what it looks like in everyday practice, and the equity implications around it – Nonprofit AF

[Nine or so mostly yellow ducklings in the grass, encircled by two arms. It’s an abundance of ducklings! Image by Marys_fotos on Pixabay]

Y’all, I have a confession to make. I am not sure I like the whole “abundance” thing. In many ways, this concept became prominent in our sector because of our ingrained scarcity mindset, where we are so freaked out about potential lack of funding that we underinvest in everything, leading to poorly paid, exhausted staff who sit on crappy chairs, typing on a 10-year-old computer, with 48 dollars and a dozen Beanie babies as retirement savings.

Because it’s trendy, so many people are using the term abundance all the time. But it’s not really defined. I’m not sure we all have the same common understanding of it. I see some colleagues sprinkling “abundance” in conversations like fistfuls of confetti who are some of the most scarcity-ridden people ever. Is abundance just about money? Is it about relationships? All of it? At the risk of oversimplifying, here are some thoughts on abundance, starting with a few different “spheres” of abundance:   

Abundance of money: Cash. Benjamins. Bread. Hummus. Being abundant in this sphere means you’re not constantly worrying about resources running out. That doesn’t mean spending carelessly and recklessly. It’s about making wise and thoughtful decisions, such as paying people decent wages, providing paid family leave, etc., knowing that these investments often lead to more resources coming in, not less. It means not hoarding donors or funders. It means foundations increasing their payout rates and giving out more money each year.

Abundance of imagination: Those who are abundant in this area strongly believe that things can change, that we can create a world that’s better, that this reality is not all there is. The abolition of the prison industrial system, the ending of the electoral college, the possibility of a just and equitable society—these are a few things we can make progress on if we don’t have a scarcity of imagination. This does not mean ignoring the current challenges plaguing society, or basic human inclinations. We can see the world as it is, and yet can imagine the world as it could be, and work toward that vision.  

Abundance of relationships: Think about kids who have “secure attachments.” They make friends easily, don’t get jealous when their friends have other friends, don’t cling on to their parents, etc. Similarly, those who have an abundance of relationships connect to people easily; are glad to introduce people to one another; aren’t afraid that their colleagues, supervisors, mentors, donors, etc., will abandon them if they meet new people. Those who have scarcity in this area become guarded and jealous; they become gatekeepers.

Abundance of grace: Grace lets us see the complexity of human beings and our interactions with one another and with the spaces and dynamics that we share with one another. It manifests in people giving one another and themselves a break, understanding that we are all imperfect human beings who screw up from time to time. It allows for people to make mistakes, learn from them, and improve. It widens our views, increases empathy, and enables us to forgive ourselves and one another.

Abundance of trust: Believing that most people will do the right thing the majority of the time. Supervisors who have high abundance in this area don’t micromanage or hover over their teams. Boards trust the staff to do their work. Foundations cut down on the requirements for grant proposals and reports. It also encompasses believing that people are capable of learning, of being thoughtful. For example, when people bring up difficult topics, they trust that colleagues will thoughtfully engage and not simply shut things down. A scarcity of trust makes honesty difficult.

Abundance of faith: Yes, this could be in the religious sense. But here I am talking more about the faith in people being ultimately good, and faith that it may take a while, but that eventually the arc of the moral universe does bend toward justice. It allows us to keep going when we encounter barriers and setbacks. It reminds us that even the smallest actions we take to make the world better does make a difference.

Abundance of equity: This is why many of us got into this sector—because the world is full of inequity and we hope to make things better. At organizations, and among individuals, the scarcity or abundance in this sphere still plays out. When there is an abundance of equity, people genuinely engage with difficult topics like white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, ableism, etc. People of different identities feel safe and an authentic part of the team. There are fewer problems like gender wage gaps, staff of color being on the bottom of hierarchy, maybe there’s not even a hierarchy, etc.

I can go on: Love, hope, time, empathy, integrity, justice, joy, humor, etc. The point is that we’ve been talking about abundance for years now without really defining it or considering what it means and how different spheres of abundance can co-exist or relate to one another. For instance, look at our traditional fundraising practices: There’s an abundance of faith—“Donors are amazing people! They will contribute to our programs, and we will make the world better.” This is, however, coupled with a scarcity of justice—“yeah, we know our fundraising strategy relies a lot on poverty tourism and white saviorism, but what can we do?”—as well as trust—“No, we can’t give donors feedback or talk to them about reparation for slavery and stolen Indigenous land; they’re too fragile and won’t take it well.”

Our movements, meanwhile, can be abundant in imagination: “We can mitigate the effects of capitalism and create a better system that’s more just, where everyone thrives and not just wealthy people!” And yet, we often have a scarcity mindset around money and we become terrified to spend it, leading to underpaid staff and rickety infrastructure. And sadly, there are lots of times in movements, as well as in general, where we have a scarcity of grace for one another, where we question one another’s motives, and where minor mistakes are amplified while larger mistakes are perceived as unforgiveable.

There are general equity implications of abundance, as people with privilege seems to have different perceptions of and engagement with it. Those with more privilege perhaps can afford to have a more abundant mindset, while those with less privilege, who have experienced trauma, who must constantly navigate an oppressive system, are less inclined to have a sense of “abundance” and are also more likely to be wary of anyone pushing it. I remember one conference where a speaker, a white man, talked for an hour about how happiness is just a matter of everyone having an abundant mindset and making a conscious decision to just be happy, it’s as simple as that.

Without deeper conversations, we risk having “Abundance” be another jargon thrown about pointlessly and annoyingly. Or worse, used as a tool to protect the status quo, such as when people from marginalized backgrounds point out inequitable philosophies, systems, and practices, only to be told that they have a scarcity mindset and should learn to think more abundantly.

Abundance can be a helpful concept, and an important counter to the scarcity mindset that much of our sector has internalized. But let’s agree to be more thoughtful about it. If “Abundance” is something your organization, movement, or you as an individual hold as one of your key values, that’s great. But spend some time examining it. What do you mean by abundance? Does everyone have the same views of it? Which spheres are you thinking about? What does it look like in everyday practice? Are you abundant in some areas but not in others? How does your privilege affect your perception of it? Does abundance look different to people with backgrounds and identities different and similar to yours? What actions do you need to take to actualize true abundance?

Next week: I’ll likely be analyzing the show “Loot” on AppleTV, about a billionaire and her foundation, so you got a week to watch all the episodes