When was the last time you sat down with the leaders at your organization to dream big?

For example, what might you do with an extra $1 million? What about $5 or even $10 million more? How would that change the programs and services you provide?

It’s finally springtime — literally and figuratively — after a long, dark year. It’s finally time to plan for better days ahead, and your mindset about raising money is everything.

An Optimistic Mindset: Susie Sunshine vs. Debbie Downer

Who raises more money, Susie Sunshine or Debbie Downer? If you said, Susie Sunshine, you’re right. But, how did you know?

Mindset, of course!

You know instinctively that mindset plays an important role in fundraising. Mindset dictates behavior. And behavior impacts outcome.

Debbie Downer has the WRONG Fundraising Mindset

Let’s take a look at Debbie Downer…

  • Debbie knows she’s not great at raising money.
  • She’s sure the donors won’t take her calls and they certainly won’t meet with her. They’re busy after all. So, what’s the point of calling them? Why bother if she’s just going to leave a bunch of messages and get hung up on anyway?
  • So instead of calling donors, Debbie plays on the internet and complains to colleagues that she doesn’t have any good prospects anyway.

I bet you know at least one Debbie Downer.

Susie Sunshine has the RIGHT Fundraising Mindset

Now let’s look at Susie Sunshine…

  • Susie loves the important cause she works for and knows money helps her organization.
  • She wants to share her organization’s misson with as many people as possible.
  • She’s confident that when people hear the story of her organization, they will be eager to help.
  • Every time Susie picks up the phone, she says to herself, “I don’t know what’s they’ll do to help us, but I need to call to find out!”
  • And, when she’s ready to meet with donors, she asks herself, “Why wouldn’t they help? This is an important cause. I just need to find out how they want to help.”

There’s a stark difference between Debbie and Susie. And you can guess how that difference affects their fundraising outcomes.

Here’s one more difference between Debbie and Susie…

When Debbie picks up the phone, she asks donors, “Do you want to meet with me?”

When Susie picks up the phone, she asks donors, “When can we meet?”

The difference is subtle, but it’s super-important. Debbie assumes donors don’t want to meet with her. Susie assumes they do, and it’s just a matter of finding the right time.

What Inspires Susie’s Optimism?

As you can see, Debbie’s and Susie’s mindsets control how they behave. Debbie believes calling and meeting with donors won’t have a positive impact. Susie believes just the opposite. Their beliefs lead them to behave in different ways.

Their beliefs also become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Debbie believes she can’t raise money, so she doesn’t. Susie believes she can, and she does.

You’re probably thinking that optimism is intrinsic, right? It’s not really something that can be taught. Perhaps not.

But optimism can be inspired — and abundance is a great source for that inspiration.

An Abundance Mindset vs. A Scarcity Mindset

Susie Sunshine and Debbie Downer represent individual mindsets. But boards and organizations have mindsets too.

Think about your organization’s mindset for a moment:

  • Does your organization operate with a scarcity or abundance mindset?
  • Does your organization plan for growth or do you operate from a place of fear and scarcity?
  • Does your board spend more time worrying about how to spend less or about how to do more?

Healthy Organizations Balance BOTH Mindsets

On one hand, they make sure the organization is fiscally sound and operates on a balanced budget. But they also take time to think about what more they might do to help even more people and work toward achieving their mission.

Well-run organizations manage from a mindset of scarcity, making sure that every penny is well-spent. But they plan from a mindset of abundance, imagining how much more they might do and developing plans to make that happen.

How Do You Shift Your Organization’s Mindset?

Planning with a mindset of abundance takes imagination. And you might be surprised how, when you encourage people to imagine what might be, they will find it exciting.

Start by Encouraging Big Dreams

At least once a year, encourage your staff and board to dream big.

As a group, imagine what would be possible if you had an extra $1 million to spend. Together, brainstorm the changes you might make. Then spend some time prioritizing the ideas and imagining a reasonable timeline for making them real.

Once you’ve gotten your group to envision a bold plan for growth, start imagining what the fundraising to make that vision real might look like.

PRO TIP — You might plan a capacity campaign to fund that bold vision. Make a list of the people you know who would be excited about the possibilities. Start having preliminary conversations with them. Find out if they’d be willing to help grow your organization’s capacity.

Be Bold in Your Vision and Planning

Having a bold vision doesn’t commit you to outspending your budget. But it does give you a chance to become re-inspired and excited about what might be.

A bold vision will fuel fascinating conversations with some of your largest donors. It will give you the courage and energy to reach out in a way you might not have if you were in the Debby Downer mindset.

Thinking from a place of abundance about how much “more good” you and your organization might do is a win for everyone. It will remind you of why you really do this work. It will inspire your leadership and your donors.

Embracing abundance allows you to consider your mission and the work and the good you do, rather than thinking about money and limitations. While you may track your results in dollars and cents, what you really do is change lives.

Planning from Abundance Fuels Optimism

Be sure that you, your staff, and your board plan to spend time regularly thinking from abundance — as though money were no object.

It’s especially important to schedule time to dream big after this past year, when more of your conversations probably centered around cuts and reductions in staff, programs, and budgets.

Let those big-dream conversations inspire and fuel your fundraising. The “Debbie Downer” side of you and your staff will fade into the background, and “Susie Sunshine” will shine bright.

PRO TIP — Shifting your mindset takes practice and patience. Shifting the mindset of your board might seem like an impossible task in comparison. But it’s not. With a little training, your board will learn how to embrace a blue-sky mindset that fuels your organization’s growth. We see it happen all the time.

Remember that oh-so quotable line from the movie Field of Dreams:

If you build it, they will come.

Shift your thinking and let the building commence. Your donors will come — provided you and your staff maintain the right mindset. No Debbie Downers here.


  1. Roberta O'Connor

    Bravo! Thank you for guiding us all with strategic, yet simple insights that inspire the fundraising process.

  2. Melanie Frazier

    Love, love, love this article. Attitude is everything in fundraising. Thank you!

  3. Caleen Johnson

    Thank you, Amy, for a thoughtful and inspiring article! “Plan for abundance” – what a lovely approach that is too often not the path we all take!

  4. Steve Wasserleben

    Yup . . . involved with too many nonprofits that have a poverty mentality that leads to nowhere, except perhaps a deficit budget. Thanks for this Blog Amy!


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