Want to Reach Peak Performance in Fundraising?

Nonprofit Toolbox
Janeal Ford, MPA, CFRE
If there is one thing that can positively or negatively impact success in fundraising, it is how we think about it. If you want to get serious about raising more money for your nonprofit, and have an easy time doing it, you need to become aware of your thoughts. If you are feeling hesitant, annoyed or frustrated at the thought of fundraising, your mindset may be sabotaging you and your charity’s success.

Thoughts Become Things
When we take on a mindset, it is a collection of thoughts strung together to form perceptions or beliefs about the world. Once we hold a belief, it influences how we behave and then our behavior becomes reality.

Stephen Covey first introduced the idea of the abundance vs. scarcity mindset in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It suggests, if we are continuously focused on the lack of resources or the abundance of them, it is precisely what will return, more of the same.

If we really want to raise more money for our charities, we need to evaluate our thoughts and beliefs about money and fundraising. The question we need to answer is, if our thoughts had a theme, what is the message they are sending into the world? Let me share how I have seen Covey’s scarcity and abundance mindset show up in day to day practice.

Villain of Scarcity 
Based on my 20 years of working in nonprofit human services, the mindset of scarcity is the unconscious choice for most nonprofit leaders. The scarcity mindset is convinced there is never enough. It moves beyond an occasional bad mood and instead has all of our thoughts coated in lack.

Scarcity is the villain in our head that points out how overworked and underpaid we are, it reminds us of our low bank account balance, how disengaged our board is, how short staffed we are, and it even has us disparage other charities and compare them with our own.

Our stewing on the lack of resources is so prominent, we think our biggest need is the need for money. So much so, we tend to talk about the need for money more than we discuss the bigger issues of our cause, solutions and impact.

Scarcity causes us to resist using volunteers and hesitant to invite the community in to see our programs. I worked for one scarcity minded executive director who told me, “Unless someone can give us $5,000 or more, we want nothing to do with them.” He didn’t understand the vast majority of donors don’t start at $5,000 — they start at $50.

The scarcity mindset closes us off to opportunity and tricks us into believing our supporters are only good for what is in their wallet.

Abundance Sees Greater Possibilities 
On the flip side, an abundance mindset offers an entirely opposite viewpoint. An abundance mindset recognizes there are plenty of resources to go around. It recognizes the joy in giving and serving. With an abundant mindset, we are not afraid to pay market rate wages, invest in training and technology or take time for work/life balance and self-care. It delights in working with volunteers and readily invites the community to provide their skills and talents.

An abundant mindset doesn’t compete, instead it views other charities as kindred spirits and partners in service. With an abundant mindset, fundraising becomes fun! The abundant mindset is grounded in knowing that as fundraisers, we are simply conduits, connecting people with a need to give to important needs in the community. In abundance, we see fundraising as a noble profession, providing opportunities for people to experience the joy of giving and service. An abundance mindset relishes the joy created through fundraising.

The most successful fundraisers and their organizations embrace an abundance mindset. The abundance mindset held collectively across your board and nonprofit team is what we call a Culture of Philanthropy. In Beyond Fundraising, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund discusses key features of a culture of philanthropy which incorporate the scarcity and abundance mindset. The greater your culture of philanthropy, the more money you will raise for your mission. Below I have shared a couple examples of scarcity and abundance in fundraising.

Scarcity Mindset Fundraising Abundance Mindset Fundraising 
It is all about the money It is about relationships with people unified in purpose together
Focus is on new donors making big gifts   It is about honoring giving at all levels and retaining current donors
Development staff do the fundraising  Everyone in the organization (employees, board, volunteers) share responsibility in serving as ambassadors and building relationships which in turn bring resources
The community isn’t engaged The community is an important partner and intentionally engaged to participate in the charities solutions
Donors are outsiders Donors are anyone who provides skills, talents, time and money to the organization and include employees, board members, and volunteers

Before more resources will show up, you need to believe in greater possibilities. Becoming aware of your thoughts is the first task. This may sound easy, but takes practice. 

For nearly everyone, our thoughts oscillate back and forth between scarcity and abundance throughout the day, depending on the topic and level of awareness. What is your internal dialogue saying to you?  Is it hopeful or fearful? This insight can help you know where to make adjustments.  

Many of you will be able to surmise how well your organization is doing based on the description of these two mindsets. If not, I challenge you to become aware of your own mindset and your current culture. Chances are good scarcity is holding you back from raising more. Awareness is the first step to making the shift into abundance and raising more money for your mission. 

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