Why is this post suddenly insanely popular and why don't I have a referrer address to tell me where the hundreds of hits are coming from?
Also, a bonus question--what do I need to do to get refocused on my paying work?
In between a grant proposal and a website I'm working on for a client, I've been continuing to think about the issue of scarcity thinking in nonprofits that I started on yesterday as I read what others have to say on the subject.
Allen points out that scarcity thinking is the enemy of change management everywhere, not just in relation to IT projects or nonprofits and I completely agree. He suggests that good planning can help people adjust their scarcity beliefs, although I wonder if the right kind of planning is possible when management is in the grip of the scarcity mindset themselves.
Michelle Murrain of Zen and the Art of Nonprofit Technology tells a story about a nonprofit she worked with:
A long time ago (in web years) I was working with a certain CEO of a certain chapter of a certain very-big-nonprofit (whose role in life is to fund other nonprofits - this kinda gives it away, but it's necessary for the story.) We were talking about whether or not this certain nonprofit, who had mondo resources, should help facilitate web development for their client organizations. They had realized that if they did that, the client organizations could begin to raise money themselves, instead of depending so heavily on this certain nonprofit. So, guess what? No web development help. I was, of course, surprised (that's mild, I was frankly horrified - wasn't it the mission of this certain nonprofit to help the client nonprofits raise money? Wouldn't helping them raise money themselves fulfill their mission?) But that's scarcity thinking for you. Even though this very-big-nonprofit was rolling in money, they thought the pie was finite, and that if the money didn't go through them, they'd get less. So the scarcity mentality isn't just for small, struggling nonprofits. It's very widespread.
What's sad and scary about this story is that the nonprofit she's talking about was "rolling in money," yet STILL saw the world in terms of scarce resources. It wasn't a picture based even on its own experienced reality, but on a world-view that I'm sure had never been challenged.
I have to wonder if one of the reasons we haven't seen as much progress as we'd like in achieving our various nonprofit missions is because of this scarcity mindset. Scarcity thinking allows us to make excuses for poor performance ("We don't have the time or the money or the people to do this!"). It isolates us, not only from other nonprofits with whom we might share resources and ideas, but from each other and from our clients. We're so busy maintaining our slice of the pie, we fail to see the ways in which we should be working on making the pie bigger. This scarcity mode is divisive and keeps us focused on the wrong things--on the problems and the barriers rather than on the opportunities and the solutions. I think it even moves us to keep clients dependent on us and our services, as Michelle's client did in the story above.
I've been looking at other resources too. This post from the Chief Happiness Officer is a good one, contrasting scarcity thinking and abundance thinking:
|It’s every man for himself||We can work together|
|I never have time||I take time for the things that matter|
|Mistakes are disasters||I can recover and learn from mistakes|
|Ideas are hard to come by and must be kept secret||I can always have a great idea|
|Our company is lacking||Our company has everything it needs to succeed|
|Look at all the resources we need||Look at all the resources we have|
|The market is full of threats||The market is full of opportunities|
|People are out to get me||People are out to help me|
How often do we hear or see some version of the left column in our daily work? Far more frequently than we see the right column thinking, I'd guess.
I also found this post by Ross Mayfield who wrote last October about the issue of abundance and how he's spent the last five years blogging from that belief system:
I've been blogging for five years as of this month, and here's what I've learned:
I have discovered I have a lot to give. And when I give, I notice others give more. Some of them I've formed relationships with, and trust opens giving, but I have also learned to trust strangers to share in abundance. Life is iterative, markets are not transactions and scarcity of attention is false. Our learnings compound abundance and there may be no limit to what we can produce.
I think that it's this picture of abundance that I find so engaging about the Internet and social media. A lot of people give generously of their time, their expertise and their support to write their own blogs, comment on others, create videos and podcasts and beautiful art that enriches the rest of us. And they do it for nothing.This is abundance thinking. This is a belief that there is an endless flow of ideas and information that we can connect and shape to create new things all the time.
I'm rambling a little, but it feels important to me to begin thinking differently about how I do my work. I know that I'm as guilty as anyone of scarcity thinking, especially under stress. Patricia Soldati talks about how fear drives scarcity thinking in her post on the "allure of scarcity":
(Scarcity thinking is) a powerful notion that's been with us forever, but has exploded in our consciousness since 9/11. Scarcity is rooted in fear and lives in the world of ego. It says: "The world is not safe, so I am not safe. I need to have greater and greater control to feel safe – over my health, my finances, my family, my work. If you have more, I have less."
Safe…maybe, but a scarcity mentality effectively embraces struggle, and abandons any opportunity for you to have a compelling identity about yourself, or to express your values or passions.
Scarcity is limiting, but safe and I think that most people value safety over just about everything (myself included, far more than I care to admit). So part of the challenge is to override your fear and to recognize when you've moved into that anxious scarcity mindset.
This kind of mindful practice is fine for individuals, but what about for an entire organization? It seems that we can only go so far in having individual people willing to challenge and re-formulate their belief systems, particularly if the leadership of the organization is not concerned with changing those patterns.
So the big question for me is what kinds of activities can organizations engage in to begin moving from scarcity to abundance?
Earlier I wrote about creating a climate of learning within your nonprofit and mentioned 23 Things, a series of mini lessons designed to help staff get comfortable with Web 2.0 and social media. This morning I noticed this article on 101 Great Blog Posting Ideas to Make Your Blog Sizzle in the nptech del.ico.us feed and it occurred to me that many of them would make great mini exercises for staff to practice with in developing their own blogs.
Some of my favorites:
I could see sending this list to staff and inviting them to write a post or two a week trying out different ideas from the list. For some of them you might want to create a group blog or wiki. For example, if you have staff write a tutorial, then all of the tutorials could be gathered together into a wiki that staff could continue to access. If you use wikispaces, this could be done even more easily, as wikispaces allows you to automatically create a wiki entry from a blog post.
Lots of possibilities here that I think would be fun to explore as an organizational learning experience.
One of the most powerful learnings I've had in my professional practice is that our mental models have a profound impact on our work practices. One of the mental models I'm observing at work today is scarcity vs. abundance thinking and I'm starting to wonder if the biggest barrier to using social media in nonprofits is the scarcity model of thinking that seems to permeate most nonprofit organizations. This scarcity thinking seems to be me to be in direct conflict with the abundance thinking that has created the social web and I'm wondering if the two can co-exist. I'm also wondering if it's the scarcity mentality that is at the root of so much of what's going wrong in nonprofits today.
Scarcity Thinking vs. Abundance Thinking
This article does a nice job of explaining the differences between abundance thinking and scarcity thinking in organizations.
Abundance, in terms of business and personal value, is an attitude of growth (my emphasis). I can grow more rapidly personally by banding with others in a business environment as we, together, grow our proverbial economic pie more rapidly than any of us could otherwise do. In the process, although we may have smaller shares of a collective pie than 100% of our personal pies, those smaller shares will be worth more than our individual, personal pies.
That is the theory and that is why doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, business appraisers, and members of many other professions come together in professional service firms. Collectively, they can do more and do better than any of them could do alone.
For professional service firms to grow, however, it is necessary that the concept of abundance that brought groups together in the first place be fostered by and among the individual professionals.
In an abundance environment, professionals work together to provide services to clients and customers. They do so by doing what is best for their customers. The rewards for their efforts are then shared on a collective basis.
While no rewards systems are perfect, if the economic pie is growing, the effects of many imperfections are minimized. If business is slower in a given year, everyone recognizes that the pie is smaller and that their shares will also be smaller. The collective emphasis then is on maximizing growth and minimizing the effects of economic adversity.
Scarcity, in terms of business and personal value, reflects an attitude of the absence of growth (my emphasis). Therefore, those with the scarcity mentality tend to think of the pie, whether personal or collective, as fixed, and want to grab the biggest piece possible, even some of the grab takes away from others.
Scarcity is defined as "the quality or state of being scarce; especially : want of provisions for the support of life." And scarce is defined as "deficient in quantity or number compared with the demand: not plentiful or abundant."
There just isn't enough to go around when the scarcity mentality is present, regardless of the success of an organization.
Abundance vs. Scarcity. Problems arise when a professional with a scarcity mentality joins with an abundance-oriented organization. He or she is not focused on the growing pie because of the perception that at any given time, the pie is fixed in size. That attitude fosters emphasis on individual performance and rewards rather than collective performance.
From what I can see, most nonprofits operate from a scarcity mentality. We are constantly talking about what we lack--money, information, staff, resources. There's a strong feeling that there isn't enough to go around and so the focus is on grabbing the largest share possible for your organization and holding onto that share for dear life. In a scarcity mentality, the impulse is to hoard, not to share--at least when it comes to anything of value. And the focus is on the individual organization, on survival and limits, not on the collective social mission and on growth.
This post from the Kiva Chronicles describes some of what goes on in nonprofits when scarcity is at work:
For the past two years I've operated in an environment where scarcity was the rule. We had a really small budget and stretched it so wide. We used open source methodologies, we had no IT person, no travel budget, no QA testing, no paid accountant, used furniture, little insurance, no computer budget, no server administrator, low budget hosting, a CEO who writes code, etc, etc. Most of all, we had no free time and all became workaholics. I'd venture to say I saw the sunrise 100 times last year.
Scarcity, while we might complain about it, can become a badge of honor as well. In the nonprofit world, I see that all the time. Nonprofits often compete in terms of their overhead ratios. Most every nonprofit out there advertises to it's funders how it likes to keep overhead low so that the majority of funds it raises goes to constituents. Kiva is not all that different. Last year we raised $2M in loans through our website and spent about $200K on our own staff (aka overhead). Thus, we can advertise that our overhead was no more than 10% of the total funds sent to our consituents. That's golden in the fundraising world.
This kind of competition, while it seems logical to the public, can also be destructive. For instance, is it a good thing that Kiva had no QA testing process last year? Sure, we spent less on dreadful *overhead*, but at what cost? A buggier website?
Web 2.0 and social media, on the other hand, seems to have sprung from an abundance mentality. Our capacity to inexpensively collect, store and share digital information has created a world where the uses of digital resources are limited only by our own sense of the possibilities. As a result, Web 2.0 culture emphasizes sharing, creating collective value, and ongoing growth via developing networks of people, information and resources. Further, an individual's value is measured by the value that he/she brings to the collective. It isn't measured by how well he/she holds onto information and resources for individual gain (as is the case when we operate from beliefs of scarcity).
Questions That Emerge on Scarcity vs. Abundance Thinking
Some questions that are starting to form for me as a result of this line of thinking:
I'm feeling a vague discomfort in exploring this line of thinking because I hesitate to appear too "New Age" and so much of what's available for exploration seems to come from the self-help aisle. But the more this all rolls around in my mind, the more I feel like there's something big here that I want to further explore. (Why do my biggest questions come up when I have the least amount of time to ponder them?)
I'd be curious to hear from others about this. Are there any resources you'd suggest that I look at? Any ideas that you have on whether or not I'm on the right track in thinking that this may be a fundamental barrier to true acceptance of social media?
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John Moore of Brand Autopsy is running a periodic blog series he calls "Would You Care?" He features a particular company (today it's about Chili's) and asks readers if they would miss the company if it went out of business.
What does this have to do with nonprofits? A lot of organizations spend a lot of hours trying to demonstrate impact. Often this becomes a list of activities in which the organization has engaged, as opposed to looking at how it has changed lives or moved policymakers. This is one of Robert Egger's main complaints in Begging for Change, as he rightly argues that we should be working to put ourselves out of business by addressing the root causes of the issues that got us working in the first place. A mere list of numbers served is no indicator of the quality of that service or the impact that it's having.
It occurs to me, though, that a very simple question we should be asking our constituents is:
Would you miss us if we were gone?
And to put more meat on those bones:
This, to me, is the heart of impact. These are questions that we should be asking not only as organizations, but as departments within organizations and as individuals within those departments. If the answer is that we wouldn't be missed, then the question is, "What do we have to change in order to make you miss us if we were gone?"
UPDATE--Bronwyn brings up an excellent point in comments--that we should think about WHO is missing us and WHY it is that they would miss us. This takes us much closer to understanding what value we create for different constituents.
Beth Kanter's screencasts have been making me jealous for awhile now, so I was incredibly happy to see that she's sharing the Primer on Screencasting that she'll be presenting at NTC on April 5th. As usual, she has a wikitation to go with it. This one of those "run, do not walk" must-reads that I've already bookmarked.
Thanks as always, Beth, for sharing your wealth of knowledge.
If you have 8-10 dedicated authors, each of which commits to posting once a week, you can have a highly successful non-profit blog. The quality of authors is impressive on Times and Seasons. It’s a mix of Harvard lawyers, philosophy professors, and other really smart people.
I would argue that these don't have to be bloggers from the same organization, although that's one route to go. I could see having a group blog made up of bloggers from different organizations that share the same mission--for example bloggers from environmentally-focused organizations. I could also see a more "horizontal" blog--bloggers who address poverty from different angles with representatives from nonprofits that deal with homelessness, low literacy, job training programs, food banks, etc.
Education seems to do a lot with group blogging with some good examples here, here and here. Can't say that I've seen a lot in other arenas, so I'd be curious to hear of others that might be maintaining group blogs.
Having a group blog like this lowers the pressure on any one person to post daily. Each person commits to blogging once every week or so, depending on the number of people. They would also commit to interacting with each other's posts, by responding to what others have said and through comments, which would increase your blog's interactivity.
A good way to try out blogging without having to make the full commitment of running a blog on your own if you can find other organizations willing to join you. It's also another strategy for creating value in a nonprofit network as the organizations forge a more common identity through the blog and are able to create a synergy of ideas and connections.
A Carnival Round-Up of sorts:
Michelle Murrain of Zen and the Art of Nonprofit Technology is hosting this week's Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants. She has a nice set of posts on dealing with nonprofit data.
In related news, Kivi Leroux Miller, founder of the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants, has five tips from experience on starting your own Carnival. I've already bookmarked the page so I can take her advice for the event that David and I are running.
All this talk of carnivals is making me hungry for popcorn and funnel cake. . .
Over the weekend my husband sent me a link to Leafletter, so I took a break from grant-writing and web site development to experiment with it. One of my experiments was for a client, but, unfortunately, I can't share that with you. The other was for me, a result of me thinking about re-purposing some of my blog content after a Skype conversation a few weeks ago with David Wilcox. (My version is above--click on one of the little boxes and you'll see what happens).
Leafletter bills themselves as the Little Website:
. . . a "revolutionary" way for anyone to create a portable, interactive "little web site" ("Leaflet") using nothing but a web browser.
You can easily distribute Leaflets to social networks, blogs, and other web sites. Use Leaflets for everything from portfolios to marketing materials. It's simple and free.
Although a little buggy at times, (give them a break, it's in beta), it's actually a pretty cool program.
You can create leaflets of up to 10 pages and select one of 36 layouts for each page. You can add color, text, images and links to each box within a page and the links can either link to another page in the Leaflet or to an external link. If you click on the little boxes in mine, you'll see that they link to specific posts from my blog. The Leaflet that I created for my client links to some PDF files.
Once you've created the Leaflet, you can preview it to see how it will look and also to get the URL to the Leaflet or the code to embed it in a web page. I embedded my client's into a wiki page and it worked beautifully.
One complaint I did have with the site was working with text. There's no way to change font sizes, so if a word was too long to fit in a box, then it would break the word in the middle. Kind of annoying when one letter of a word goes down to the next line. Ultimately I ended up creating jpgs of the text I needed and uploading the graphics. But overall, the thing worked pretty well.
For me, I can see a lot of uses for it besides re-packaging content for my blog. I could also see using it as a nice visual for an e-portfolio with one box going to a PDF of a resume, another going to your blog or wiki, another going to a description of a project you worked on. It would also be a great way to do a marketing campaign or send out a mini tutorial or lesson for staff training.
It's pretty easy to learn, so you may want to give it a try.