In between a grant proposal and a website I'm working on for a client, I've been continuing to think about the issue of scarcity thinking in nonprofits that I started on yesterday as I read what others have to say on the subject.
Allen points out that scarcity thinking is the enemy of change management everywhere, not just in relation to IT projects or nonprofits and I completely agree. He suggests that good planning can help people adjust their scarcity beliefs, although I wonder if the right kind of planning is possible when management is in the grip of the scarcity mindset themselves.
Michelle Murrain of Zen and the Art of Nonprofit Technology tells a story about a nonprofit she worked with:
A long time ago (in web years) I was working with a certain CEO of a certain chapter of a certain very-big-nonprofit (whose role in life is to fund other nonprofits - this kinda gives it away, but it's necessary for the story.) We were talking about whether or not this certain nonprofit, who had mondo resources, should help facilitate web development for their client organizations. They had realized that if they did that, the client organizations could begin to raise money themselves, instead of depending so heavily on this certain nonprofit. So, guess what? No web development help. I was, of course, surprised (that's mild, I was frankly horrified - wasn't it the mission of this certain nonprofit to help the client nonprofits raise money? Wouldn't helping them raise money themselves fulfill their mission?) But that's scarcity thinking for you. Even though this very-big-nonprofit was rolling in money, they thought the pie was finite, and that if the money didn't go through them, they'd get less. So the scarcity mentality isn't just for small, struggling nonprofits. It's very widespread.
What's sad and scary about this story is that the nonprofit she's talking about was "rolling in money," yet STILL saw the world in terms of scarce resources. It wasn't a picture based even on its own experienced reality, but on a world-view that I'm sure had never been challenged.
I have to wonder if one of the reasons we haven't seen as much progress as we'd like in achieving our various nonprofit missions is because of this scarcity mindset. Scarcity thinking allows us to make excuses for poor performance ("We don't have the time or the money or the people to do this!"). It isolates us, not only from other nonprofits with whom we might share resources and ideas, but from each other and from our clients. We're so busy maintaining our slice of the pie, we fail to see the ways in which we should be working on making the pie bigger. This scarcity mode is divisive and keeps us focused on the wrong things--on the problems and the barriers rather than on the opportunities and the solutions. I think it even moves us to keep clients dependent on us and our services, as Michelle's client did in the story above.
I've been looking at other resources too. This post from the Chief Happiness Officer is a good one, contrasting scarcity thinking and abundance thinking:
|It’s every man for himself||We can work together|
|I never have time||I take time for the things that matter|
|Mistakes are disasters||I can recover and learn from mistakes|
|Ideas are hard to come by and must be kept secret||I can always have a great idea|
|Our company is lacking||Our company has everything it needs to succeed|
|Look at all the resources we need||Look at all the resources we have|
|The market is full of threats||The market is full of opportunities|
|People are out to get me||People are out to help me|
How often do we hear or see some version of the left column in our daily work? Far more frequently than we see the right column thinking, I'd guess.
I also found this post by Ross Mayfield who wrote last October about the issue of abundance and how he's spent the last five years blogging from that belief system:
I've been blogging for five years as of this month, and here's what I've learned:
I have discovered I have a lot to give. And when I give, I notice others give more. Some of them I've formed relationships with, and trust opens giving, but I have also learned to trust strangers to share in abundance. Life is iterative, markets are not transactions and scarcity of attention is false. Our learnings compound abundance and there may be no limit to what we can produce.
I think that it's this picture of abundance that I find so engaging about the Internet and social media. A lot of people give generously of their time, their expertise and their support to write their own blogs, comment on others, create videos and podcasts and beautiful art that enriches the rest of us. And they do it for nothing.This is abundance thinking. This is a belief that there is an endless flow of ideas and information that we can connect and shape to create new things all the time.
I'm rambling a little, but it feels important to me to begin thinking differently about how I do my work. I know that I'm as guilty as anyone of scarcity thinking, especially under stress. Patricia Soldati talks about how fear drives scarcity thinking in her post on the "allure of scarcity":
(Scarcity thinking is) a powerful notion that's been with us forever, but has exploded in our consciousness since 9/11. Scarcity is rooted in fear and lives in the world of ego. It says: "The world is not safe, so I am not safe. I need to have greater and greater control to feel safe – over my health, my finances, my family, my work. If you have more, I have less."
Safe…maybe, but a scarcity mentality effectively embraces struggle, and abandons any opportunity for you to have a compelling identity about yourself, or to express your values or passions.
Scarcity is limiting, but safe and I think that most people value safety over just about everything (myself included, far more than I care to admit). So part of the challenge is to override your fear and to recognize when you've moved into that anxious scarcity mindset.
This kind of mindful practice is fine for individuals, but what about for an entire organization? It seems that we can only go so far in having individual people willing to challenge and re-formulate their belief systems, particularly if the leadership of the organization is not concerned with changing those patterns.
So the big question for me is what kinds of activities can organizations engage in to begin moving from scarcity to abundance?