The mindset of plenty

Cornucopia - sGetting over charity’s biggest barrier…

I’m sure Marcus Rashford doesn’t need it – he seems like someone who has his own very strong moral compass – but nevertheless, he has my full support for both his campaign and his investment portfolio.

In the opening chapter of my book I shared a comparable example of a Charity CEO who had hit the headlines in the tabloid press over her salary. Of course, the editor of that same paper drew a salary over seven times as high, for running an organisation of 40% the size and a fraction of the complexity of hers, but strangely, that didn’t feature in the story they ran.

But even had readers been aware of the comparison and context, would they have cared? Would they have seen the editor or the paper as hypocritical? No, because so many of us in this country live with the deeply ingrained, and regularly reinforced belief, that people should be able to make as much money as they can, right up until they decide to do something good.

Where it comes from, whether the Victorian, monastic or ascetic tradition, or parables about eyes of needles, poverty is a virtue, and one cannot be virtuous without also being either poor, or a fraud. And so, the myriad variations on the challenge: “How can you say you care about the homeless if you live in a big house?” continue to plague anyone who wants to uplift others.

But it’s not just swathes of the public that hold this belief. A great many people in the sector, whether consciously or unconsciously, hold it as well. It manifests in the sector’s profound silence over salaries; in its hesitancy to invest in itself and its people; in the talent it drives away from solving society’s greatest challenges.

The poverty mindset doesn’t stop there. It’s the biggest driver behind the chronic underinvestment in infrastructure right across the third sector; its vulnerability to shocks; its enduring aversion to risk; the power philanthropists have over charity leaders; and the sector’s own deep-seated mistrust of large organisations and of those ambitious few who aspire to rapid and ongoing growth.

Small is beautiful. Humble is prerequisite. Threadbare is essential. We seriously need to get past this stuff. Your cause is worth more than that. Your people are worth more than that. You are worth more than that.

If we want our organisations to rapidly recover from the battering of 2020, we need to fundamentally rethink our attitudes to investment, ambition, and talent. We need to embrace a more entrepreneurial outlook, of risk and return, of big aspirations for big growth and bigger impact, and we need to be brave enough to invest in the skills and loosen the reins to make that happen.

Above all, we need to swap the mentality of poverty for the mindset of plenty, because there is plenty of opportunity: to rapidly grow income, radically increase reach, deliver far more impact. Plenty of great ideas if we’re prepared to take a risk. Plenty of great talent if we’re prepared to invest. Plenty of money out there if we’re prepared to be innovative. The biggest barrier to our potential is between our own ears.

This has been a uniquely challenging year, but next year has everything to play for. Approach it like a penitential ritual, in sack cloth and ashes, and it will be every bit as tough. But approach it with unbridled enthusiasm for the huge opportunity it represents, with a mindset of plenty and a sack-load of ambition, self-belief and self-worth, and it will be the making of your organisation.

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