Budgeting for Abundance

Box of StarsThe word “abundance” is so overused in modern life that simply saying that word can split a room into factions – those who sense that there is an abundance of resources all around us, and those who call BS, seeing “abundance” as just so much snake oil.

In truth, there are indeed abundant resources all around us, waiting to serve the cause of creating a better world. Think “wind and solar power vs. fossil fuels.” Think “barn raising vs. going it alone.”

Creating the Future’s board focused on that reality of abundance during its August and September meetings this year, as we explored the most practical of questions:

What would a budget process look like if it were rooted in resources that are abundant?

Are there really abundant resources?
Before sharing what our board discovered, let’s be clear about what we mean by “abundant resources.”

We’re not talking here about the power of positive thinking, or about trusting that the universe will provide.  What we are talking about is the difference between scarce resources and plentiful resources.

Whether we are talking about a traditional business, a social enterprise, or a traditional “nonprofit” community benefit organization, most of what we need is actually quite plentiful.

We need people, we need computers, we need trucks, we need office space.  And our communities have all that stuff – often sitting in plain sight, just waiting to be tapped.  People who want to share their skills, and who want to acquire new skills. Businesses with trucks that often sit idle for many hours of the day.  Empty office space – not through the real estate market, but via the two empty offices that the Food Bank or counseling agency is just using to store stuff because they have the room…

One difference between scarce resources and abundant resources is what happens when we use them. When we use scarce resources like money, the money diminishes.  But when we engage the plentiful resources of people and community, those resources actually grow stronger. Engaging people, strengthening their skills, activating their potential – that makes people stronger.  

The Steps in Creating the Future’s Budget Process
The board suggested a 4 step process for developing the budgets for every program and project the organization embarks upon:

  1. We will create plans for what we intend to accomplish and what we will do to accomplish that result.
  2. We will determine the richness of what it will take to accomplish that goal in all functional areas – people, skills, facilities, equipment, etc., NOT noted by dollars but by function.
  3. We will create plans to identify and engage those resources in a way that strengthens those assets – in a way that reflects the healthy and humane world we want.
  4. We will determine what it would take for the board to have an active participatory role in all aspects of the process (this will be the subject of another post on how to accomplish that – stay tuned).

We will identify people who can help make our plans a reality. We will identify physical assets (the stuff that people and organizations have) that can be activated / shared to make our plans a reality.  We will identify mission assets (the activities that people and organizations are already doing) that can be shared / partnered, to make our plans a reality.  We will look both internally for those assets, and across our whole community, so that we are strengthening our community simply by engaging in conversation about sharing and partnering to use those resources.

Because budgets are indicators of an organization's values. And we want to be intentional about walking the talk of our values. (Creating the Future's "Values in Action" statement is at this link).

Holding What is Most Important as Most Important
Picture a board that is considering tapping their endowment to cover current expenses. That discussion would be intense, as it should be.  Should we deplete our capital? What might happen if we do?

And yet in the day-to-day scarcity of their work, organizations routinely deplete their people resources and their physical infrastructure.
    • Should we get the best training for our staff? No, we don’t have the money.
    • Should we get an annual maintenance contract on our roof and parking lot and HVAC? No, we don’t have the money.

In other words, “We value the money more than we value anything else.”

That unspoken values statement is all the more interesting when we consider the fact that money is never the ultimate goal. Never. Money is always a means – it buys us things we want. As Justin Pollock tweeted during our discussion, money is always the middle man.

Seen in that light, organizations value the middle man more than they value the real stuff – the people, the physical environment, the mission.

Creating the Future’s board committed that our budget process will be just the opposite of that.

The board committed to honor all non-cash forms of capital the way organizations traditionally honor the money.
We will nurture and maintain and value people, and physical resources, and community the same way most organizations nurture and maintain and value the money.

Another tweet from Justin Pollock said it best:

“Imagine leaders having to consider how they add value to an asset as they engage that asset!”

Next Steps
The board did not formally adopt this budget framework. That’s because our conversation is not done until we have more input – from you.

  • As you consider this approach to budgeting, what stands out for you?
  • Does the approach seem practical?
  • Are there groups you know who are, in fact, budgeting in this way? What have they learned? What adjustments did they have to make?  What formats did they use to make this practical?
  • What questions should we be asking that we may have missed?

Our ultimate adoption of a budget development framework (and your opportunity to experiment and explore alongside us) is awaiting your answers!

2 thoughts on “Budgeting for Abundance”

  1. Very interesting post. I definitely think that the 4 step plan is a great way to create a budget, and I give my support for it. I think there definitely needs to be some checks and balances to make sure things don't eventually just become about the money, however. 


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