We Must Do More with Less and Other Pet Peeves.
Below it the transcript of the podcast as a guide.
Hey everyone, I'm Sarah Lange and I'm here to spark the Philanthropy Revolution. The word “philanthropy” means “love of mankind”. My show is all about the ways we can open our doors and hearts so we can do more good.
Hey everybody, Sarah Lange here. Thanks for joining me on the philanthropy revolution.
I am a fundraiser. I'm a philanthropist as well. I've raised more than $90 million for nonprofits around the United States. And I'm here to help you raise more money so you can do more good. And it's interesting because I was at a retreat this past weekend and I was telling people about the revolution and why I started it. And they were like, “Oh my God, you're like, you're so courageous, you're so brave.” And I'm like, “well, I was kind of born this way.” So, I can't always take credit for being this crazy courageous unicorn that I am. But I do have some early memories of stirring up trouble that I wanna share with you.
So, when I was in second grade, I had this lovely teacher, Mrs. Allison, she was so kind and she played the Autoharp for us and taught us how to play Mancala. And she was just like one of those super cool, lovely teachers. And there was another Sarah in the class. And so, she wanted to call me Sally. And apparently, I stood up on my chair and was yelling at her, “that's not my name!” So, she called me Sarah L and the other Sarah was Sarah H.
And then a couple of years later, I was in Girl Scouts and my troop leader decided that maybe I wasn't such a good fit for Girl Scouts because I kept pointing out when she was treating her daughters who were also in the troop differently than she was treating us. And so, I guess she didn't like that. So, I kinda got kicked out of Girl Scouts.
And then fast forward a few more years, I remember my math teacher, Mrs. McDowell was ignoring this kid, Paul. He had a legit question and I don't know why she didn't wanna answer it. But anyway, she kept trying to move on with her teaching. And I was like, “Mrs. McDowell, Paul has a question and you haven't answered it.” So, there's always been this, I don't know what to call it, this fighting spirit inside of me where, I stand up for the underdog and I point out when things aren't fair. It's definitely gotten me in trouble over the years.
I've definitely gotten more courageous and more brave. And when somebody was asking me over the weekend, like, well, “why? Like, why do you do all this stuff?” And the bottom line is that I do it because I can't ‘not do it’. So. to me, the cost of not making the world a better place by supporting nonprofits is higher than the risk I'm taking. So, any price that I'm gonna pay by speaking my mind and standing up for the underdog or championing nonprofits, like, that to me not doing that is such a high cost to me that I'm willing to put up with whatever people wanna say about me.
Hopefully it's mostly good stuff, but I'm sure I have a few detractors out there. When I talk about the revolution, the revolution can be done in tiny steps and it can be done softly. It doesn't have to be this, “we're gonna burn down the world” kind of thing. And really the philanthropy revolution is about love, right?
It's about, I love the nonprofit sector so much that I don't wanna see it in turn, let other people down. I wanna see nonprofits thrive. I wanna see the nonprofit sector soar because we're doing the heavy lifting in this country and yet we're still asked to settle for the crumbs and that's not fair, right? So, I think sometimes we think like, pitchforks and torches, but if we look at the history of revolution, the revolution in the United States, I think took about 10 years. I think the one in France took 12 and then there was one in Haiti that also took about a decade.
So, these are not always like overnight, burn it down kind of events. So, I would really encourage you to just do something different, try something out, be revolutionary in the tiniest, softest way that feels comfortable for you. So, that's just a little bit about the way I'm thinking about the revolution. Of course, me, I am ready to do the pitchforks…
Hi, Janet, thanks for joining us.
Like I am a pitchfork and a torch kind of girl, but I also realized that's not always the most effective approach. So, one of the things I've learned in my 35 years of fundraising is that good technical skills are really important, but what's gonna affect the outcome of your fundraising efforts above all else is our attitudes about money. So, today I wanna talk about how everything changes when you change your mindset.
What I see in the nonprofit sector is that a lot of us are locked into scarcity and scarcity is the belief that there's not enough blank. Fill in the blank, it could be money, time, staff, volunteers, but we believe that there's not enough to go around. And so, this focus is on the problem, the deficit, the lack of something. And it's really easy for us to get stuck in this mindset because most of us don't have enough resources to provide excellent and amazing outcomes for the increasing demand and complex needs of the people we're here to serve. So, especially post pandemic, there's a lot of people who are really struggling, trying to put their life back together.
I met a guy over the weekend who lost his mother and both of his sisters during COVID. His entire family got wiped out and he is struggling. He is like so weighed down with grief, it's incredible. And he said, if it weren't for the kindness of friends that he would be homeless right now because he's been so grief stricken. So, these are the people we're here to help. And yet at the same time, we feel like we don't always have the resources we need to help people who are struggling.
So, the other thing I see is that when we're locked in scarcity, it kind of leads to this scratch and hustle mentality and a competitive environment, which we feel like we have to beat out the competition to grab what little there is. So, our donors end up feeling kind of like used and abused and a little bit hustled because we're always kind of going after them for more money, more money, more money. Cause that's because we're under pressure to get more money, more money, more money. So, it kind of trickles down and it doesn't feel good for us and it certainly doesn't feel good for them.
One of the things that I've noticed is over the years of doing this work that I've really worked on is my own mindset around money. And one of the things I've noticed is that what I habitually think about actually ends up being in my world because you kind of end up manifesting it or attracting it. So, if our subconscious minds believe that scarcity is the norm then it will fulfill this belief by continuing to ensure that we live in a way that maintains scarcity, which only reinforces our scarcity thinking. So, we get into this vicious cycle, right? We think a lot about like, “oh my gosh, there's not enough of this, there's not enough of that.” And then that turns into our reality. And then we're like, “see, I told you so, there's not enough.”
But the reality is we live in a very abundant world. Nature is very abundant. Philanthropy is very abundant. Hundreds of billions of dollars out there that we can secure. And also, that's not a finite pie. There are people out there who could give more if they were properly motivated and incentivized to do so. And I'm not saying like, “send them a mug, send them an umbrella.” I'm just saying that helping them see the difference that they're making in your work because that's a huge incentive for people when they feel like they can make a contribution that's significant and meaningful, they tend to give more.
So, it's really important for us, in terms of increasing our own success, is moving from a place of scarcity to one of abundance, because that's gonna have a really potent effect on your ability to attract donors, funders, money, and other resources that your organization needs to fulfill its mission.
I wanna ask you some questions. And this is a set of questions that is from Cheryl Richardson's book, ‘Take Time for Your Life’. And as I say these things, I just want you to, answering these questions led to one of the biggest “ah-ha’s” that I've had as a fundraiser:
My bank account is...
Those who have more money than me are…
For me to make more money, I must…
If I make too much money, then…
I can't make a lot of money because…
What I find is when I do this exercise, most people are surprised by at least one of their answers and I will tell you the answer that surprised me. So, when I was doing this exercise way back, gosh, like 20 something years ago, I remember it was in my early days as a single mom. So, that must've been 24 years ago because my son was three. So, when I answered the question, ‘those who have more money than me are…’, the word that came out of my mouth was “assholes.” And I was like, “oh my gosh.” So, if I think that people who have more money than me are assholes and I don't wanna be an asshole, guess what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna subconsciously undermine my own financial success. I could not believe that thought was running around my head like a crazed squirrel.
And so, I was doing the things to undermine my own financial success, even though I wasn't aware of it. But the minute that I brought that belief out into the light, guess what? I could start dismantling it and looking at other things that I believed. And so, I'm sure you can imagine what effect that was having me as a fundraiser. I mean, I was doing a good job and I've raised more than 90.
I was doing a good job as a fundraiser because I had raised a lot of money. But when I started realizing how that was affecting it and sent that thought off to live in the wild, my ability to raise money increased significantly. And so, this is kind of the power of making that shift.
Unbeknownst to us, we have all sorts of invisible equations like this driving our behavior. We've all been subject to conditioning, whether that's familial conditioning. So, for example, I grew up in a household where my father was first generation American from Germany. And in Germany, work is important. “You'll must book.” That is what my grandmother used to say. And so, you have to work hard. And so, that was kind of shaped who I became is that cultural belief that ‘work is important’. At the same time, I also grew up with a Southern mother who would come out as a debutante. So, her belief system really shaped how I was raised and who I became. And also, probably why I got kicked out of Girl Scouts because I was very resistant to my mother's, how shall I say, Southern programming.
So, she grew up as a debutante in the 50s and came out. And so, she had a very particular idea about how girls were supposed to be. And I wasn't fitting that mold at all because I grew up between two brothers and I was a jock. So, she didn't know what to do with me.
Anyway, we do have all these invisible equations running around our head. And it could be from our religious beliefs, our familiar beliefs, our cultural beliefs, just being brought up in the United States can really shape how we think and who we are. So, it's a process and it takes time, but I always kind of find it amusing when I pull these things out of my head and I go, wow, another squirrel. So, the cool thing is you can move it from your subconscious into your conscious and once it's in your conscious, then you can start paying attention to the impact it's having on you.
So, it's important to examine our attitudes and the chatter that's in our heads, not just about money, but about every aspect of our life. I was telling Chris before the show, at this weekend retreat, there was a woman who was convinced that she couldn't leave her job, which she hates and is slowly killing her because she hates it and it's just really stressful for her to be in this job. And so, the retreat leader was asking her, “so why can't you leave your job?”, Do you think there's not another job out there that could provide you with a comparable income that you might not hate as much?” And she was like, “well, yeah, I think I could do that.” And he goes, “okay, so then what's the deal?” And she's like, “well, my husband and I make the same amount of money, and if I don't make as much money, my family will suffer.” And he was like, “well, do you think your family would be willing to make a few sacrifices or maybe you guys could move into a smaller house or maybe drive your car for a little longer?” And she goes, “oh yeah, my husband and my kids are constantly telling me to quit my job because I'm so miserable.” And he's like, “okay, so what's the problem?”
So it's just so funny, because she had this belief that…
What it really boiled down to was, she felt like if she wasn't making the same amount of money as her husband, it devalued her worth in the relationship. It's like, “there's the squirrel”, right? And so, it's just interesting when you find these things and you trip across them, but then that gives us the power to change them.
It's important to do this work, not just with ourselves, but also with everyone in our organization, including your board, because guess what, they have their own squirrels. So, using these questions that I just read off is a great place to start. And it's just such an interesting conversation that you can have about people's responses and it very quickly surfaces the beliefs that people have around money. So I do that a lot with boards. It's really fun. It leads to a really interesting conversation. And it usually helps us move the board towards fundraising. So, if you wanna unlock those board members, you can use questions like that to get them moving.
So, I've also found that there's a series of limiting beliefs that we buy into that continually kind of keep us strapped into scarcity. And the first thing is that our organization has to stay in business forever. Well, we got into this business to solve problems, right? And so, take a second and imagine the world if nonprofits didn't have problems to solve. Wouldn't that be amazing? And yes, I'm probably living in a fantasy land, but I like to think that at least some of these problems that we're trying to solve are solvable.
So, I think we should aim to go out of business because why would we aim for anything less? If we're serious about solving the problems; homelessness, cancer, lack of afterschool options for kids, whatever it is, then that should be our goal and our aim. So, we don't have to stay in business forever. And sometimes one of the things that we were talking about over the weekend is sometimes that chapter of the curriculum is over. Sometimes we stay with something or we have an organization or a business or a job that has outlived its usefulness. So just something to think about.
‘Our organization cannot be profitable…’ I'm just calling straight up BS on that one. Every client that I have is profitable. So, the only difference between a for-profit business and a nonprofit business is where the profits go. So, in a nonprofit, all of your profits have to come back into the organization to support the mission but that doesn't say you can't make as much money as you need to.
One of my clients, they've been with me for 10 years now. They have $113 million stashed away. This means that they were able to pay down the mortgage on their building much more quickly. It means that they don't have to worry if, so for example, they get a significant chunk of money from the state. And so, if for some reason the state decided to either not renew that contract or there was a delay in the contract, that they don't have to displace everybody that they're taking care of. So, they have just worked really, really, really hard to build up surpluses and make investments so that they have that kind of money.
Our nonprofits can be profitable. They don't have to just, you don't have to budget for breakeven every year, you can budget for a surplus. And it's just makes life easier if you have a safety net to fall back on. It's like, if you own your own home and your roof is gonna have to get replaced eventually, it's nice to know that you have that money set aside already, or for your water heater, for whatever happens, right? That car that decides it's now on its last leg.
So, our organizations can be profitable just because we are called a nonprofit doesn't mean we have to be a no profit, right? The other thing that I trip across quite frequently is that organizations often think that they can only rely on subsidies. When I say subsidies, I mean like private corporate government grants donations. So, if you think about museums, museums have gift shops. If you think about Girl Scouts, you can't help but think of Girl Scout cookies.
A long time ago, they figured out how to have a reliable source of revenue from a for-profit venture. And this is gonna provide you with financial stability and freedom. So, a lot of nonprofits are now starting revenue generating initiatives. So, for example, I know a community development corporation and their primary mission is to create affordable housing and that's out of their nonprofit. And they have a for-profit housing development company that they started and the money that that company generates because they're in the business of renovating housing, right?
They're in a section of Boston and they started this a long time ago. So, it would be harder to do now because of the real estate prices. But a long time ago, they had this idea of look at all these vacant abandoned properties, we could renovate some of them and sell them on the for-profit market. So, they created this wholly owned subsidiary which is a for-profit developer. And for every unit of for-profit housing that they developed they were able to provide at least one of affordable housing. That was a wholly owned subsidiary and it's a for-profit and it generates a reliable stream of revenue.
We can create for-profit entities. A lot of women's organizations have thrift shops and that generates a significant amount of revenue.
I was working with a client down in Connecticut, excuse me, about 10 years ago and we were developing this very complicated database because they had wraparound services and many of the kids that were receiving services had multiple caregivers involved in their life. So maybe there was mom, maybe there was like grandma, maybe there was an auntie, maybe there was a stepdad, maybe there was the ex-partner. So, they needed to be able to track all of these different people as it related to the child, so they ended up developing this really, really complex but really effective database.
After we were done with the project which took us about a year, all of a sudden the light bulb went on and I said, “Are there other organizations in the United States who might benefit from the use of this database?” And they were like, “oh”, “ding, ding, ding.”, They patched it up and started selling it. You're probably doing something already that might be innovative and sellable and I'm not saying, like, “start a business” but there might be something that you can do that won't undermine or detract from your mission that could bring in a source of revenue.
There are other ways to make money and sometimes you just have to think outside the box and start pursuing them.
We also tend to believe that growth is gonna only make things harder. That might be true in the short run because it can be a challenge to fund the first year or two of growth. A lot of my clients get lines of credit to see them through these periods but every nonprofit I've seen invest in their own growth has soared higher than they ever thought they could because they now have a more robust infrastructure.
There was an organization I was working with down in New York City and they were kind of maxed out of their capacity yet the need they were trying to meet was significant and they couldn't see a way through to scale, which is a real challenge for most nonprofits. How do we scale for impact? We looked into taking out a line of credit, they took out the line of credit, they invested the line of credit and then they were able to, over the course of two to three years, build their staff capacity to the point where they could actually start really making a dent in their waiting list.
Sometimes you just have to be creative and think outside the box and fund your own growth.
The other thing they did, and this was something they were kind of resistant to do. I really encouraged them to just write an open honest letter to all of their donors and supporters and their volunteers. Anybody that had ever been involved with them including former clients saying, “This is the position we're in folks, we're kind of stuck. We really know that there's more people here who need our help. We have a robust waiting list and this is how much money we need to make in order to start staffing out this particular program.” And people were like amazingly responsive. And so, they raised a big chunk of money because they were just totally honest and vulnerable about being a little bit stuck but wanting to scale and people responded.
Sometimes you just have to go to your supporters and say, “Hey, we would really love it if you would invest more in our organization.” And if you can carve out the vision and show them what that money is gonna be used for a lot of times people are like, “Yeah, I will definitely give to you.”
Growth doesn't make things harder, it might be challenging, there might be a few bumps in the road but over the long haul it allows you to be a bigger organization who can serve more people.
The other thing, this is one of my pet peeves, is that we must focus on expenses, not results.
Ah, drives me crazy! This is a direct impact of this idea that we must keep overhead low and why we have to keep overhead low? It's because we're playing from a 400-year-old rule book that was set up by the Puritans, who were Calvinists, who were also super aggressive capitalists. And so, Calvinism taught them that the road to hell is paved with self-interest, e.g. money.
They actually set up charity as their penance. Okay, so if you want charity to be your penance, then the charity can't make any money because money is just gonna put you right back on the road to hell, right? Can you see the insanity of this, right? So why are we still playing by a 400-year-old rule book?
I think the world has changed a little bit, I think the needs out there have changed a little bit and really? Do we wanna be somebody's penance? No, we're the solution. So, we need to focus on results, we need to focus on impact, we need to focus on transformation because that is really what our donors and our clients and our funders are yearning for.
They do not wanna see the world continue to be as crazy and dysfunctional as it is right now because there's a lot of people out there hurting and there's a lot of people out there who wanna help.
Let's focus on the difference we're making because one of the reasons I love what I do is because you guys do magic, right? Every day you guys do magical things for people and also animals and the environment, I don't exclude those. The other thing I see a lot of is this idea that we cannot raise the capital, we need to meet our needs. And this is nonsense.
Every year we raise millions of dollars for our clients, I'm up to more than 90 million at this point, and most of my clients end the year with a surplus which gives them that peace of mind that they need.
What I see all the time is a lot of nonprofits struggle because they don't invest in fundraising. It's not because there's not money out there to be had. I mean, there's hundreds of billions of dollars that are donated every year. These numbers go up by billions every single year. That's been the case for the last seven years. There's been a few dips here and there but overall, the amount is going up by billions every year. So, there's tons of money out there. You just have to figure out how to go get it.
So, you know, investing in fundraising isn't just about adding to your development staff, it's about utilizing best practices in fundraising which I really strive to teach people. I'm actually interested in better practices which I think of as... So, I read like Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Inc. because I'm really curious about like where is business going and then how do I apply that to the nonprofit businesses I'm working with, right? That's to me is better practices. Let's infuse some business thinking into what we're doing. A lot of us need to engage our board more deeply in the work of our organization that includes fundraising and we need to have a clear, well-articulated, exciting vision for the future and a roadmap to get there.
Then communicating far and wide, again, about this magical, amazing stuff you're doing. Like I hear these stories and I'm like, “Okay but that's not anywhere on your social media feed it's not in your newsletters. Like how would I know this amazing story if you didn't just tell it to me?”
There is lots of capital out there, you just have to figure out how to go get it. And like I said, that's my job and my business is to teach people how to do that.
The other one that is, this is probably my number one pet peeve is this idea that we must do more for less.
Says who? Who wrote that rule? And who says that's the rule we have to play by? When did we decide that our clients deserve only what crumbs we can gather up? The money we save by duct taping our office chairs instead of buying a new one isn't gonna help our clients. So, we need to stop thinking this way because it's dangerous. Believing we must do more with less lowers the expectations we have for our organizations but more importantly, our clients. Do our clients really deserve less than they're already getting? No. The people who turn to us for help are already in a, what I, it's like a one down position, right?
So, if I'm coming into your organization, I've already talked to all of my family members and my friends and possibly a clergy person about the problem I'm experiencing and no one can help. So, like now I'm coming to your organization raising my hand going, “I'm in trouble, can you help me?” Maybe it's because I don't have a place to put my kids after school, maybe it's because I'm about to become homeless, maybe it's that I only have an eighth-grade education and I can't get a job.
Whatever the problem is that you're there to solve, the people coming to you are already worn out and vulnerable and so I think it's our job to give them the best possible outcomes that we can.
We can't continue to settle for less because when we settle for less, it means they have to settle for less and I just don't think that's cool. So, my belief is that we need more so we can do more. Like we got into this business to make a difference and that's what our funders and our donors and especially our clients want us to do. They want us to make a difference.
I think we can do better than just keeping our chins above water, but only if we change the conversation and the paradigm. When I tell people we're working from a 400-year-old rule book, I said this to the CEO of a foundation the other day. She was like, “What are you talking about?” And I told her the whole thing about how charity was set up as penance for the Calvinists and she was like, “Oh my God.”
We have to have the conversation with people. We have to tell them about the reality of our work and the reality of our clients' lives and start having that conversation and change the paradigm.
Again, I've said this before, I will say it a million times more. We are the make or break it point when it comes to the quality of life in the United States. Imagine the United States without arts, hospitals, institutions of higher education, social services, all the amazing things that 501C3s do every single day. Yeah, let's just move to Siberia instead. How about that? Because the quality of life in this country would suck without you guys, right?
This is partly why I'm so passionate about the work that I do because the nonprofit sector is Atlas, right? We are holding up the world and we get treated like third-class citizens. And I just say, no more, not willing to stand for that anymore.
It's also where innovation happens.I don't know if you guys know who Robert Goddard is, but he's the father of modern rocketry. And we went to the moon first because of Goddard. Goddard was the first person to successfully launch a rocket only because he got an infusion of capital from who? Guggenheim. Yes, the Guggenheim family that set up the museum in New York gave him money to continue with his rocket research. So that's philanthropy fueling innovation.
The same thing is with the first open heart surgery done in this country. It was done by a group of people who set up a hospital who thought more was possible. And so that's why we have open heart surgery now is because a bunch of philanthropists thought, “Oh, we could probably do more than we're doing.” And they opened up a hospital.
Again, philanthropy and innovation right there.
What if all these limiting beliefs aren't true?
What if there's stories that we've been told and choose to believe?
What if raising enough money to thrive is simply as easy as changing our thinking and our beliefs?
I believe that shifting from a place of scarcity to abundance will have a potent effect on your ability to attract donors, funders, and money because I've seen it happen for me so I know it can work for you.
I think really the only question is “are you ready to change your mindset?”
If you have any questions or comments, I welcome them in the chat.
We have a few more minutes of the broadcast, but in the meantime, I wanna tell you enrollment for the Fundamental Five is still open. We still have some slots at the funders level, which is 397 a month. And you get to sit on coaching calls with me twice a month for an hour each and you also get access to the Fundamental Five curriculum, which is basically my brain in PowerPoints.
The cool thing about the membership is that it belongs to your entire organization. So, I understand that the person who's writing the grants is often not the same person who's in charge of social media communications or working with the board.
So, when you guys join, the membership is actually for your entire organization. There's lots of different modules with lots of different units. Again, we have two coaching calls a month because I don't ever want people to get stuck with what they're doing. I wanna be here to support you. If you're interested in that, check it out. It's on my website.
Also, if you're not already following me on social media, I'd really invite you to do so. And again, I'm really grateful that you guys joined me today and thanks for coming along for the ride and I'll see you in two weeks. Thanks.
Thanks for tuning in. I'll be back in two weeks with another episode. Got topics you want me to cover? Organizations you want me to showcase? Let me know. Also, I'm here to help you revolutionize philanthropy at your nonprofit. If you wanna talk about what that looks like, drop me an email.