Random Thoughts on Life and Work

March 21, 2007

The (Hidden) Danger of Abundance Thinking

Filed under: Charities,Charity,Management,Non-Profit,Strategy — Darren Mullenix @ 1:26 pm

Michele Martin over at The Bamboo Project has written a series of posts about Scarcity vs Abundance thinking and the impact of each mindset on an organization.  The first posting got my brain thinking in all sorts of directions and as a result it has been sitting by my computer for a few days now as I wrestled with the concepts.

One of the danger areas that I have seen over the years is when abundance thinking takes hold to the extreme.  It goes something like this:

  • Organization A experience a sudden rise in donors and donations due to some external event.  Because of it’s participation in the event it generates a fair bit of favorable press.
  • Organization A is able to retain the majority of its donors over the years and experience multiple years of ongoing growth in income.
  • Organization A attributes the ongoing growth to the way it does business and slowly a mindset of “we do it this way” sets in.
  • Organization A does not evaluate internal processes because there is “no need to change” the way things are done.
  • Organization A begins to focus on perfection rather than speed of response.  Everything starts to take twice as long to accomplish.
  • Organization A starts to experience a decline in donation income and works hard to do more of the same because that has always worked in the past.

While I would agree that many if not most non-profits wrestle more with scarcity thinking than they do with abundance thinking, I think there is a hidden danger that lurks around the corner for those non-profits that start to think of themselves as being “successful” as measured by donations.  There tends to be a lack of learning, a resistance to change, and I would even suggest that fiefdom building can be just as significant.  (Maybe it is a function of refusing to believe that there is abundance.)

So how do we avoid that mentality.  Consider the following:

  1. Measure what you manage.  Is this activity that we are engaging in really necessary?
  2. Encourage staff to think out loud.  Don’t assume that your receptionist has nothing to offer.
  3. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.  This can’t be emphasized enough.  Mistakes teach.
  4. A wise man once said, “Doing the same things over and over expecting to reach a different result is the definition of foolishness.”  Look for new and more efficient ways to accomplish the work that needs to be accomplished.
  5. Look for ways to give.  Michele nailed this one with this post.

I think non-profits will always be prone to scarcity thinking as they wrestle with tight budgets and lagging income.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.   There is more value in collaborating than in competing.  And I would dare to say, maybe the time has come for some non-profits to fold into others and create better synergy.  A little radical I suppose. 



  1. I agree that nonprofits need to start exploring the possibility of merging to create better synergies. At a minimum, they should be looking at what they do REALLY well and focusing on that, rather than constantly trying to be all things to all people so that they end up fighting with each other for the same clients. In Begging for Change, Eggers talks about how nonprofits are more focused on their own survival than their mission because if they were really focused on mission, they wouldn’t fight so much with each other over dollars and other resources knowing that more for them may mean less for clients because of the costs of splitting energies and dollars this way. I very much agree with that thinking. Not that we should have these huge nonprofits, but we certainly don’t need all of these smaller organizations all competing with each other. We need much better cooperation and collaboration.

    Comment by Michele — March 22, 2007 @ 6:54 am | Reply

  2. Michele,

    Thanks for your comment. I am not sure that it is “fighting” per se but maybe unintended competition. I like what Eggers is saying and I think that it is correct. I think it is an issue of economies of scale as well. There does come a point where a larger non-profit (or a well knit collaboration of multiple NPs) will be more efficient in service delivery than multiple small NPs serving the same basic constituency without collaboration. I sometimes wonder how many NPs are started because of ego rather than need. “I can do this better than organization X so therefore I will start my own NP.” And it struggles on.

    Comment by rallyfan — March 22, 2007 @ 7:27 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: