"Winning 30% more grants thanks to Instrumentl was a huge morale boost. Seeing how many funding opportunities are out there gave our Executive Director and our development team the confidence to hire me as a full-time grant writer. By using Instrumentl, this confidence continues to grow."

Linda Rucker, Grant Writer at Cy-Hope

customer

Linda Rucker, Grant Writer

ORGANIZATION

Cy-Hope

location

Cypress, Texas

website

https://www.cy-hope.org/

focus areas

Education, Youth

$ raised with grants found from Instrumentl

$229K

Raised / tracked through Instrumentl

favorite Instrumentl Features

Tracker, Foundation Discovery, 990s Snapshots, Advanced Funder Insights

About

Cy-Hope

Cy-Hope is a local nonprofit in suburban Houston operating nine programs for underserved students in two area school districts. They generate revenue for programs through grants, fundraisers, a resale market, event-space rental, and counseling fees

How Cy-Hope Secured 30% More Funding and Used Instrumentl to Track Grants More Efficiently

Cy-Hope is a local nonprofit in suburban Houston operating nine programs for underserved students in two area school districts. They generate revenue for programs through grants, fundraisers, a resale market, event-space rental, and counseling fees. 

Linda Rucker first joined Cy-Hope as part of their Community Outreach team, but today she works as the main grant writer at the organization. At Cy-Hope, she is the primary Instrumentl user and her job is to identify, plan, and write grants, as well as work on data tracking and grant reporting.

Linda’s grant team consists of Executive Director (Lynda Dierker), Development Director (Holly Calbat), and various Program Directors who provide input on program grants and help with grant reports.

The Grant Process at Cy-Hope Before vs. After Instrumentl

Like most nonprofits before introducing a dedicated grant tool, Cy-Hope relied on spreadsheets to track and manage grant opportunities. All the relevant data and grant-related documents were scattered across different sources, which made it challenging to streamline the process successfully, as Linda explained:

“I used to store grant documents on my hard drive, and then I also used a separate task manager to remind me of upcoming deadlines and other things that I needed to get done while I was working on a grant. In such a setting, I struggled to cultivate new grant opportunities.”

Before Instrumentl, Linda and her team relied on mass email and newsletters, as well as Google searches to find new grant opportunities. But this was a time-consuming and tedious process, or as Linda called it “a piecemeal type of approach.”

Now the team can easily find new grant opportunities through Instrumentl's automated search, so they don't need to check Google anymore because the grants come directly to their "Matches."

Additionally, Linda’s team relied on Excel which meant things were scattered all over different sources. 

Now, everything is in one place in the Instrumentl Tracker and all team members have access to the crucial grant documents, making Instrumentl their single source of truth, says Linda:

“If it comes time for a report and the team needs to see something or if I’m on vacation, they are able to do everything they need thanks to Instrumentl.”

Using the 990s Snapshots to Make a Decision on Potential Funders

There are four key things Linda discusses with her team before making a decision to pursue a grant: past grantees, median grant amount, top funding categories (by NTEE codes), and funder contacts.

“I use the past grantees and focus on local funders to prioritize those who have given in our local geographical area, or within Harris and Waller counties. Using the median grant amount is useful because then you can match available funding opportunities with your funding needs.”

The Top Giving Categories by NTEE codes are also very helpful because sometimes the funder’s website will say that they have lots of different giving areas, but they don’t get really specific about them, says Linda:

“As far as you know, maybe they do fund the area you’re interested in, but they only funded a single project. So it’s not very high on their priority list. I find funder websites often list multiple giving categories, but it’s hard to tell which ones they prioritize unless they break out their past grants by category. So the ranked Giving by NTEE codes helps clarify a funder’s priorities.”

Seeing how funders distribute their funds across those different categories helps you make sure you’re not asking for a big grant amount in an area where they don’t typically give a lot, and it’ll save you time.

Finally, looking at their funder contacts can help you discover who serves as one of their trustees or who is part of their leadership team. You can then leverage this information to see if someone from your own board knows any of those funder contacts. In the grant world, nurturing relationships with funders is vital.

Personal connections tend to increase the likelihood of receiving funding.

Pro tip: In Instrumentl, you can save time prospecting by looking at the past grantees in your specific region. First, you can filter to your state and then use the search bar to look up your town. You can also sort by the upcoming deadline and set up filter views to narrow your search. Pretty neat, no?

The Value of Instrumentl’s Tracker for Team Collaboration and Streamlining the Grant Process

The thing that Linda loves the most about Instrumentl’s Tracker is the Document Library that comes with it:

“One thing that I’m always doing is adding documents. As soon as I submit an LOI, I update that opportunity and add a PDF of the submitted document. When we receive an award letter or a contract, I upload it immediately. We also update budget proposals, progress reports, final applications, letters of recommendation, you name it!”

The Document Library is also useful in situations where you’re dealing with repeat grants, so Linda tends to create grant boilerplates which save her a lot of time when she decides to re-apply to a certain grant.

Another thing that’s been really useful for Linda when it comes to using the tracker is that it enables her to quickly generate a weekly status report.

Linda has a habit of doing this every Friday and makes sure to update all her tasks. After she makes sure all the data is updated, she downloads a PDF of all the grants she’s working on:

“I then send an email to my Development Director and Executive Director, and attach the Instrumentl report to the email. For the subject line, I type in GRANT in all caps and add a deadline for when I need an answer from my colleagues on the outstanding questions I laid out in that weekly status email. It works like a charm.”
Example of Linda’s Weekly Status Report.

How Securing 30% More Grants Made a Positive Impact on Cy-Hope’s Team Morale

So far, Cy-Hope has raised $229K through Instrumentl, which is 30% more funding compared to the period before using our grant tool.

However, it’s not just about securing funds, but also the impact shared wins have on team morale:

“Winning 30% more grants thanks to Instrumentl was a huge morale boost. Seeing how many funding opportunities are out there gave our Executive Director and our development team the confidence to hire me as a full-time grant writer. By using Instrumentl, this confidence continues to grow.”

The entire Cy-Hope team appreciates how Instrumentl is a highly collaborative tool that enables each of them to do their part the best. Even though Linda is Instrumentl’s primary user, the organization still uses Tasks as a feature to help them divide ownership and stay in the loop:

“For instance, when we were researching grant opportunities for our baseball fields, I was able to divide out research questions between myself, our Development Director, and our Executive Director. They would get an email about a task that’d been assigned to them, and it worked really well.”

Linda further explained why having a tool like Instrumentl with collaboration features is so important:

“As with many small nonprofits, we all wear a lot of different hats. I’m the grant writer, but I also write our newsletter and speak at community events. Our Development Director develops donor relationships, but she’s also our accountant.“

Despite the fact that everyone has multiple responsibilities, the job gets done because the team has established a great process, so everything works like a well-oiled machine:

“My team members love being able to quickly get an update on what they owe me for open grants when they have time to work on grants. My Development Director sets aside regular times each week to review what she owes me, laid out in the email containing those weekly status reports."

Those weekly emails give Linda and her team a quick way to get a summary of outstanding items. If anyone needs more details, they can always dive into the attached Instrumentl reports.

Pro tip: Check out our Best Practices page to learn more about how to maximize your use of Instrumentl.

Tips for New Nonprofits Looking to Secure Their First Grant

If you’re a new nonprofit looking to secure your first grant, you’re more than familiar with how challenging the entire process can be. Still, Linda had some useful tips on how you can get the ball rolling and start growing your organization:

“You can always apply with a lower funding request as a first-time grantee or choose an opportunity that has more of a local focus. Sometimes funders want a low-commitment level if you’re a new organization, which is why it’s important to diversify your funding sources, i.e. secure multiple funders.”

Also, before calling funders, make sure you do your research. You should first check their website to make sure they are not opposed to calls. But when you do get in touch, reference your 990 research

“For example, you can say - ‘I see you’ve funded these types of programs in the past, for these grant amounts. Are you still supporting the same areas?’ But also make sure to ask more nuanced questions to investigate how your specific programs fit into their areas of interest.”

And guess what? Instrumentl can help give you insights into what they have funded in the past, how much they tend to give, whether they’re open to new grantees, etc. You can then use this information to ask more specific, nuanced questions, says Linda.

Pro tip: Below are some examples of questions that Linda will ask her potential funders when they get on a call. You can use these for inspiration during your own relationship-building process:

  • From your website and past giving, it looks like you prioritize programs that provide college and career readiness and mentoring. Cy-Hope has programs in both of these areas – does one align best with your current giving priorities?

  • It appears you focus on giving to programs operating in Houston ISD. Are you open to funding programs serving students in other school districts?

  • Your website says you do not fund capital campaigns. Are you open to funding equipment or assets to provide program services? For example, a passenger van to offer transportation for field trips serving our Hope Center kids?

In conclusion, Instrumentl helped Cy-Hope secure 30% more grant funding, align as a team, and streamline their work while relying on a single source of truth every team member could reference at any time.

Spending more time on funding opportunities that align with their program goals has led to better funding outcomes overall.

Want to watch the full workshop with Linda? Check it out here!

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Thank you Linda for sharing your amazing story with us! We wish your organization a lot of success in the future.

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Our customers often realize 92% in time savings using Instrumentl. Try it today.

Apply to 1.5X more grants by working smarter, not harder.
Or, if you’re not ready yet, read & watch our customer stories.

Our customers often realize 92% in time savings using Instrumentl. Try it today.

Apply to 1.5X more grants by working smarter, not harder.
Or, if you’re not ready yet, read & watch our customer stories.