“I brag about Instrumentl all the time. Before, I was searching in the dark—and we've had a couple of other databases that we had joined, and got memberships for, but they're so random and very limited. With Instrumentl, I’ve never missed a single deadline.”
Lovel VanArsdale, Grant Administrator at Tucker’s House
Lovel VanArsdale retired from the State of Tennessee’s Office of eHealth after serving for 20 years. During those years, she served as the Grant Administrator and managed an $11.6 million federal grant. The organization received those funds from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
Essentially, the funds were passed along as grants to healthcare providers in Tennessee to purchase software and provide training to implement electronic medical records in their offices. This gave these providers the ability to dispose of the mounds of paper records.
Lovel was also very involved in writing many other federal and local government grants for other initiatives during her time with the State.
Tucker’s House is a nonprofit organization that partners with families of children and young adults with disabilities and their healthcare providers to provide assistance through specialized retrofitting resources.
The organization assists families to retrofit their homes to meet their specific immediate, intermediate, and long-term needs. Their goal is to not only make the homes accessible but to make them an environment where the children and young adults with disabilities can achieve their potential.
Lovel is the Grant Administrator at Tucker’s House and the main owner in Instrumentl:
“I research matches, review grant guidelines, evaluate mission alignment, and based on eligibility, I will decide whether or not to apply for a grant.”
The organization’s Executive Director, Graham, develops an action plan for fundraising and manages monthly cash flow, along with many other responsibilities.
Marcel is the organization’s Development Director and is responsible for building new donor relationships and maintaining relationships with the donors that the organization already has.
Lastly, Riley is the Ops manager and one of her responsibilities is to provide the required reporting at the end of a grant cycle.
Thanks to Instrumentl’s collaboration features—such as organizing communication via comments, assigning tasks, having a document library at their disposal, and using reports—all key stakeholders at Tucker’s House can effectively work together.
Before subscribing to Instrumentl, the Tucker’s House team would reach out to local churches, corporations, contractors, County United Ways, and other local organizations for funding.
As Lovel shared, they have used a subscription to a center for nonprofits in the past. However, the search criteria were not specific enough to their mission. She had to spend a lot of time weeding through the leads they provided. She relied on spreadsheets in Excel to track her grants which was time consuming and not ideal
“For tracking, I used an Excel spreadsheet to track submission dates and amounts awarded but it became very inconvenient and tedious to try and track 5 years of submissions on a spreadsheet.”
After discovering Instrumentl, Lovel and her team noticed their grant output was gradually increasing and that they were saving a lot of time by prospecting within our platform:
“I was able to submit that spreadsheet to Instrumentl to import as a batch! They were able to upload all of our previous years of data and tie them to the relevant funder 990 insights from their database.”
By the time we had spoken with Lovel, her team had managed to double their grant output and save around 15 hours a week on searching for good-fit funders thanks to filters and exact matches in Instrumentl:
“I use the filters a lot! The Field of Work filtering is one of my favorite tools and it is best when I use the “exact match only” toggle button. This is important for us because we may have a family who has a child with cerebral palsy so I can go in and narrow down my search and request funding for a child with that specific diagnosis.”
Besides the Field of Work filtering, Lovel also uses the filters to search by location of the project. Many local foundations will only support projects in their county of residence so she can search by the specific county where they have a family needing support.
“Because of the size of our nonprofit, I do not apply for government grants and it’s due to the excessive reporting requirements. We just do not have the staff to fill those requirements so I will filter those out.”
Pro tip: Check out our Best Practices page to see how you can use keywords and filters to narrow down your opportunities and separate the wheat from the chaff.
We were curious to learn more about how Lovel and her team use the 990 insights available in Instrumentl. As opposed to manually sifting through 990 reports, in Instrumentl, you have access to 990 snapshots and advanced funder insights you can use to inform your grant strategy. Here’s what Lovel had to say about this:
“I will normally look at the average grant amounts and compare them to the amount of time to apply for those grants. Meaning, if the maximum grant limit is $500 and the application is 5 pages long, I will usually pass since the return on the dollar is not worth the amount of time to fill out the application. If the grant is $5,000 and only a Letter of Intent is required, I’m in for that return on the dollar. Now if it’s for $15,000 to $20,000 I feel it’s worth my time to fill out a 5-page application.”
Lovel also looks at past grantees and will consider the number of grants awarded in Tennessee along with the actual types of organizations they have awarded funding to in the past.
She will also look at Instrumentl’s Openness to New Grantees feature to see if they are funding any new organizations or just giving to repeat grantees. This will sometimes cut hours of research.
Additionally, Lovel looks to the funder’s NTEE codes:
“I look at, for instance, Human Services which is in line with our mission. If it is at the top of the list, I’ll consider applying; if it’s at the bottom of the list, that tells me they are not going to prioritize an application from Tucker’s House.”
We wanted to know more about the criteria Lovel relies on when reviewing Funder Matches. Two things she looks for right away are if they have a website link and if they are “taking applications”:
“If so, I’ll visit the website and research their mission and see if it aligns with the mission of Tucker’s House and then I’ll read through their guidelines. Most foundations will provide a cycle date and deadline date, along with a link to their online application if they have one.”
If the funder’s mission statement looks too far off-topic, Lovel won’t apply and will mark it abandoned in Instrumentl. Then, she will copy and paste their mission into the note section of Instrumentl for that foundation and hide it from the tracker for that particular project.
That’s one of the great ways to utilize the Grant Tracker and make sure it’s working to your advantage.
One of the big advantages of Instrumentl is that it shows invite-only funders and those that are “off radar”, meaning they don’t have an online presence. We were curious to learn how important these types of funders are to Lovel and her organization and how they make the most of available data:
“Yes, if a foundation does not have a website and the mission aligns with ours, I will look to see what states they have funded in the past. If they have funded in Tennessee, I’ll write a letter of introduction and request funds to support our program. If they don’t have a website listed, they normally will have a mailing address listed.”
Most grant professionals and nonprofit organizations know how important it is to build and nurture relationships with funders. This usually requires the involvement of the entire team since you never know who might have a connection with someone or how wide their current network is:
“If Instrumentl shows a foundation is taking applications by invite-only, I will reach out to Marcel. He is a key collaborator in reaching out to those foundations as the Development Director. He does have a long history and has many connections within nonprofit organizations in Middle Tennessee.”
Here’s how Lovel can easily accomplish this in Instrumentl and keep everyone in the loop:
Instrumentl makes collaboration more effective and it helps you divide grant ownership more easily. Utilizing tasks can cut down on back-and-forth communication between team members so they can use their time for researching and relationship building.
Instrumentl helps you store and access all funder-related information in one place. In the case of Tucker’s House, Marcel will make note of where the foundation is located, review the key people, and check phone numbers and emails. Then he will decide on a method of reaching out to them. Here’s what Lovel had to share about this process:
“After Marcel has reached out he’ll then put detailed notes into Instrumentl that will let me know the results of his research. Based on those notes, we collaborate as to whether we should pursue further contact or abandon the application process.”
So, how do you increase the chances of getting replies from funders? Lovel had great tips to share based on Marcel’s experience:
Thank you Lovel for sharing your amazing story with us! We wish your nonprofit organization a lot of success in the future.
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