“I started getting all these emails—you have new matches, you have new matches… So I go into Instrumentl and I’m thinking to myself: holy cow. After an hour or so of looking at those foundations, I go to my ED’s office and I say—I want to buy this. I want to have this.”
Toni Curry, Development Director at Pro-Choice North Carolina
Pro-Choice North Carolina is a statewide organization that works to protect and advance the reproductive rights of all North Carolinians.
The organization believes that reproductive health care decisions should be made by the people themselves. This includes abortion, preventing pregnancy, and carrying a pregnancy safely to term. The organization strongly advocates for access to abortion without government interference.
Toni Curry is the Development Director at Pro-Choice North Carolina and she’s been in the development world for 20 years now. By her own admission, she entered the industry “by accident”.
Toni was first an administrative assistant at a university. As her career progressed, she started taking on more responsibilities and gaining experience in many different grant development areas.
After moving to North Carolina in 2011, she started working for North Carolina Public TV and that’s where she got the bulk of her experience. Five years later, she began working at Pro-Choice North Carolina to fight for a cause that she deeply cared about.
Given the fact that Pro-Choice North Carolina is a statewide organization, we were curious to hear more about its team, and what people outside of the nonprofit sector don’t fully understand about Toni’s role:
“I think that what people generally don’t understand is that fundraising is not just asking for money. The biggest part of fundraising is relationship building and connecting people who want to do something together for a cause that means something to them.”
So how does Toni’s typical day look like?
“In my work day, probably 10% of my time is spent asking people for money. All the rest goes to keeping stakeholders informed and engaged, and letting them know how their money makes a difference.”
The question of reproductive rights and abortion access is a sensitive topic and it has been widely discussed by the public, especially in the last five years or so.
We know how challenging it is for nonprofits to find good-fit funders and we had a sense that for Pro-Choice North Carolina, it’s even more difficult. Toni confirmed our assumptions and shared how challenging it was to find good opportunities using Foundation Directory Online:
“I used to use Foundation Directory Online. We’re a small organization and our budget is not huge, so we used it for free. But I had to drive to the public library to use their version and I would literally spend a whole day researching.”
What Toni would end up with was an Excel spreadsheet of 50 or 100 foundations that only mention abortion or reproductive healthcare. Then, she would go home and go through all of these potential funders, one by one, and check their websites (if they had one).
So here’s what Toni realized:
“The issue with working with that particular database is that everything was all labeled under reproductive healthcare. So you’ve got foundations and organizations that fund activities for the anti-choice movement mixed in with folks who actually fund those who advocate for reproductive healthcare. A big part of my job was dividing those two types of funders.”
But then Toni stumbled upon Instrumentl’s 14-day free trial and decided to give it a go.
The two biggest “wow” moments?
Firstly, before Instrumentl, it took Toni around 10-12 hours to do proper grant prospecting. With Instrumentl, it took her between 30-45 min, which resulted in 92% time saved.
This left Toni more time to work on proposals, take care of external communications, and manage their web page properly. More importantly, there was more time to think about their fundraising strategy and easily look through 990 snapshots.
Secondly, only 60 days after signing up for Instrumentl’s free trial, Pro-Choice North Carolina got $35K in support from a foundation Toni had never heard of before using the platform.
“I started getting all these emails—you have new matches, you have new matches… So I go into Instrumentl and I’m thinking to myself: holy cow. After like an hour, I go to my ED’s office and I say—I want to buy this. I want to have this.”
Toni discovered a huge number of good-fit foundations and many of them were right there in North Carolina—yet they had never shown up in her FDO search. She was so happy and overwhelmed with opportunities that she didn’t even know where to start.
Also, hours of manual work were eliminated as everything was nicely presented within the platform:
“Everything that I needed was in this one little PDF. All of the research that was previously taking me days to do was now compiled. It was right there! Another thing that I like is that Instrumentl is always working. It’s always looking for another RFP or another opportunity that matches the parameters that I’ve set. It’s like magic to me.”
This is actually a common case with newbie Instrumentl users: they initially come for the matches but soon realize the vast potential of Instrumentl as an institutional fundraising platform and stop perceiving it as just a seasonal tool.
Toni also shared how she values Instrumentl’s Tracker, especially because her team is small. In reality, Toni is the one who is responsible for everything related to fundraising, which means she has to wear multiple hats:
“It’s been a real challenge to keep track of what’s coming up, the deadlines, and things you need to do next. I used to make these elaborate ticklers in my calendar and I even used paper files. I set things up on my phone to remind me to get things done. And now I don’t have to do any of that with Instrumentl.”
This way, Toni never forgets when the reports are due or when she’s supposed to follow up with a certain funder. As she explained to us, Instrumentl lets her “relax a bit”:
“It’s precious having peace of mind that nothing’s going to fall through the cracks. Instrumentl does a bunch of work for me.”
Here’s a valuable lesson from Toni: never completely exclude and abandon funders that don’t seem like a 100% match. Toni puts them aside for a bit and then does a deeper dive into them later. She then focuses on relationship-building in an attempt to figure out whether her original hunch was right or not.
The result? This particular foundation supported Pro-Choice North Carolina with $20K. So if you never try, you never know, and investing effort in exploring these low-hanging fruits is worth it, says Toni:
“Everybody is willing to talk to you for a little bit. So if you can catch the attention of a program officer or someone else who can point you in the right direction, you might be a better fit than you think.”
Since using Instrumentl, Pro-Choice North Carolina has received repeated funding from five different foundations and raised a total of $195K. Toni shared how Instrumentl is a very intuitive tool that not only helps you find opportunities fast but also fills in potential knowledge gaps simply by clicking around different opportunities and 990s:
“Most of my learning curve was around individual funders because, in my previous experience, I’ve been mostly involved with corporate foundations. But with Instrumentl, I can expand my search which is vital for relationship-building.”
We talked with Toni about the cause her organization is fighting for and the controversy surrounding the topic of reproductive health care rights. By default, this puts her nonprofit in an unenviable position because of the way some foundations will perceive the impact they make:
“This is not something that software can fix. It’s about the way funders think about supporting reproductive rights work. If a foundation gave us $1M or even $10M, we couldn’t take this money and do the work to fix the problem we’re fighting today. It’s a slow chipping away of centuries of nonsense. It cannot be fixed overnight, but that’s what many foundations want.”
It comes down more to finding like-minded allies in the space which has proven to be a good tactic, since Pro-Choice North Carolina has had repeated funders. Having a software solution you can rely on makes this job a lot easier, says Toni:
Another great point Toni makes is about the way fundraising works:
“I think that foundations shouldn’t be saying—’this is what we want to support!’ I think they should be asking—’what do you need?’”
We couldn’t agree more, but that’s just the way it is.
In conclusion, Instrumentl helped Pro-Choice North Carolina save 92% of the time on grant prospecting, raise $195K, and achieve amazing results as a small team of three. As Toni said, Instrumentl has a “lifetime customer” in them, and we couldn’t be more proud.
Thank you Toni for sharing your amazing story with us! We wish your organization a lot of success in the future!
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