When I worked as a development director, I gathered our program staff once a year to brainstorm “what if” questions:
What if we had all the money we needed?
- What if we could focus on the work we wanted to do without worrying about the budget – what would we do?
- What if we had the capacity to try new things and do our work differently – what would that look like?
Abundance = Excitement
Wow! People were energized by the freedom to think big.
We came up with lot of interesting program ideas, some of which actually came to fruition.
We talked about which of the ideas might actually be funded — a chance to discuss “fundability” as a filter for evaluating their ideas.
Perhaps most importantly, the collective thinking in the room shifted – at least for the moment – from scarcity to abundance.
Try this exercise with your board and staff. Here’s a downloadable version: If Money Wasn’t Scarce
If you create an attitude of abundance — the belief that good programs are fundable — then the next question is, “How can we best organize ourselves — board, staff, volunteers — to go out and raise it?”
Debunk The Myth of Scarcity
In 34 years of raising money, I’ve observed that one of the biggest barriers is the myth of scarcity.
Since 1980, private giving from individuals, foundations and corporations has jumped from $47 billion to $335 billion per year.
Even when we account for inflation, nonprofits are raising two and a half times more money from private source than they did in
1980. In other words, the pie is expanding.
When you include all income sources – earned income from fees, government support, and private philanthropy – US nonprofits raise about $1.5 billion dollars each year. If you are curious about where it comes from and where it goes, here’s a nifty graphic from the Nonprofit Quarterly.
To give you some sense of scale, if we were our own nation – the United States of Nonprofit Organizations – we would have the thirteenth largest economy in the world. That’s more money than Spain or South Korea or Mexico.
None of this sounds like scarcity, does it?
Put an End to Misinformation
If you want your board – and everyone else – to raise money effectively, they have to believe there is money out there to be raised.
To help shift their attitudes, try this exercise: Where’s the Money?
It’ll correct many of the myths and misinformation about fundraising. It’s structured as a quiz, based on data from respected partners like Giving USA and the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University.
Here’s how to set up this exercise.
Organize your board members into small groups and have them work through the quiz together, rather than fill it out individually. This makes for a more energetic, interesting learning experience.
As with any quiz, we recommend prizes for the team with the most right answers. If you’re feeling egalitarian, give prizes to everyone. When you debrief the exercise, focus on translating the facts — yes, there is plenty of money out there — into fundraising opportunities.
Shift Everyone’s Thinking from Scarcity to Abundance
Inspire your board members and staff colleagues to imagine what they might accomplish with more money.
Then show them how giving has grown and where the money is.
Finally, use this inspirational moment to discuss ways that everyone can productively engage in fundraising.
Knowledge is power, but only if you apply it. Educate your board, then empower them to help.