How Your Nonprofit Can Prepare for a Site Visit From a Prospective Funder

When foundation program officers come calling, what to do to make a good impression.

A prospective foundation funder may decide to schedule a visit to your nonprofit organization's site to see for itself what’s going on. If you receive notification of an upcoming site visit, let out a cheer! It indicates that your grant proposal, after having gone through one or more layers of review, is under serious consideration.

The site visit will be scheduled in advance, so don’t worry about a black limo suddenly pulling up and people wearing white gloves emerging. You’ll have time to plan--and to review everything you've submitted to the prospective funder so far, as well as the funder's interests, priorities, and "personality."

If possible, try to schedule the visit for a time when your organization is at its most active, seeing clients or engaging in field work. Don't be shy about asking the prospective funder for details about how much time they'd like to spend and what they're most interested in seeing or learning about.

Make the Site Visit as Hands-On as Possible

Your chances of success go up if the foundation's representatives can meet clients, handle an art project, savor a tomato in your community garden, or do anything else that involves something other than talking to the executive director and meeting board members. Remember: you’ve already engaged their minds with your grant proposal; now’s the time to more fully engage their hearts.

If the most interesting work of your organization isn’t done at its central office, take your guests to where the action is (unless it’s a wilderness trek, a toxic dump site, or some other dangerous or messy spot).

Show and Tell, But Keep It Real

Advise all your program staff and any relevant clients of who’s coming. Ask your staff to tidy up their workspaces, and brief them on expected questions and what to focus on in answering. Develop your own schedule--subject to adjustment, of course--of what and whom you'd like the program officers to see and do during their limited time at your site.

Tell staff members (and possibly clients) to be ready to talk to the visitors about their activities and, if appropriate, to do a “show and tell” presentation, with the emphasis on “show.” But keep things low-key (if energetic). The visitor will want to see your site as it really functions.

Foundation officers say that one of the biggest mistakes nonprofits make during site visits is putting on a big to-do rather than engaging in business as usual. They appreciate honesty. If all they hear is that everything is just peachy, one success after another, they may start to worry about what’s really going on.

In some cases, a site visit is conducted before a full, written proposal is submitted--for example, in response to your initial letter of inquiry. That’s an ideal opportunity to pick up some tips from the foundation officers on how to present your project on paper most effectively.

Guidance and Hospitality

When the visitors arrive, your organization's executive director should take the lead in showing them around. Make sure you’ve got enough clean mugs ready for coffee or tea. Depending on how long the visit will last, serving snacks or a light lunch might be appropriate. Most site visits last from two to three hours.

If the visitors will be flying in, they’ll probably book airplane and hotel reservations on their own. Still, be prepared with recommendations, advice on parking, and tips on good restaurants and entertainment options. There’s usually no need to play the role of tour guide, but be ready to suggest or join in on dinner plans, if appropriate. Also, provide any needed tips on getting around or getting to your facility.

Follow Up After the Site Visit

Keep the conversation going. A thank-you email is appropriate, not only formally expressing your organization's appreciation for the prospective funder's interest, but answering any questions you had promised to get back to them on (unless you promised a more formal, written answer or followup to questions).

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