Wrong Question, I'm Thinkin'

Reading an intriguing print book about how nonprofits need to learn how to tell stories as part of how they go after financial support. Makes sense to me. However, the author mentions that in a first meeting with a nonprofit "client" - a term I have difficulty embracing because it connotes anything but a partnership that might be in-the-making - his first question is "What does your organization do? What do you solve?"

My first question would be, Why does your organization exist?    


I am continuing, and will continue to work on absorbing what is needed to sell my little book with a big message for people in and around nonprofit organizations; and get it into their hands so they can put it to work strengthening those very organizations while and after building needed funding proposals. In this spirit, I have created a common frame of reference, with plenty of assistance, that is vested in the concept of a functional and funded nonprofit, taken from the title of my book, and embodied by the hashtag, #functionalandfunded, as well as my now renamed website: www.functionalandfunded.com, and business email: harveychess@functionalandfunded.com, and twitter handle @funcfund. Want you to know about my brand, yes indeed!


I consistently see so called conventional wisdom in the form of publications, electronic or otherwise, about how to go after, say, government grants - or foundation grants - or how to do crowdfunding. The emphasis is on how to fit what you're seeking - that would be money - to the requisites of the prospective "investor." This unfortunately is only part of what you need to consider in such a scenario. I'll put it this way. It doesn't matter how you nuance a pitch for funding, if your organization doesn't have its shit together. That's right. This is also why my book is titled FUNCTIONAL & FUNDED. I don't just show you how to pull your funding proposal together - though I am humbly persuaded that my approach is in a class by itself. I also show you how you will strengthen your nonprofit as you go through the building process. And, you emerge with absolute clarity about the core principles to use every time you make a decision to propose support from any type of funder, and this includes individuals. Your take away from my book: the tools to build a strong organization while you are building a strong proposal.  You can afford nothing less in these competitive times for pursuing assets for your nonprofit. 


When first conducting proposal and resource development workshops many years ago I quickly came to understand that all the savvy in the world was inconsequential if people didn't want to spend their time learning with me.

So, I take comfort in the resultant ability to be useful when working with grant seekers, so called grant writers and grant makers in the public and private sectors. Whether working with those looking for grants to support non-profit organizations or making decisions to provide funding for such organizations, my credibility is based on my core values.

Here are some of the words that have shaped and comprise my values, have guided my efforts and, I believe, have helped me keep people in the rooms when and where we work together.

First, an excerpt from a 1990 article published by the Industrial Areas Foundation, titled "Standing for the Whole",

"We believe in what we call the iron rule: never do for others what they can do for themselves. Never. This rule, difficult to practice consistently, sometimes violated, is central to our view of the nature of education, of leadership, of effective organizing. This cuts against the grain of some social workers and program peddlers who try to reduce people and families to clients, who probe for needs and lacks and weaknesses, not strength and drive, not vision and values, not democratic and entrepreneurial initiative. The iron rule implies that the most valuable and enduring form of development - intellectual, social, political - is the development people freely choose and fully own." 

This is no less the case when applied to resource and proposal development, an area now and then populated by would-be experts.

Then this, from Robert Matthews Johnson in his wondrous book, The First Charity, written many years ago,

"There has been much talk about community in the past (25) years. There has even been, supposedly, a neighborhood movement. But darn few neighborhood people have been involved. Too much of the tone has been professional, entrepreneurial people speaking for others. Too many so-called community organizations have become too far removed from the issues that affect everyday life in communities."

His words, in no small way, were what motivated me to now and then assert in my work that "you are your proposal."

Finally, I was once asked to speak at a gathering of nonprofit reps on the subject of strategic alliances. This allowed me to emphasize my own values about the matter of mission clarity that I believe is essential if nonprofits are to be as valuable as they must be– but at times are not. Here's an excerpt from my presentation then.

"It seems to me that we need to clean up our own side of the street before we decide to cross it. If we don't understand and value the precept that our organizations exist to help our folks help themselves - by what might be any number of means rather than putting the emphasis on the process/the means, we'd best be careful interacting into alliances. Why double up the misguided?

As you might figure, I'm inclined to believe that the mission of nonprofits is not simply to offer participants high quality services, but also - and more importantly - it is to help participants help themselves. And, in doing so, to see to it that they attain some measure of success in overcoming what gets in the way of improving the quality of their lives. Fully participating in democracy, Bob Johnson would say it.  

Doesn't seem to me to matter if it's an arts organization or an effort to organize a bunch of people on the margins. Our work is ultimately justified by the successes of our participants. If we can get this straight in one organization, imagine what we might accomplish when we work together in a bunch of organizations."

It Is About How We Frame The Case...

We make do in out nonprofits, albeit fitfully, and predicate our resource development thrusts on a commonly shared, comfortably uncomfortable realm of mixed expectations between grant wielders and ourselves, fully aware that they do get money out the door, and somebody's gotta get some of it. And we keep plugging away to what avail? Seems to me it makes better sense to go back inside and take a look at ourselves, search for and get clarity about pursuit of mission and then, strengthened accordingly, look to give those with the assets (we could surely use to stay on the mission course) the opportunity to work with us.


The title of my book is Functional and Funded - The Inside-Out Strategy for Developing Your Nonprofit's Resources.

This is a book about an entirely different and potent way of developing funding proposals, an essential activity for every nonprofit.

The book is for anyone devoted to the care and sustenance of a nonprofit organization's mission.

People will read it because it flips typical funding proposal development on its head while adding in a healthy dose of uncommon sense. 

It is different than other books on this topic because you will be able to strengthen your organization before completing and after submitting your persuasive proposal in a very crowded marketplace for pursuing assets.

I am qualified to write this book because of many years among nonprofit organizations as a well regarded trainer and consultant, including my work with a variety of grant making organizations.    

And, you can order it by clicking on the book tab at the top of this page.

Changing Scenarios

The best looking funding proposal in the world will be meaningless coming from a messed up nonprofit; the worst proposal in the world somehow spilling out of a sold nonprofit is a wondrous misfit. My book and training focus on the concept that you can help build the latter organization while building the former proposal, and you end up with what is absolutely necessary in these days of intense competition for funds to support your grassroots mission-based efforts. 

Back At It, Wow!!

After three years away from the rooms - those filled with remarkable people from grassroots nonprofit organizations - I had the privilege to present my workshop on integrating organizational and developmental resources to 25 hearty souls in Sonora, CA, aided and abetted by Donna Wilson, her staff & volunteers at Sierra Nonprofit Resources and the irrepressible Marti Crane from neighboring Calaveras County. One of the terrific take-aways was that two organizations that had not worked together previously started the stuff of a collaborative effort to deal with local mental health challenges to be continued after the workshop...

Mission Statement Done Right!

Just came across this, and it is righteous, right on: "When people think of our organization, they think we feed the hungry. But that's not who we are. The food is a tool. What we're doing is empowering people. The mission has always been to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities." Dambetcha! (Facebook Redo again)

Mission Statement Done Right...

Just came across this, and it is righteous, right on: "When people think of our organization, they think we feed the hungry. But that's not who we are. The food is a tool. What we're doing is empowering people. The mission has always been to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities." Dambetcha!

My Business As Unusual

Seth Grodin, apparently a marketing guru: if you can't state your business in eight words, you can't state your business.

So, here's a try:

My business as UNUSUAL frames your funding proposal$...

SEO Descriptor

In A Nutshell: Harvey Chess, skilled as a grant maker, grant seeker, and trainer offers exceptional tactics and strategy to secure diversified resources for your nonprofit organization.

Scaredy Cat Mission Statement

"We invest in people through community action."

Interior scream "no!" when I read it. 

Working with what's here, I'd change it to We ensure community action by investing in people (to bring it about.)

Of course, the statement is in need of a clear definition of the term, community action. Nonetheless, seems to me that the definition of success here, aka the end result, is action in the community brought about by the people in whom the organization invests, not just the business of investing in them. One could invest in folks 'til the cows come home, but if there is no payoff at a community level, what's the point? Or change the mission statement...

Gearing Up...

Sonora Training later next month. So good to be back with my peeps! Too, everyone gets their own copy of my book to use & re-use after we finish our two days. And the host organization makes a few bucks for doing their part to make this a success.

Another Miss(ed)ion Statement

Just ran across this one from a community foundation: "Our mission is to offer people effective ways to engage in advancing the well-being of our communities." 

It would stand as a more appropriate and courageous mission statement if it were as follows: Our mission is to advance the well-being of our communities by offering people effective ways to engage in making this possible. 

The definition of success by which this organization's credibility and utility should be measured is documented community well-being - brought about by different means, including the activities "people" undertake.    

My Reaction To Yesterday's Nonprofit Mission Statement!

I posted this yesterday: "The mission of North Somewhere County Services is to provide safety net programs which promote independence, dignity and education against the many aspects of human need." As I mentioned the statement was taken from a real life example, with the org's name fictionalized. Well, a couple of tweet people indicated liking it.

Now, let me weigh in with why it is a problematic mission statement by working it over into something more appropriate: The mission of North Somewhere County Services is to promote (or better yet, insure) independence and dignity (both terms need to be defined in specific human terms) among (define the population for whom this service organization exists in precise terms, and I would hope not just as clients - the ones the first statement implies are affected by many aspects of human need) by delivering a range of educational and safety net programs.

The change in emphasis is critical. A nonprofit outfit's mission should not emphasize service delivery leading to outcomes. How many times have I seen nonprofits that have been busy running programs at people, in effect, with little impact, and then using something like a head count to justify spending someone else's money... 

The most important aspect of a mission statement is defining participant success in the form of improved quality of life as the basis for developing and delivering effective services.   

The Antidote to Philanthrocapitalism...

This is embodied in my approach to proposal development,  the one that begins with clarity about your nonprofit's mission, and strengthens your organization before and after submitting its funding proposal.   

What My Two-Day Resource Development Training for Nonprofits DELIVERS!

Proposal Development and Much More – Added Value To Our Two-Day Intensive

The book is written and the author resumes training, something I have done all over this country for years. My longstanding, well received training program resumes with a new thrust, something more than the sum of its sensible ingredients when applied to the expanding arena where nonprofits need to be active. This means the program is – and has, in truth, been for a long time – a two-day gathering to consider the importance of describing and presenting your nonprofit as a respectable, resilient and resourceful one, and to wrap your arms around the principles that make this possible.

In other words, this training program goes well beyond making it possible to strengthen how you pursue grants, though this basic nonprofit necessity will always be there for the taking. You will walk away from this training understanding the core principles to use whenever and wherever you need to present your nonprofit at its best. For example: 

  • the well-planned proposal out-the-door, or the hastily conceived one when you learn of an imminent funder deadline
  • the occasional opportunity to follow up the proposal you submitted with a sit-down meeting with funder reps
  • pulling together the materials needed to respond to a social media funding opportunity 
  • developing and submitting your business plan, and/or your organization's long range plan
  • developing and embracing your organization's fund raising plan
  • contemplating and preparing for a possible collaboration with another organization
  • producing the copy for your direct mail solicitation
  • a planned face-to-face meeting with a prospective donor
  • making a presentations to civic organizations that spread resources around your community to include your nonprofit
  • chance meeting where you've got a few moments to serve up your version of what is often called the elevator pitch
  • interacting with media outlets to get them to highlight your outfit
  • distributing public relations materials

So, as you contemplate the ever-present scenarios to seek varied assets to support your organization's work, there is now reason for enthusiasm about using electrons to bring your nonprofits front and center. Whether to help others better understand the work of your nonprofits and why they do this – have you set up your organization's Facebook Page? – or to respond to the new requisites of different funders out there – the number of grant makers shifting to on line-only proposal submissions continues to accelerate – there's much to do. 

All the acquired media savvy in the world won't mean much, though, if there is no clearly understood basis for articulating your organization's message when you do choose various techniques to capture attention and resources. The medium you choose may change, but the message about your organization and its work needs to stay strong and steadfast. The message matters. This training shares with you what I label the core principles of any nonprofit organization that must be used to frame your message. 

As you work across various domains to present your nonprofit organization, especially as you seek resources for it, your efforts will benefit from the ability to present your organization from a perspective and position of strength and resilience in its natural or community setting, the place where it pursues its mission. This, in turn, depends on the quality of your organization's people, leaders among them, to offer and share a vision. This vision should describe the interrelationships and dedication to community engagement needed to bring about the improved quality of life expressed in your mission statement. This training will inform that vision.           

 And, when it comes to convincing others to make a decision to place their resources within your organization's grasp, it seems reasonable to imagine that prospects will improve when your people – participants, beneficiaries, volunteers, board members, and staff members are all and each able in their own way to:

tell a compelling story about your organization's work, consistently marked by the success of the people who participate in your programs;

tell that story well, the prospect of which is strengthened by the relationships & connections your organization and its people have, so your message is not an isolated one;

and do so in a time when perseverance & creativity are needed to adapt your resource development efforts to changing opportunities.

 This two-day training will present participants with the opportunity to fully grasp the principles by which to tell that story well.

The training will continue to feature a familiar combination of interactive discussion, follow up application, and review to reaffirm learning, with as much work in small groups as time allows. There will be discussions about also establishing a follow up learning cohort or list-serve through which to continue discussing real life applications and challenges after the two days are completed.

Along with supportive handout materials, each participant will receive a copy of  Functional and Funded, Harvey Chess's eminently readable and relevant book,  published in the last year, along with a link to download the book's Resource Developer's Toolkit. If your organization is interested in hosting this vital training program, get in touch with me, and we'll see how we can work together.


We will gather at the Firehouse in Sonora on June 23-24 to hunker down & dig in... Guided by my facilitation and supportive materials from my book, 12-20 participants will work together to internalize the principles for building the only proposal framework needed for a nonprofit to pursue and secure resources – whether from organizations or individuals.

Each person will leave the training with: a) skills to guide a back-home nonprofit team through its own process of strength-building proposal development; b) dedication to using the process to strengthen their organization before and after its proposal has been developed; c) their own copy of my book to reinforce what was shared and learned.

Email www.sierranonprofit.org or call (209) 533-1093 for more info or to register.


The idea that you strengthen internal assets by pursuing the external kind in any of a number of different forms is at the center of the knowledge I want people to take away when we've finished working together, however we do that. (This includes purchasing my book, Functional and Funded, meant to be read over and over to guide your resource development efforts.) This notion rests on my discovery as a trainer and consultant that building funding proposals has the potential to reinforce organizational capacity and that, in turn, creates a fertile environment for developing superior funding proposals. This powerful, virtuous cycle underscores and reinforces the license I take to assert the title of this entry as my very own. Make it yours too.