Our last blog post looked at site visits, in particular how foundations can help make them more productive. In this post, we return to site visits from the nonprofit’s perspective, and answer some frequently asked questions from our nonprofit colleagues.
I APPLIED FOR A GRANT AND NOW THE FOUNDATION IS REQUESTING A SITE VISIT. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN AND WHAT DO THEY EXPECT?
Site visit is a term that can sound an awful lot like a health inspection or tax audit. Breathe. Here is a chance to show off your work, and introduce members of your team to a potential donor.
HOW DO I PREPARE MY STAFF FOR A SITE VISIT?
Preparation is key to a successful visit. Here are some tips:
- Think about your staff and volunteers, and who is comfortable speaking in groups and connecting with people. Choose carefully. And pick only a few—too many people each trying to explain the agency or program can get confusing.
- Ask the foundation if there is any specific program or issue they’d like to learn more about. This will also determine who participates in the site visit.
- Ask the foundation how much time they wish to spend with you. Expect about an hour.
- Reserve a quiet area for discussion. If your office is one room, and it’s always noisy, meet first at a local café.
- Encourage your staff to develop speaking points. Do a mock site visit if needed.
- Learn about the foundation’s past grants and current interests.
- Confirm two days before, and offer parking advice if needed.
SHOULD I HAVE THE FOUNDATION VISIT A PROGRAM IN ACTION?
Yes if a) seeing the program in action would help build your case for funding, and b) visitors would not cause a disruption nor be inappropriate. Always inform program staff, volunteers and participants in advance that guests will be attending. Allyson Halpern, the Development Director at 826 Valencia says, “When people see our students working alongside volunteer tutors, helping them develop their writing skills, confidence and finding their voice, that’s when folks really ‘get’ us.”
OUR BUDGET HAS CHANGED SIGNIFICANTLY FROM LAST YEAR. HOW DO I EXPLAIN THIS?
Every organization has its struggles. Be proactive about discussing any major changes in the organization including funding status, new leadership, and overall achievements and challenges. Funding can shift from year to year, as can an organization’s priorities. A foundation grant is not a reward for a job well done; it is meant to help an organization achieve its goals.
SHOULD I SHOW OUR NEW VIDEO AT THE SITE VISIT?
No. A site visit is valuable face-to-face time with a potential donor. Send them a link to the video either before or after the site visit. Same goes for any marketing materials including your annual report.
I’M TEXTING YOU FROM THE BATHROOM. THEY JUST ASKED ME A QUESTION AND I DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER. HELP!
Relax. You are not expected to know everything. But you are expected to ask for help when needed and find out answers to questions. So tell them you’ll find out the answer and get back to them soon. Now get out of the bathroom!
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE SITE VISIT?
Within 24 hours, send an email thanking your guests for coming. Include any follow-up information (like the answer you didn’t know to that question!) If you’re not clear on next steps, ask about the foundation’s timeline. Thank your staff and volunteers as well. Tell them you know site visits can feel time-consuming and disruptive, but relationship-building is critical to the health of an organization.
Good luck, and remember to leave space in the conversation for questions and contemplation. And wear comfortable shoes, because that’s never a bad idea.