Let’s be honest (or obvious) for a second. A feeling of lack often pervades the nonprofit sector. And it can take many forms:
- “We lack enough money”
- “We lack access to decision-makers”
- “We lack permission to move forward”
- “We lack the right or enough staff”
- “We lack influential or effective board members”
The list of “lacks” in the nonprofit sector is long. But the thing is, lack is a construct — especially when it comes to money.
Stay with me for a minute.
I know the nonprofit sector lacks resources, but that’s not because those resources don’t exist. The biggest philanthropists in this country struggle to give enough money away. We could go back and forth about why this is (and many have recently), but the fact is, money exists. It may not be making its way to the nonprofits that could put it to great use, but money is there.
Nonprofit leaders have been told for so long that they are not worthy of having more, that they and their work are of less value, that they don’t deserve the level and kinds of investment that for profits enjoy. This story that we’ve been telling nonprofit leaders (and that they’ve been internalizing) for decades has resulted in an overwhelming feeling of lack in the sector.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
What if our talented social change leaders had at their disposal an abundance of resources? Can you imagine what could be accomplished?
The truth is that the lack from which the nonprofit sector suffers is merely a mindset — a mindset shared by both those doing the work and those funding the work, to be sure. But a mindset that can be overcome.
And overcoming the feeling of lack could ensure that nonprofit leaders and their critical social change reach their full potential.
So how do we overcome the lack of money mindset? Here’s how:
Believe that Abundance is Possible
This is the hardest and most critical step. A nonprofit leader emailed me the other day interested in hiring me to help take his nonprofit to the next level. He said he loved my approach and could tell that I would bring value to their strategic planning process. But then he wrote, “I doubt we have enough money to hire you.” So in that moment he firmly planted himself in the space of lack. But the fact is that none of my clients ever have the budget to hire me. Instead, they convince their board and staff to commit to a change process and then work together to pool funds, seek new funding, raise capacity capital — whatever it takes. The difference between a nonprofit that thrives and one that barely survives is that the latter’s leadership exists in lack, whereas the former firmly believes that something better awaits them.
Get Clear About Exactly What Money You Lack
I often hear a common refrain from nonprofit leaders: “If we had more money we could do so much more.” That’s not a plan, that’s a wish. More money won’t start flowing to your organization until you get crystal clear about exactly how you would use it. Figure out what social change your nonprofit hopes to achieve (through a Theory of Change), how you will achieve it (through a strategic plan), and how much money and over what timeframe you need to make that happen (through a sustainable financial model). You can then take that plan to current and new funders to convince them to invest. By figuring out what you want to accomplish and what it will take, you are beginning to move your work from lack to abundance.
Invest in Your Organization
The final piece is signaling that you believe your organization is worthy of greater investment by investing in yourself first. This could be investments of money, time, attention, energy. I was working with a nonprofit leader recently whose organization is barely staying afloat — struggling to keep the doors open, retain staff, work with crippled technology and systems. They haven’t invested in the organization for years. Yet they have a reserve fund that could act as capacity capital to strengthen staff, systems, technology. You may not have a reserve fund, but I promise you that you have other ways you could invest time, energy, mindshare in organization building.
Let me be clear. I’m not arguing that overcoming the lack mindset is easy. The sense of lack is so ingrained in the nonprofit sector that it can seem extremely difficult to overcome. But I promise you, if you just start believing that abundance is possible, planning for how you would use it, and then investing in yourself first, you will be well on your way. And I’m so sure because I see it happen again and again with my clients.
If you want to talk about how I could help move your nonprofit from lack to abundance, let me know.
Photo Credit: Jakob Owens