Embracing a Mindset of Abundance


Successful investmentContrary to what one might assume from the phrase, having an “abundance mentality” has nothing to do with money. Instead, it has everything to do with your foundation’s beliefs, organizational culture, and how it approaches its work. At its core, an abundance mentality is based in a belief that almost anything is possible. David conquered Goliath, and you can help conquer just about anything if you’re willing to step forward and make an effort and an investment.

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.

Interested in learning more?  Download our free white paper “Asking ‘What If?’ Using Research and Development as a Strategy to Achieve Dramatic Impact.


Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is a global philanthropy advisor, author of the new book Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, and was recently named one of America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers.  Want more ideas, tips and tools to improve your giving? Read an article, listen to a podcast, or check out a case study.

Kris will be sharing the findings of her latest report, “The Road to Achieving Equity: Findings and Lessons from a Field Scan of Foundations That Are Embracing Equity,” at several upcoming events: Fund Our Economic Future on Dec. 8 in Cleveland, OH; a webinar for National Center for Family Philanthropy on Dec. 13; and the Colorado Association of Foundations in Denver on January 26th.

“We’ve received only positive feedback from our partners about Putnam Consulting Group. They helped me stay organized and ahead of the curve while organizing and planning one of the most comprehensive initiatives that our foundation has ever launched.”

~Lisa Bottoms, Program Director, The Cleveland Foundation

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