By Alyssa F. Wright
Scarcity mindset. Whatever does that even mean? Where do we see it in our work to fund and fuel the women’s rights movement? Here’s a story to get us started.
I met Sarah* a few weeks ago. She is the Executive Director of a growing feminist theatre program in Brooklyn, NY. That’s really cool, right? I think so. Especially because now, more than ever, we need dynamic and powerful storytellers, given our current socio-political climate. Truth tellers everywhere are gravitating to the stage and screen to make their voices heard. Then, they are mapping strategies to create change both within the grassroots and at the policy level. Sarah is doing just that. She has a clear vision, powerful community behind her and proof of concept, having just secured a critical partnership with an advocacy group in New York City. So, where is the big money to help her scale?
I asked Sarah exactly that, since her project immediately make me think of about a dozen funders who would LOVE the impact her work is having for young girls. Turns out, Sarah knows a few of them too and one of these funders, is already giving to her work. Brilliant, right?! Sarah and I took to the donor sheets together. After a quick glance of this female funder’s giving history, I turned to Sarah. “Why don’t we see if she would like to deepen her commitment this year. She did $15,000 last year, so could we present the opportunity to gift $25,000 and have more impact by the end of 2017?”
Sarah immediately turns red. “I don’t think so.” She sputters. I quickly sputter back, “Well, why? She seems like a perfect match for what you’re doing and gave so easily and happily last year.”
Sarah begins to explain. As she does so, she tears up a little.
Sarah’s used to running the organization on thousands less than she should, often taking pay cuts on her own salary and bartering for theatre supplies with vendors that turn out sub-par at best. “I told her I only needed $15,000 last year to pay for the ensemble’s travel to five locations but I actually should have asked for $20,000. I thought I could cut costs a bit, once we were on the road, but I couldn’t and, we only made it to three locations on the tour. I really don’t want to ask her for another gift, because well, I feel like it didn’t have the impact I sold her on in the beginning. And, I feel really horrible about it.”
I look down at the sheet and back at Sarah, letting out a slow exhale. “Why didn’t you just ask her to give $20,000 when that was what you knew it would cost?”
More sputtering. “I don’t know. I’m just used to doing everything on a shoestring and $15,000 seemed like such a large gift at the time and I thought, I better not push it and now, well, I’m realizing I wasn’t honest, but I had two other calls to be on that day and…”
Sarah rambles on for about 10 more minutes as I sit across from her. Rabidly rambling. Rambling through all the reasons why in her mind, she couldn’t imagine a $15,000 check at that time, why she was so used to operating on a shoestring and why she felt she couldn’t face this donor, who put so much trust in her a year ago.
I’ll tell you, Sarah’s poor judgment isn’t uncommon in the fundraising world. Donors tells me all the time, “I wish they just told me what they needed to be successful! Instead, I’ve seen my gifts often have half the impact I thought they would. Then, I’m unclear as to what the programs actually cost and before you know it, my trust in the individual and the organization is called into question.”
So, what do we learn from Sarah’s story, my Fierce Feminist Fundraisers?
When we have thoughts to feelings of scarcity, we will almost immediately orient our minds towards unfulfilled wants and needs. Furthermore, our scarcity can lead to lapses in self-control, draining our cognitive resources and putting us in a place, like Sarah, of having poor judgment with donors. So, don’t let your willpower be depleted. Don’t feel like giving up. Fundraising is hard and so when someone says “I’m all in!” Tell them exactly what that looks like and exactly what that costs. Don’t’ get overwhelmed in the moment. Think long term with each funder as best you can. Sarah might not have the chance for a second gift with this donor and that is sad for her organization’s future, for the funder who loves her work and for the lives she is changing.
That said, recognize scarcity mindset.
If you begin to think, “I can just try and do the program for this amount” OR “there aren’t enough resources so I’ll just present this idea instead…. STOP YOURSELF.
Reframe and say OUT LOUD, so your Fierce and Fabulous brain can process it fully:
“There are enough resources out there. I can ask for what I need. I need to carry a long term vision for this work.”
Feel better? Good. Now, let’s go back out there and fiercely raise some big money for women’s rights!
When a person attached to an organizations, whether donor, board member or staff, has thoughts and feelings of scarcity, it almost immediately orients their mind towards unfulfilled wants and needs. Furthermore, scarcity often leads to lapses in self-control while draining the cognitive resources needed to maximize opportunity and display judgment. Willpower is depleted, which makes one feel like giving up. Organizational leaders in this state focus on urgent needs only and neglect important choices that will have a drastic effect on the future of their mission.