Changing Nonprofit Mindset from ‘Scarcity’ to ‘Plentiful’

We don’t have enough money. There isn’t enough time. We don’t have enough resources. There is too much need. We can’t.

Sadly, each of these refrains plagues nonprofit leaders and boards. Even more tragic is that this pervasive perception of scarcity drives the messaging and calls to action these same nonprofits churn out. The truth is that these are self-limiting beliefs and, in turn, self-fulfilling prophecies. This perception of scarcity fosters a “tin cup” mentality in fundraising rather than inspiring investment in the organization’s impact on a societal change. It doesn’t have to be this way.

New Mindset, New Results

The idea that simply changing your mindset can change your result is well studied. Doing so can rewire your brain. Harvard Medical School did a study with pianists whose brain functions were monitored as the musicians played. They then did the same while the musicians visualized playing. Their brain activity looked the same. In other words, mere thought can alter our gray matter. It gives scientific credence to Henry Ford’s famous quote, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

Moving Forward

Nonprofit boards, leadership, and staff can change that mindset by building clarity about what they are truly out to accomplish by developing a theory of change.

Nonprofits are good at telling the world what they do. Most can clearly explain who they serve. Nearly all can give a concise overview of their programs. Yet, when it comes to why they do what they do, too many fail. What is lacking is a clear theory of change. It’s a failure to answer the question, “What societal change are we working toward, and what is our place in impacting that change?” It sounds intuitive, but it often remains elusive.

What isn’t true today that needs to be true?

I like to ask nonprofit leaders and boards the question, “What isn’t true today that needs to be true for you to fulfill your mission?” The answer to the question provides a roadmap to the future. It gives clarity to the mission and to existing and future programs needed to pull it off. Clarity here allows the nonprofit to define its place in impacting change. For example, it may be your mission to provide shelter and food to the homeless, but your societal change goal might be to end homelessness. Do you merely want to support struggling artists or change our society to one that appreciates and supports the arts? It doesn’t change your mission; it grounds it to a bigger cause. They can then see others working toward that same goal, which opens the possibility of new partnerships. Board members, leadership, and staff can then be more creative and innovative in their approach. Best of all, donors get a sharp vision of a brighter future their contributions work toward. This is a substantial change from the idea that their donation helps the organization survive another day to carry out its work.

David Bayer, the mind hack guru who helps entrepreneurs with their mindset, tells the story of a young entrepreneur who said he wanted to make a million dollars. David’s response was, “Then you should do something that requires a million dollars.” This is excellent advice for nonprofit leaders. Don’t just dream of having a million dollars. Aspire to do something so big to bring about social change that it takes a million dollars. Changing the organizational mindset can make it happen.

Clear Wisdom Consulting works with nonprofits to bring clarity to not just the organization’s messaging and communications, but to it mindset and purpose.

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