“I started looking at Instrumentl and thought—wow, this is the answer to my prayers! Now that I look back, I just think about how much Instrumentl fundamentally changed the way we work, especially in terms of finding foundations that really fit us.”
Theresa Anderson, Director of Development at Salesian Sisters of Tampa, Inc.
The Salesian Sisters of Tampa own Villa Madonna school and have been operating it since 1936. The Salesian Sisters are an order of Catholic women whose mission is to educate the youth, especially the disadvantaged.
In the early 1990s, the school started opening on Saturdays. Over 200 kids from the streets attended what was known as "Saturday club". They would play basketball, participate in various activities, and spend time at the youth center, which was housed within a school gym.
Soon enough, a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Tampa Bay was established and the two organizations worked harmoniously to ensure proper staff and support for the youth, thus opening the doors of the Salesian Youth Center in 1995 on Villa Madonna School campus.
Theresa Anderson has a tax accounting background and she has been working as a Director of Development at the Salesian Sisters of Tampa for almost two decades now.
We were curious to learn more about the challenges of her everyday work:
“A lot of people think—oh, you meet so many parents and people in the community, you have such a cushy job, you go to lunches, chat with everyone, etc. But they don’t see the stress behind it. You have to cultivate relationships with people and you never really turn this mode off. The phone is there all the time.”
When Theresa first came to Salesian Sisters of Tampa, she was leading a one-person office. The first step was to figure out where to begin with raising funds.
There were foundations, there were individuals, and there were corporations that they could potentially reach out to. She quickly realized she needed to start with foundations because there were a ton of them and the money was clearly available.
The only problem: finding good matches and separating the wheat from the chaff wasn’t easy.
Given her tax accounting background, Theresa was more fluid in navigating Excel spreadsheets; but what about her team members?
“To tell you the truth, it was tedious work for all of us. Until Instrumentl, I ran off on Excel spreadsheets which is NOT easy. And my only hope for finding grants was GuideStar. So I looked through the 990s, trying to decode the previous trends of giving, but it was a struggle. It was overwhelming and I didn’t want to do it.”
By the way, Instrumentl's Grant Tracker allows you to add opportunities from Instrumentl’s large database as well as opportunities found elsewhere. Organize your submission requests by year, application stage, and project. Update the status on submissions as you make progress and hear funder responses. No need to track anything in spreadsheets anymore—it's all there, within a single grant system.
When Theresa heard back from one of their national board members, who had met one of Instrumentl’s happy customers, he suggested that Theresa try it out.
“ My initial reaction was thinking—where were you 19 years ago?! I started looking at Instrumentl and thought—wow, this is the answer to my prayers! Now that I look back, I just think about how much Instrumentl fundamentally changed the way we work, especially in terms of finding foundations that really fit us.”
That was the moment when the organization started to discover features that fostered collaboration between different team members.
What Theresa appreciates the most about Instrumentl is its collaborative nature and the fact that it centralizes all things grants:
“We can share things, I can assign tasks for my colleague to do, and I’m really able to spend my time more wisely with grants.”
What’s even more impressive is that Theresa used to spend 8-10 hours grant prospecting, but with Instrumentl she’s spending 1-2 hours. That’s 80% of the original time saved!
We asked her how this feels and she just couldn’t hide her smile:
“Oh my gosh, it’s fantastic! I use that time now to cultivate new donors. Even the recent grant that we received, the $25K, I’m thinking to myself—wow, that really took no time to find. Now I actually have the time to pick up the phone, call the donors, and say thank you.“
Theresa shared that the biggest time sucker in her old process was going through the 990s forms.
She had to read through them all, and then when she’d realized they were not a match, she just felt overwhelmed and defeated. It was such mundane work. Sometimes she even did this 990 research during nights or weekends.
With Instrumentl, not only is searching for opportunities easier thanks to 990 Snapshots, but the opportunities come directly to your inbox.
Email notifications come in handy, says Theresa, because you get reminders about the deadlines. You can also discover potential new funders using the quick find search, or receiver Funder Matches if you’re on Standard Plans or above. That was something that impressed Theresa:
Not only that, but you also have access to key contacts for different foundations. Here's how Theresa managed to add an additional $25K simply by identifying the right person to contact in Instrumentl:
We wanted to know more about Theresa’s typical Instrumentl session and her favorite feature.
Given the fact she was squinting her eyes at Excel for years, we weren’t surprised that the Calendar View is her favorite feature:
“I LOVE the calendar. Being able to search and put grants in there, being able to mark them, for instance that they are in the research phase…Oh, and especially when I win a grant, just to be able to go back in and mark it as Awarded. For example, yesterday I received $25K grant and I’m thinking to myself—I cannot wait to go in and mark it as received!”
The calendar displays all task deadlines, funder deadlines, submission goals, and future cycles, so teams never miss grant deadlines and deliverables. You can think of it as a bird's-eye view of everything related to your grants.
You can filter by project, task assignee, task kind, grant owner, and submission deadline type. It’s the first thing Theresa checks when opening Instrumentl:
“When I open Instrumentl, I always start with the calendar to see what’s coming up, what’s due next month, etc. I can stay on top of everything and ensure I prioritize or assign tasks to my team members.”
After that, Theresa goes through those grants she’s researching to understand their current status and plan out the next steps. Then she'll also try to understand the funding needs of their current programs and set up new searches on Instrumentl to find grants for those programs.
Instrumentl organizes customer kickoffs on a weekly basis for all new customers, in addition to more generalized sessions where even those who are not Instrumentl’s customers are able to chime in, network with each other, and ask for best practices from one another. There are a lot of useful customer trainings happening on a regular basis.
We asked Theresa to share her impressions about working with our Customer Success team:
“I love the sessions that you folks do and I participate in many of those. The ability to pop up the questions on the spot is great. I feel you’re very helpful and responsive when it comes to giving feedback, and I really like that. It’s enough to just reach out to the Customer Success team and say, ‘Hey, can you help me with this, am I doing this right?’”
When it comes to the learning process and the value Theresa’s organization got from Instrumentl, she said she appreciated the 14-day free trial:
“The trial helped us understand the value of the software. We’re an organization that directs all the money into helping the children. But there are some things that you have to spend money on and Instrumentl is one of them. It has paid off for us.”
By the way, even when you’re on the 14-day free trial, Instrumentl provides you with an onboarding advisor so that you can learn how to be more effective in grant-seeking. If you decide to subscribe, you’ll enter kickoffs with other nonprofits in small group settings. We’ll help you ramp up quickly and set you up for success!
Also, we recently launched a page with Instrumentl Best Practices, so make sure to check it out.
Theresa’s been in the field for almost two decades, which is quite impressive. Naturally, we asked her about a few tips she can share with nonprofits:
“I would definitely recommend people try your 14-day free trial. I used to get really overwhelmed when it came to grants and spent so many years feeling like that. Sit with your Head of Organization and say—I need this tool, this will pay off.”
By the way, Instrumentl’s users raise $200k more in new grants in less than a year. Read more about our impact here.
At the very end of our conversation, Theresa summarized why she loved Instrumentl so much:
“Instrumentl changed my work so much for the better. Even if I get a ‘no’ from a funder (and I’ve got plenty of those), that’s ok because there are a lot of opportunities that I can take a look at. I would like to thank your team because you have made grants less time-consuming and now I have the ability to focus on other things. “
Thank you Theresa for sharing your amazing story with us! We wish your organization a lot of success in the future.
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