+A Gift By Any Other Name

Took myself over to my favorite social gathering place, The Good Life Cafe and Bakery in Mendocino Village, on it's reopening day after the best part of five weeks down for refurbishing. While enjoying the comfort of my usual, a salted caramel latte and sesame bagel with cream cheese, a good friend stopped by for a moment, and threw me the following question over her shoulder as she was leaving to pick up her takeout order. 

What does muscle and money for your nonprofit mean?

She knew it was my recently purchased SmartCarFortwo parked out front, the one I'm facetiously (at my age) calling my company car, and had seen the inscription on its nose. Taking my lead from the bank that previously had the car, I had the information stenciled over the remains of what had been its own branding. But I digress.

So, my glib in-my-cranium answer to her walk-away question was — Go to my website, look it over, then order my book, Functional and Funded, and you'll get the answer.

Immediately after which, and still in my head, it occurred to me that she had gifted me. Because, I could now take the opportunity to think more deeply about the answer to that question; to share with others why I've chosen to use this phrase or #hashtag, if you like, as a marker of my experience with and devotion to the efforts of people gathered in nonprofits, especially those of a grassroots community focus. Let me give it a go...

The thought to create the phrase, muscle and money, spilled out of the work I did conducting a popular workshop all over the country for people wanting to ace the business of writing proposals to get money for the nonprofits they represented.

The substance behind the phrase came about gradually as we in those gatherings would practice using the format for developing proposals I had derived following my time as a trainer for the Grantsmanship Center. This involved counteracting the broadly ingrained notion that such work only involves the labor of an individual — often unfortunately labeled a grantwriter — writing proposals for a nonprofit. I came to realize that common sense dictates that this work, the benefits of which are intended to impact an organization as a whole, is far too important to consign to the purview of a solitary practitioner.

Instead, my approach to writing proposals distinguishes itself by urging the suffusion of people at the heart of any nonprofit in their creation. All the more so, if they are the intended beneficiaries of what is being proposed.  As my book puts it:

"Bear in mind, as well, that there may be a divergence in the outlook and experiences of the staff in nonprofits and the participants to be involved when it comes to formulating programs for which funds will be sought. So, the authenticity of of what materializes in our proposals is much less susceptible to dispute if provisions are made to acknowledge participant perspective. One way of accomplishing this is by substantively involving the intended beneficiaries of proposed programs in the planning of such efforts..."

This, not to suggest for one second any less esteem for the skills of a grant proposal writer taking the lead to create funding proposals. What we see now is that individual working with the organization whose story s(h)e is helping to tell.

In other words, I wanted workshop participants then — and anyone contemplating such endeavors now — to return to their organizations with a grasp of more than just the mechanics of funding proposal development; rather more to embrace proposal building as an opportunity to strengthen an organization while going through the process. Something accomplished with, let's call it, a micro-democratization of a fundamental activity in nonprofit existence, the pursuit of resources. To paraphrase a wise practitioner quoted in my book, the days of closeting myself for several weeks and emerging with a cogent proposal are over. To which I added:

"Why not begin with the premise that doing this well...will find your people or community members building personal and organizational capacity by immersing themselves in the process of seeking resources. Approaching the work involved in seeking external resources in this spirit takes those involved in the internal deliberations and strategizing into the heart and soul of the organization, and strengthens an organization from the inside out."

Finally, the brief meta data I developed for the marketing blurb for my book goes at it like so: 1. Build the core funding proposal & tell your organization's story. 2. Refine it to seek diversified financial support. 3. Strengthen your nonprofit as you build. Payoffs? Strong organization inside; strong proposal outside.

So, in retrospect, all of these experiences were leading to the emergence of muscle and money as the catch phrase it is now intended to be. And, on one of those days where I was turning to a Muse for guidance on how to convince others of the wisdom of purchasing my book, and bits and pieces of everything being discussed here were percolating in my feverish brain, it occurred to me that in these times of digital information bites, I should capsulize my book.

I would create something akin to what I had seen described as a flip book, a short and sweet version of some of the important elements in my book — a builder's tool kit. Create it I did, and after looking over the first draft, the title spilled out in my thoughts, and the subject of this discussion saw the light of day in print form.

Let me add that emphasizing muscle before money is intentional. All the money in the world won't mean much if if happens to find the coffers of nonprofit that is not properly mission-driven*, not committed to presenting itself as a willing partner with other organizations (especially those with money to give) and resilient enough to embrace the changing circumstances of the people for whom it exists. Turning this around, the desirable characteristics just mentioned, the sinews of a vital nonprofit, will stand it in good stead in the time-honored imperative of getting some money in hand to stick to the business of helping people help themselves.

*Proper, as in articulating the improved quality of life among the people for whom the organization exists as its mission, NOT being busy...

Harvey B Chess
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