No doubt you've seen both individuals and organizations that embrace an abundance mentality, and those who are trapped in a mentality of poverty. The abundance mentality includes the belief that the answers are out there, if we only are willing to invest in the search for them, and experiment. Unfortunately, many foundations and donors have typically operated in a poverty mentality. A poverty mentality is a belief that money should not be spent on internal investment. It is based on fear of failure and a misguided belief that maintaining a Spartan operation equates to delivering value for grantees and communities. Funders with poverty mentality say things like:
- "That problem is too big and we are small - we can't make an impact."
- "The money we invest in research takes away from our grantees."
- "What is the cheapest way we can do this?" (regardless of quality, timeliness, or discomfort)
Funders often embrace a poverty mentality in the name of stewardship or wise expenditures, like funders who refuse to ever include staff salaries in their grants. Their fear is based on not wanting to create a dependence on funding for salaries, since their investment will be short term, and they believe that salaries are a basic expense that the nonprofits "should be funding anyway."
Instead, funders should ask, "What might the nonprofit discover or develop if we make an investment in their people?" An abundance mentality is a belief that internal investment is important, opportunities are a reason to grow capacity, success can be replicated and improved, and we deserve to make investments in order to realize the greatest outcomes. This mentality is based on the belief that the more you put into life, the more you get out of it. Funders who embrace an abundance mindset ask:
- "Who are the top experts who can advise us?"
- "What information do we need to take this to the next level?"
- "What piece of this can we contribute to?"
- "If our program were to become a national model, what might that look like?"
Embracing an abundance mentality doesn't have to be expensive. In helping the Helen and Charles Schwab Foundation develop a new, strategic approach to substance abuse treatment, I was able to engage one of the world's leading experts on the topic for more than an hour on the phone to tap into his wisdom and guidance. He charged nothing, and it was time well spent to attain best in class insight. Why not assume every program deserves that investment, rather than assuming you must always find the perceived cheapest or closest available resources?
Only by embracing an abundance mentality can a foundation staff and board attain the freedom to think about ways that a grant of $5,000 (or $50,000 or $500,000) can dramatically improve how people live, cure a disease, transform preschool education in a community, or transform a neighborhood from an area of blight to one of prosperity.