goals, decreased expenses for the organization, and a clear direction that made perfect sense to me. Over time, however, the social media bumps leveled off, walk team goals failed to become realities, and it was clear the direction I was suggesting wasn’t effectively serving anyone. The learnings from my early career indicated allowing scarcity mindset to inform my professional choices would not serve me or my organization in the long run.
I started to wonder: “Is the key issue that was holding us back from truly making progress on the issues we seek to solve, the focus on not having enough? Enough time, enough staff, enough infrastructure, enough REVENUE?”
A Scarcity Mindset
A scarcity mentality – or scarcity mindset, refers to a human’s instinct to see life, work, personal energy, et cetera, as a finite pie. In this limiting mindset, we are trained to believe that if one individual or organization takes a big piece, there will be less for everyone else. In the many silos of our lives, we have been conditioned to see our work in this way. The nonprofit sector is not unique to this pattern of deception.
When we believe that resources are limited, we behave in ways that do not serve the work. We underpay staff, hoard information and resources from fellow organizations and fundraisers, micromanage our paid and unpaid staff, miss opportunities to deeply engage in the community, and focus only on the short term, limiting our organization and stakeholders from transformation. It shows up in the way we function as individuals and organizations. “We do not have enough X, therefore we just need to get by and focus on what we are already doing.” Insert time, resources, volunteers, energy, equipment, for X. We do not plan for the future or engage with our stakeholders, because we are only worried about surviving the present.
This mindset shows up in more than just how we operate non-profit organizations. It’s present in how we view and promote those we serve. When we view our work through a scarcity mindset, we develop a deficit view of the organization and, ultimately, a deficit view of those we serve. When we consider the full scope of needs of the community we serve, we focus on what they do not have. We fail to consider their assets and engage with them as individuals who are bright and caring and likely know exactly what is needed. Additionally, the people we serve are unlikely to see themselves in this way. They aren’t focused on the scarcity mindset or deficits, and yet we fail to recognize them as whole people.
Furthermore, this mindset leads to competition between non-profits. It stops us from considering collaborations and strengths between groups. It hinders us from realizing how combining resources could better serve the community. This mindset has not served us in truly mission-oriented work.
But, what if it wasn’t like this?
An abundance, or strengths-based approach, is both a way of approaching work and viewing others. This perspective enables the recognition of the inherent strengths in others – coworkers, clients, other non-profits – believing that there are enough resources for everyone. It requires trust that, by listening to our clients, they will identify what they need.
When we see the people we serve as having strengths, dreams, and goals, we can more effectively integrate their contributions into organizational strategy and truly meet their needs. When we understand that there are enough resources to meet all the needs of our community, we can better consider opportunities to apply our organizational strengths to the ecosystem of support.
“But…I have revenue goals.”
You are right, you do. And let me ask you this: Is it working? Are you effectively raising the funds you need to executive your strategic vision? Are you sustainable beyond a single fiscal year? Are you meeting the needs of those you serve? Do you even know?
Traditional models of fundraising and marketing just aren’t working for non-profits. If you haven’t yet felt that pinch, you will. In addition to revenue always being tight, we are not effectively reaching those we hope to serve. In fact, quite often, our performative actions ultimately create more harm by failing to give agency to those we serve, by taking advantage of their stories for our own financial gain, and by convincing funders that we are doing more with less.
“Community-Centric Fundraising is an alternative way to engage with donors and clients by embracing an abundance mindset, and the best news is – It works!
This fundraising movement is grounded in inequity and social justice. It “prioritizes the entire community over individual organizations, fosters a sense of belonging and interdependence, presents our work, not as individual transactions but holistically, and encourages mutual support between nonprofits.”
By living into the principles espoused, you can lean into abundance, sustain your work, and take leadership from those you serve.
What would it look like to transform your development and marketing practice to lean into abundance and be community-centric? In Bringing Community-Centric Fundraising to Life, my colleague, Rachel D’Souza Siebert lays out some concrete examples of how to get started.
Ann Fisher-Jackson is the Chief of Staff at Gladiator Consulting in St. Louis, MO. Tapping into 10 years of communication leadership experience, Ann helps Gladiator clients define who they are, reach their target audience, and grow their donor base. She combines a deep commitment to improving her community with her gift of organizational and communication strategy. She loves to look outside the box and consider how other industries or organizations might solve the same problem.