The Rumpelstiltskin Effect — why we have trouble weaving straw into gold

Trying to work miracles with limited resources? The solution starts with a mindset shift

Many years back when I recruited and trained volunteers, I remember my counterpart at a sister program quitting. She had come from the corporate world into what she hoped would be a more fulfilling job and got discouraged by the lack of resources for marketing the program.

At the time, I thought to myself” “Well, what did this person expect? It’s a nonprofit – we always have to make do with very little.”

Just like the fairy tale maiden in Rumpelstiltskin, we try and spin straw into gold.

The irony is that at the time my program had a grant to help us recruit volunteers. The funds from that grant covered paid ads for the program that we ran in local newspapers and even on television.

Those ads increased our inquiries exponentially. And sure enough, our numbers dropped when the funding ran out. When that happened, I returned to my usual strategies for volunteer recruitment, doing the best I could with what I had and never seeing the same results.

TED explains it all

I am reminded of that experience whenever I watch Dan Palotta’s TED Talk. It’s one of my favorites– I even assigned it as homework before my retreat. It has nothing and everything to do with volunteer management because it talks about the culture that we often operate under in a nonprofit environment – a culture that discourages taking risks and making the big investments that pay off.

My retreat peeps loved that talk. Participants said they could see the same mindset operating in their own workplaces – they could see the decision-makers holding on to their limited dollars rather than seeing those resources as an investment that might create a larger return.

What we didn’t explore so much was our own reluctance to take risks and invest in ourselves. That kind of thinking is not limited to the top.

We all share a piece of it.

I think of my response to marketing our program without all that grant advertising. I felt it was my job to take our very limited marketing resources and work twice as hard to get the same results – an attempt that could only fail.

Now I look at the situation very differently. I realize that by not advocating for more marketing dollars I was falling into that same scarcity mindset. I was sentencing myself to a work life of ongoing frustration.

Making the Shift

My mindset turnaround came when I put the marketing issue aside and sought out leadership training and support. I hired a coach who kept me focused on my goals and taught me the communication skills I needed to reach them. It was a huge investment – at the time I questioned the cost. But I learned more about organizations, how to communicate, and how to make my ideas happen than I ever had on my own.

My risk paid off.

If you find yourself “making do” with resources or a situation that limits your program’s success, then you have two choices:

  1. Wait for your higher-ups to see the light and give you what you need.
  2. Observe your own role in the process, see if your thinking is holding you back, and figure out where to invest for a different outcome.

It’s uncomfortable to realize that our own thoughts and actions may be standing in our way. It’s much easier to point the finger at our bosses, our board, or “the system.” But it’s possible to make change from the middle —when someone is motivated enough, aware enough, and brave enough to take a risk.

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Trying to work miracles with limited resources?  The solution starts with a mindset shift, http://twentyhats.com/?p=2162

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