During a recent workshop I led, we discussed in small groups our earliest memories around money and how these might impact our ability to talk, live and work in the world of it. One astute participant shared an important “aha moment” that money was deeply associated with safety in her family. She said, “I just realized that instead of simply inviting people to join our cause, I have felt that with each ask I have been asking people for their safety. No wonder it has been so hard!”
Take a moment and ask yourself what values you ascribe to money. Too often, even subconsciously, we infuse money with values like power, safety, scarcity and control. But money is energy – without our values, beliefs and stories, it is just a piece of paper.
I often get questions like these: how do I talk about money for my cause in a way that I don’t feel like I am losing my soul? How do I not walk away from interactions where money is being discussed feeling exhausted and burnt out? How do I relate to someone more deeply than on the basic level of money?
My answer is always the same: ask yourself, is money at the center of your relationships or is it a shared vision for how you will work together to create social change? If money is at the center, there will always be a skewed power dynamic. Namely, the people or organizations with the money have the power and the people needing the money become supplicant to them. Then, we are in a competitive, consumer mode where we have to pitch people on why our program, organization, vision is better than another. This has never made sense to me.
Why pitch people on, say, why the environment is more important than ending extreme poverty? Or vice versa? They are intricately linked and so why be competitive about it?
In fact why pitch at all? The invitation – the “ask” – is not, at its essence, what you can do for me or how can you help me, but, rather, how can we work together? This is an important distinction. Asking someone to “help” creates an inauthentic power dynamic. I counsel people to strike that word entirely from their lexicon. Instead, invite people to join with you and to stand together in a shared belief that together your resources can exponentially multiply and can make a powerful difference.
From here, asking people to join with you is not about helping, but about an exchange of values. A vehicle through which you meet at a place beyond help. It is an entirely new framing, a way to collaborate that transcends the power dynamic. This way, money is out of the middle. It becomes a relationship built on a discovery of some of the most basic, human questions: Why are we here? What might be possible? Who are we?
It is possible, albeit not always easy, to infuse money with values like justice, courage, commitment to change, even love. Money is not the end game. It’s just a means to an end – or, as I like to think about it – just the gas that goes in the car, not the car, not the driver and certainly not the destination. The destination is the change you want to see in the world.