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The Nonprofit's Dilemma: Abundance or Scarcity

The Plenty Team
July 7, 2015

You have a choice. That’s right, you do.

You can inspire people who care about your cause to give to you because you’re moving the needle of change forward, or you can scare them into action using statistics designed to create urgency.

You can share personal stories of people in need – the people you serve – that are dignified and show an appreciation for the systemic failures that led to their current situation, or you can show "poverty porn".

You can set meaningful fundraising goals that translate directly into tangible impact, or you can arbitrarily create unfounded and franticcampaign asks every month until constituents, who once opened most of your emails, have since asked Gmail to mark them as spam.

You can choose to inspire, engage, and motivate your supporters around abundance, or you can use fear and scarcity to move them into action.

Quite simply, you have options for how you gather support. And although these choices occur at the individual level or between you and your team, the effects of these choices transcend your organization.

As social good organizations, we are all working to fulfill worthy missions. We are part of a cause driven community working to tackle real challenges of the human condition – mental health, homelessness, education, human rights, disease, and so many others. And because we are all connected by at least one of these three layers – organization, cause, sector – the choices of our organization and leaders culminate, speak to, and affect the entire space.

Of course, organizations have a right and duty to make smart choices for their own benefit, but given the three layers of connection, it’s also important that those choices help move the sector forward rather than shift it into reverse. This is why messaging matters. The messages that individual organizations choose reverberate through the entire nonprofit sector. Therefore, we have to select them carefully, especially when making a choice between a message of abundance or scarcity. 

I recently witnessed this choice being made at a conference. As an attendee I was disappointed to hear a nonprofit leader who was speaking at the conference say that nonprofits do too much backslapping without the impact to justify it. His message wasn’t one of abundance it was one of scarcity. His underlying point, that it’s critical for nonprofits to use data and community context to measure impact more precisely, is an important one. But the point was lost due to his delivery. It was masked by his need to call out the nagging anxiety many nonprofit leaders share: “There’s so much need to address. How will we ever be able to solve all of it?” The nonprofit executive’s comments stemmed from a place of fear, not opportunity.

Our feedback for that presenter, and our advice for you is the same: choose your narrative wisely. Consider your tone. Is it one of abundance or scarcity? How does it impact the work your organization is doing and the progress of the sector? Sometimes the right messaging requires you to tell the honest (and hard) truth that no one wants to hear, and that’s ok, but you can choose to make it the kind truth. The kind truth is productive and builds on possibilities not fear. It preaches opportunity and ways to harness them, not defensiveness based on the apprehension that already permeates the nonprofit space. 

Messages matter. Your messages matter. They impact your organization and the entire industry. The future of our sector lies not in scarcity but in abundance. Be the carrier of that torch.

Unlock the abundance and potential of your supporters. Download our e-book "The Participant Gears" to start understanding what motivates your constituents to participate in your campaigns and support your cause.

Ebook call to action for Participant Gears E-book

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