Episode #003: Moving From a Scarcity Mindset to Abundance

Welcome to the Volunteer Nation podcast, bringing you practical tips and advice on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity cause or movement, stay tuned. I made this podcast just for you.

Growing up working class, I was taught to eat everything on my plate, not to waste a single thing, and to seek out and find the best deal. This has all been good. It’s helped me get where I am today. It’s built grit and perseverance in my life, and I’m grateful for it. But as they say, sometimes what got you here won’t get you there. And when we think about leveling up in our lives, sometimes we need to let go of old mindsets and embrace new ones. And that’s what this episode is all about.

It’s all about the scarcity mindset that cast doubts about the future of what’s possible. And I think it’s a mindset that is holding back many of our volunteer organizations. At nonprofits, scarcity mindsets pervade how we budget, how we set resources, how we staff both volunteer and paid, projects, how things are approached in general.

It also impacts our own self-care and creates an environment where, rather than seeking new ways to solve problems and get work done, AKA through the engagement of community volunteers at all levels, the sentiment is to do more with limited resources, work long hours, and sacrifice our self-care. The end result is burnout and high turnover.

And this just isn’t good. Your nonprofit has so much important work to do in the world. So, we’ve got to work towards a different kind of mindset that can get us from here to there. So today in this episode, I’m going to run through a scarcity self-assessment to see if scarcity mindsets are stopping your organization from realizing its full potential.

Here’s how it shows up in nonprofits and their approach to volunteer engagement, and what can keep you from growth. So, we’re going to take your scarcity self-assessment and see if these things are impacting you. See if these, any of these, scarcity mindsets are at play at your organization and consider just how they might be blocking your success.

So let’s start with scarcity mindset #1: you believe that there’s not enough to go around. This is common in non-profits. After all, when we first started it sure felt that way! Many nonprofits were started by a tiny group of volunteers who are rubbing two nickels together to solve a community problem. But that’s not where most nonprofits are today. If we believe there’s not enough to go around, we’re going to hoard.

And it comes across in so many different ways. And today we’re focusing mostly on how a scarcity mindset impacts your volunteer involvement. So when you believe there’s not enough to go around versus there’s plenty to go around, it comes across in your recruitment messages and expectations for volunteers. In other words, when you start talking about there is a minimum number of hours required, it really creates a feeling of, you know, a little bit of desperation in a lot of ways.

It also creates a type of negative social proof. If we are using desperate pleas for help out in the community for volunteers, it cast doubts on whether or not our organization is worthy of support. So it creates a type of what we call negative social proof. Social proof is a psychological phenomenon in which we adopt the behavior of others when deciding how we should act.

Again, those desperate appeals for help create a kind of negative social proof and call into question why your organization is unable to generate support. So when we have a scarcity mindset and we don’t believe there’s enough to go around, we start to use those types of desperate pleas for help, and they end up shooting us in the foot. So that’s our first. So, think to yourself, do we have this belief? And is it getting in our way?

The second scarcity mindset I want to talk about is, you believe that it’s easier and faster if I do it myself. And I’ve heard people say this a million times. You may have experienced it yourself. You may have said it yourself. Or you may have been working with a coworker, encouraging them to bring on a new volunteer. And that coworker says, “You know what? It’s just easier and faster if I do it myself so I’d rather not bring on any new volunteers.” But that is also a self-defeating thought and behavior.

It may be true in the short term, but it rarely pans out over weeks and months of a repeated task. Not to mention the fact that there is likely someone else, say a volunteer, who can do this task as good, if not better than you. Often other people are actually more skilled. We assume we have the corner on skills and talent, but we don’t. If you believe things are easier or faster to do them yourself, and you’re not engaging volunteers to help you out, that’s a scarcity mindset that’s holding you back.

Okay, let’s look at scarcity mindset #3: you hesitate to set goals when it comes to volunteer engagement. I see this a lot when I’m working with my consulting and coaching clients and my students. I’m asking them to set goals around volunteer recruitment and they’re, “Hey, I don’t know what’s happening.” They’ll tell me, “I don’t know what’s happening in the world. I don’t feel confident setting a goal. Things are too uncertain right now.” But here’s the deal. When we set concrete goals, we try to be as accurate as we can, but they’re always our best guesstimate.

Goals are always our best guesstimate. It’s okay! But as soon as we set a concrete goal, the mind immediately works to find creative ways to meet that goal. But if we have no goal, the mind has no work to do, right? And so that type of scarcity mindset of, you know what, it’s too uncertain right now to set a goal at all, means you’re not, you have no chance. You know, you have no chance of reaching that goal. So that’s a third way the scarcity mindset might show up in your organization.

A fourth way: you assume that if we don’t have enough volunteers, no one in our community is interested in volunteering. I find this thought, I’ve had arguments with people about this – pretty heated ones actually – where they would say, “You know, we’ve asked, we put a call out for volunteers. We’ve tried to recruit volunteers. No one in our community wants to help. I think people are not interested in helping anymore.” I say, are you crazy? People are volunteering all around the world! Are you nuts? Of course, people want to help! You’re just not connecting with the right people, or your calls to action aren’t getting out there far enough into the community.

So we can’t make this assumption. The assumption is insane that just because people aren’t coming to your organization, the entire community doesn’t want to help. That’s a scarcity mindset. The real issue might be your marketing. Examine why your marketing might not be working and take steps to update it. That’s an abundance mindset. Hey, you know what? No, the issue isn’t that there aren’t people out there. The issue is our marketing may not be reaching them. So that’s a fourth way a scarcity mindset impacts your organization.

So, we’re going to take a quick break. And when we come back, I’m going to talk about a few other ways that scarcity mindset gets in the way. Don’t feel bad if some of these are starting to ring true, because they are so pervasive throughout our organizations and throughout nonprofit culture in general. The question is, what are you going to do about it?

After the break, I’ll share even more ideas and how to get better traction on your big goals by transforming scarcity into abundance. So stick with me. I’ll be back right after this break.

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Okay, welcome back. We are talking about ways the scarcity mindset may be impacting your success in volunteer engagement. So we are in, we’ve shared four before the break, I’m going to share a fifth way that the scarcity mindset might be holding you back.

See if this resonates with you: you see the world in terms of winners and losers. Now how does that play out with volunteers? This means that information and opportunities are hoarded rather than shared. But you know, gang, you know, you never lose a flame by lighting another candle with your candle. You know, that doesn’t happen. Now you have two candles burning. How cool is that, right?

So, in reality, the sum is always greater than our parts. And so, if we are hoarding our information and our opportunities and not offering them to the community in ways to help, we’re seeing ourselves as better than, as different than, and, you know, winners and losers. And that’s just not the way it really works. In the end, we are much better. You know, the sum is always greater than the parts. So see if that scarcity mindset is getting in your way.

Here’s a sixth way the scarcity mindset gets in our way: you are more likely to notice weaknesses rather than strengths in others, and you assume that our skills are fixed. You’re either born with them or you’re not. You know, here’s how this plays out in volunteerism. This often means you miss the unique gifts a volunteer might be able to bring to the table, and you hesitate to invest time and energy into developing your people so that they are better equipped to move your mission forward.

Gang, if we don’t believe people can grow, then we’re not going to spend any time developing them. But at nonprofits, our people are our greatest assets, both paid and unpaid. They are our greatest assets and the more we develop them, the further our nonprofit can get in terms of its goals and vision. So the more prepared people are, the more traction we can get. So we’ve got to start to reverse that thinking about, skills are fixed, their capabilities are fixed. It’s just not that way. That’s a scarcity mindset. Want to think about an abundance mindset.

Seventh way scarcity mindset comes into play: you associate volunteer appreciation with giving things rather than expressing true acknowledgement for gifts given, and you don’t make gratitude a regular practice. So, we see with a scarcity mindset, we see relationships as transactional. We give you a thing; you give us your time. And that’s not really how volunteerism, or the most powerful volunteerism, happens, does it? It’s more about relationships.

You know, the relationship of volunteers when volunteerism is transformational versus transactional, then sky’s the limit. Sky is the limit in terms of what you can achieve. And so, we need to think about whether or not our reflections, our practices of gratitude, appreciation, acknowledgement, reward, our systems for thanking volunteers are relational and transformational versus transactional. Transactional is a scarcity mindset.

Okay, let’s look at scarcity mindset #8: when making purchases for your volunteer program, you assess on cost versus value. You assess the purchase on cost versus value, and that determines whether or not you say yes to an investment. So, for example, investments in professional development to increase impact, efficiency, or reduce employee turnover. We might think of the short-term cost, but we rarely think of what is that long-term value or investment.

Similarly for volunteer management software, we think of the cost, the monthly or annual cost, but we don’t see the value of reducing the time spent on administrative tasks, particularly around for example, emailing or managing spreadsheets when that time could be redeployed to something much more powerful, much more powerful. So short-term thinking, scarcity mindset really focuses on cost versus value of an investment. We’ve got to flip the script on that, because short-term thinking doesn’t help.

Another area of scarcity around short-term thinking is we are thinking about short-term over a long-term view of the future. So, we’re thinking about only what volunteers can do for us right now, and we’re not thinking about growing our people, growing our people for greater leadership roles, expanding exponentially the ways our community becomes involved in our nonprofit.

We think of it as limited. We only need this many volunteers. Well actually, you know, again, sky’s the limit. The more people that are involved, the more people that know about your cause, the more people who are involved as volunteers, as donors, et cetera, the more you can impact others. More is better in this case, but we often think of limitations around, “well, we don’t need that many volunteers,” or “I don’t understand why we should expand volunteers” in certain areas. So again, thinking, short-term thinking over long-term view of the future.

In the end, your management practices, your services to the community, whether you’re direct service, advocacy organization, events-based organization, membership organization, things are going to evolve over the, you know, over the course of the next 10 years, 20 years, et cetera. We need to start thinking of that long-term view and how volunteers can help move our missions forward.

That was, just went through a checklist of about nine different ways a scarcity mindset might be impacting or blocking your organization’s ability to grow volunteer involvement and scale your impact. You cannot scale without more people and more resource, but you don’t always have the specific financial resources to make that happen. That’s where volunteerism comes into play. That’s how wonderful it is.

Think about how you can cultivate a mindset of abundance that can open up possibilities you never thought existed. I encourage you to question anytime you hear or see a scarcity mindset come into play. It comes into play all the time. I see it all the time, and now you will start seeing it too.

So, I don’t want to leave you with just this sort of tough love conversation about scarcity, though. I want to leave you with some strategies also for how to cultivate an abundance mindset, because that’s the direction you want to head in if you really want to get traction. So, I’m going to give you five ways to cultivate an abundant mindset.

First way: take notice and explore your thought patterns. Just notice what your mind is saying. If something feels like scarcity, ask yourself: does it serve me or my organization to think this way? What might I be missing? What could have caused this problem or issue that might be something I’m not thinking of? What proof do I have as to whether this is real, permanent, or that important? And even if it’s true, is it truly catastrophic? These are ways to think about when something happens, and we think of it in a scarcity, from a scarcity perspective.

Second thing you can do: replace limiting beliefs and scarcity mindsets with enabling ones. Think about, what is your self-talk? An enabling belief might sound something like this: we can reach our goals if we are smart about our strategies, even when we don’t have more budget, even when we don’t have more budget.

Here’s another way to think about abundance versus scarcity. When you feel yourself constricting, feel like you’re getting smaller. You’re thinking, you know, oh, we can’t do this. We don’t have enough. You have that scarcity mindset pervading. Think about this: there is more than enough to go around in the world. Instead of doing more with less, we can find creative ways to make up the difference, by doing more with more. What about doing more with more? Or doing more with the same, versus doing more with less?

Also, here’s another one. When it comes to volunteers in general, I like this statement. Volunteers have our best interests at heart. It is our responsibility to provide adequate resources and support so that every volunteer can bring their best selves to our work.

So, when we think about our investments into volunteers, we think about rather than, “Wow, I wish I could find a volunteer that could be on autopilot, that would just come in and know everything.” Well, that’s sort of a pipe dream, isn’t it? We can’t even do that with paid staff. Everyone needs support. So, we need to rethink the way that we’re considering the level of support that our volunteers need. Again, we want to think about reducing our limiting beliefs and replacing them with enabling thoughts like these.

A third way to cultivate abundance at your organization: make it a practice to visualize success. I have used this my whole life. It has worked fantastically for me. The minute that I can visualize in a crystal clear way a goal I have, a vision for the future, it 100% of the time becomes true. 100% of the time. My husband thinks I’m cuckoo when I say this, but it’s true. Every time in my life when I’m crystal clear about the vision, the place I want to go, it happens. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We don’t call things self-fulfilling prophecies for nothing. They actually happen. So, make it a practice to visualize success.

What does it look like when it comes to your volunteers? What does it feel like to have this amazing army of people behind you, helping you every step of the way? How can everyone be part of your success? You want to visualize it in detail, and you are going to be more likely to achieve it.

Another way to tap the power of abundance at your organization: practice gratitude daily. Gratitude has a profound impact on the way we view the world. Whenever an issue arises for you, especially when it comes to volunteers, instead of focusing only on the bad, consider and list the silver linings. The silver linings. There is a silver lining in almost everything that happens to us in life, almost everything. In fact, I would dare say everything. You can find a silver lining. So ask, what does this give us the opportunity to learn? How can this situation help us grow? In what ways? What were the unexpected benefits that happened even though we didn’t get what we wanted? So, tons of ways to convert scarcity into abundance.

And finally, the best thing of all to promote abundance in your organization is to promote volunteerism. Yes, by its very nature, volunteerism is an act of abundance. It is an act of abundance. It’s not uncommon to hear volunteers say, I get much more out of volunteering than I give through volunteering. I hear this all the time. I say it myself. It’s true. The more you give, the more you receive. So, it creates this self-propelling cycle of abundance. Volunteerism itself does. So think about ways to continue to promote, expand new ways for volunteers to get involved in your organization.

So, I’ve talked in this episode a lot about the scarcity mindset that I see that just infiltrates our organizations at so many levels. And if unchecked, it really does block our potential. And so, I think it’s a great idea to stop, to take a moment to reflect how is a scarcity mindset holding us back and what could we do instead?

And I’m hoping today’s episode has really helped you think through this in a little more detail. Just remember, an abundance mindset has faith that there’s a safety net, even when – not if, but when – mistakes are made. Mistakes are going to be made. It’s just part of life.

Consider how you can cultivate a mindset of abundance that can open up possibilities you never knew existed at your nonprofit. Just take a moment, having an open mind and begin to have conversations about it inside your organization, and see where it takes you. And I’d love to hear about your journey.

So, thanks for joining us for this episode of Volunteer Nation. If you really liked it, share it with a friend or a colleague who needs a little extra inspiration, or who may be suffering just a little bit from a scarcity mindset. We don’t need to go there. We can be more happy, more healthy at our nonprofits. We can do great things. We can do great things together, but it takes a mindset, the right mindset to get us from here to there.
So, thanks for joining me today. And I hope to see you on our next Volunteer Nation episode. Take care, everybody.

Volunteer Nation is produced by Thick Skin Media. Be sure to rate, review, and follow the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. For more tips and notes from the show, check us out at Tobijohnson.com. We hope to see you next week for another episode of Volunteer Nation.