A Culture of Scarcity:
If you live in and work with, an NPO/NGO culture, you understand – in your gut – what it means to live in a Gladiator Culture; where 9 out of 10 equally qualified (but unequally prepared) foundation and agency grant apps – are rejected. You know that knot in the pit of your stomach, when receiving a foundation or funding agency grant rejection letter. It comes with the territory, doesn’t it?
Shoveling Seaweed Against the Tide
The devastating devolution of federal, state, and local funding and budget cuts is driven by a toxic, polarized, ideological, and political environment; where the underlying motivation seems more directed at demonizing and victimizing the victims, than meeting the needs of those who are the most vulnerable and at risk. Add to that, the significant loss of principal in foundations due to dramatic losses in the market, drives both grantmaking reductions, and more rigorous evaluative and performance criteria …
In this culture, we create daily scenarios of seemingly impossible fundraising requirements, with expectations of increased tangible and measurable deliverables, in unrealistic timelines, to make-up our widening annual budget gaps – while we are compete with one another in our Gladiator Culture – in a smaller and smaller finite pool of resources. It’s no surprise then, that the average tenure of development directors … is just 18 months.
For NPO’s & NGO’s …
needs have always exceeded resources When we are client-centered, we are idealistically and compassionately drawn 24/7 into meeting the needs of those most vulnerable and at risk in our local, regional, country and global communities. As resources evaporate, we often find ourselves personally writing emotional and physical checks that our bodies and our institutions can’t cash. It really is hard to see the light at end of the tunnel … it’s either extinguished – or worse – it’s oscillating! We often feel more like fodder – than facilitators.
Changing the Paradigm
As a result, we have been inexorably drawn into accepting, participating and perpetuating a Culture of Scarcity, at so many levels in our organizations, that it’s often hard to imagine where, or how, to begin to change the paradigm … and the cycle.
The Buddhists have a name for this existential scenario – they call it Samsara – our wandering together through an endless cycle of self-inflicted, self-perpetuating, attachment to unreality, frustration, and suffering. Albert Einstein defined insanity as, “Doing the same thing, over and over again, and expecting different results”. That great American philosopher Yogi Berra, called it “Déjà vu all over, and over again”. Sound familiar, it’s all the same riff isn’t it?
So, how do we break the itch scratch cycle- the pattern of Samsara, insanity, and déjà vu all over again? Hint: The good news … it’s all learned organizational cultural behavior!
An Organizational Culture of Scarcity reflects our shared (often unarticulated) view of each other, and our stakeholders. It represents our shared, underlying institutional alignment, intentionality and our motivation – always modeled top down – it’s really contagious, and infects every internal stakeholder.
How we treat each other as stakeholders on the inside – is often an excellent predictor of how we will perceive and treat others outside the institution (i.e. clients, donors, foundations, and other orgs in the community). For example, if we have a bunker mentality – we often see a siloed departmental and institutional “Us against Them” mindset. Consequently, collaboration, cooperation, partnerships, transparency, shared learning, and trust – are often not in the institutional spell checker.
An NPO Culture of Scarcity is a shared belief system, it is an Edifice Complex, a bulwark against the onslaught of all of the stuff we are assaulted by internally and externally. We’re more concerned about our individual, departmental, and institutional survival – than serving our shared vision, mission, and values – through shared learning and collaborative partnerships together in the community.
If we were a for profit corporation, we would say we were intensely product-centered – talking AT people – where marketing, social media, finance, management, development, operations and admin, are engaged in a ritualized daily battle of mortal combat, competing for internal and external resources (it’s not very safe is it?), versus, our being customer and donor centered – listening to, learning from, and engaging and talking WITH people.
Can you see how an Organizational Culture of Scarcity morphs into self-perpetuating, self-fulfilling, reactive, crisis managed, cycles; motivated by shared intentionality and self preservation behavior?
“We met the enemy – and they is us!” Pogo (the cartoon character) said. Not your co-workers, not the board, not management, not the volunteers, not the clients, not the foundations, not other agencies in the community, not your lapsed subscribers or donors – they’re not the enemy – we are. They are all just excuses for isolating each other and everybody we perceive as a threat. And when we do, what do we get back (fill in the blank) Yup, you got it, Samsara, Insanity, Déjà vu all over and over again.
So what do we want for outcomes –
First we have to own our own stuff – if we want to change our outcomes in here AND out there, we have to change our attitude & behavior – and, before we do that, we have make some hard decisions together. When we drink the Culture of Scarcity Kool-Aid, we have to own that we agree to participate in a culture that consumes people, good will, trust and social capital.
A culture of scarcity begins with a shared institutional belief that there isn’t enough emotional support, care, concern, kindness, compassion, and generosity, to go around, so we will extract it from each other.
Is that what really what we want for outcomes … for ourselves, for our board, for our volunteers, for our clients, for our community partners, for our donors? Or, do we choose to invest in a culture of generosity and gratitude – with each other – it’s contagious.
It’s not about the money.