It’s Time to Shift Our Thinking from “Non-profit” to “For-impact”

A photo of three volunteers handling clothing items

A couple of weeks ago my colleague Emma sent me a note and said “you need to watch this”! She was referring to a 2-ish minute video posted by Simon Sinek on LinkedIn. The message has been sitting with me since – we need to stop describing our work with a deficit lens (NON-Profit) and use language that reflects its value (FOR-Impact).

My first foray into the For-Impact space was via Inspiring Communities, where my work focused on systems change via collaboration. I found that while phrases like ‘working for the greater good’ and ‘collective impact’ are prominent, in practice these ideals can be very challenging to achieve and are often complicated by a lack of trust. In my opinion, in most cases it’s not due to a lack of good intention that competition often gets in the way of collaboration, but rather a variety of systemic factors that perpetuate a scarcity culture in the sector.

There’s no shortage of good work happening across Nova Scotia’s 6,000 nonprofit organizations and the numerous groups who don’t have a registered legal status who are seeking to affect positive change. But too often efforts are disconnected, work happens in silos, and new projects don’t benefit from the lessons of past endeavours; in the worst-case scenarios, there’s flat out competition for access to funding and resources. The culprit? A scarcity mindset.

This idea is not new – the importance of using a lens of abundance is present in approaches to community development such as ABCD. In a 2015 commentary called “How Scarcity Thinking Holds Nonprofits Back”, Nell Edgington claims:

Edgington links the idea of scarcity thinking to a fixed (vs. growth) mindset. Returning to Simon Sinek, he uses the language of an infinite (vs. finite) mindset to describe those who accept that in organizations and life, people come and go, rules change, and there is no winner or loser. Those who lead with and embrace an infinite mindset tend to build stronger, more innovative organizations that are able to adapt to ever-changing conditions.

Of course things are never that simple and there are many reasons that trust breaks down. But the point is that language and mindset matter. There is no question that adaptive capacity is needed now more than ever – and there’s so much evidence that is happening. New partnerships are forming, organizations are pivoting and moving events online, and new ways of working are changing the sector at a rapid rate. It’s time for us to prioritize impact over structure, infinite mindsets to finite ones, and to move away from scarcity thinking. Let’s shift the narrative away from what we don’t have and toward what we stand FOR.


    Annika Voltan
    Executive Director, CSCNS