Does Your Organization Operate with a Poverty Mentality or an Abundance Mentality?



I've spoken with thousands of foundation leaders over the past 15 years, and I've found that one thing that holds many back from achieving the dramatic success and deep impact that they seek. They have a poverty mentality rather than an abundance mentality.


In a nutshell, a poverty mentality stems from a misguided belief that maintaining a Spartan operation equates to delivering value for grantees and communities. An abundance mentality is a belief that internal investment is important, and the more you put into your operation, the more you get out of it.


I don't believe the poverty or abundance mentality really have much to do with money. Instead, it has everything to do with attitude and outlook. Consider these examples:


Foundation leaders with a poverty mentality will say things like:

  • We're just a small organization; we can't afford it (even on something of strategic importance to the organization).
  • The money we spend on professional development or technology is money we're taking away from our grantees (even if investing in yourself would make you a smarter, more effective grantmaker better able to achieve your mission).
  • Our grantee budgets cannot include more than 12% for administrative overhead (regardless of the project and what they are trying to accomplish).
  • We don't provide our staff with laptops when they travel for business - what if they break? (It doesn't matter that customer service suffers when grant proposals stack up, emails go unanswered because employees can't efficiently make use of their travel time.)
  • What is the cheapest way we can do this (regardless of quality, time, or discomfort)?

Grantmakers with an abundance mentality will say things like:

  • Who are the top experts in the country (or world) who can advise us?
  • How much more impact could we have if we added additional staffing capacity to our grantmaking initiative? Who are the best people we can get, and what is the most strategic use of their time?
  • If our program was to become a national model, what would that look like? What can we put in place now to accomplish that?
  • If we really want to make a difference on this issue, we need to make a multi-year commitment.
  • What tools, resources or technology will help our staff and grantees become more effective?
  • Let's magnify our impact by leveraging relationships and partners.
  • Let's survey our grantees to better understand their experience with us, so that we can improve.
  • It's OK if this corporate funding initiative also benefits our competitors. It will improve outcomes for everyone and we will learn a lot.

Reflect for a minute on the personalities and accomplishments of the organizations you know that operate with a poverty mentality, then think about those who embrace an abundance mentality. Which one would you rather lead or be part of?

Me, too!

For more examples and deeper discussion about a poverty mentality versus an abundance mentality, download my new article on this topic.

Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is a national philanthropy expert and advisor. To learn more visit my website at   


© 2015 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution. 

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Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is the president of Putnam Consulting Group, Inc. and author of the Philanthropy411 blog.

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