Beware of a Poverty Mindset

I often tell our clients to beware of a poverty mindset. Meaning, if you see yourself as always being poor, you’ll always be poor. You fall victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, charities who work among the poor often adopt a poverty mindset also.

When You Never Have Enough Money

You learn to cut corners when money is always tight. Nonprofits do the same thing. We adapt and learn to make it on fewer employees and older buildings. We get used to the broken door hinge or the chipped floor tiles. We’ll fix them someday when more money comes in. But today, the money isn’t there and we have all these people to serve and well, we just can’t afford first class.

Don’t misunderstand me. At our homeless shelter, the food is good and our kitchen is clean. In our shelter, the sheets, towels and linens are washed each night and we keep the place pretty spiffy.

It Only Costs a Little More to go First Class

My Daddy always told me “son, it only costs a little more to go first class.” I never forgot that. My wise father was saying it only takes a little more effort to do things right. However, when dealing with the sheer human need nonprofit leaders and workers can be tempted to not put in that extra bit of effort. After all, we’re already working hard to help all these peoples.

One of the downsides to nonprofit work is that you can’t monetize our product. We don’t get paid more money by serving more meals. In the for profit world, leadership is incentivized by the profit margin. “If I sell more today, I make more money.”

In the nonprofit world, no such incentive exists. I’m not saying it should. Yet, without it we sometimes settle for second best without realizing it. If you didn’t sleep under the bridge this weekend, the dorm room with the broken door hinge and chipped floor tile isn’t all that bad. Or at least we justify it that way.

Give Our Best and Expect Their Best

Let’s adopt a paradigm shift. First, we should give our best to the people who seek our help. Giving just enough to get by shows that we’ve succumbed to poverty mentality also. “I’d give more of me if I only had more to give.”

You’ve got more to give. It’s down in there, perhaps a bit roughed up by disillusionment. Yet, if you nourish yourself first so that you can bring your best to the table, you earn the right to expect the best from those you serve.

It’s time we fix our broken doors and chipped tiles. Our people need us to be at our best. Most of all, we need to be the best we can be.

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