Written grant proposals offer grantmakers an opportunity to get to know an organization, understand their needs, and review the organization’s goals and strategies. Many grantmakers also take time for phone calls, meetings, and email correspondence to help coach proposals to success. They also discourage organizations from applying, if there is a lack of alignment. Perhaps the most meaningful connections and conversations between grantmakers and applicants happen during an organizational site visit. Because of this, many funders conduct site visits as part of their grantmaking process. Some may choose to conduct a site visit during proposal development, the review process, or part of a post-grant reporting process. Regardless of the timing, funders should follow these best practices in order to conduct successful site visits.
Clearly Define Expectations
Before you request a site visit, spend time determining your goals for the visit and information you hope to collect. You might ask different questions depending on the timing of your visit. For example, a site visit during the grant period allows you to check-in on the grant’s progress and make any necessary adjustments. A site visit following the grant period allows you to hear lessons learned, successes, and any unmet goals. Clearly articulating to the nonprofit what you hope to accomplish during your visit will be valuable for both parties.
Use Your Time Wisely
Staff at nonprofits are busy. They balance budgets, raise funds, run programs, and work with their board of directors. While site visits are often a welcome opportunity for nonprofits, you must respect the nonprofit’s time. Schedule your site visit at a time that is convenient for the nonprofit, ideally when their programs are in session. Limit your visit to 30-45 minutes. This will help everyone stay on task during the visit. Furthermore, it will allow you enough time to answer questions, and let the nonprofit staff know how much time they can expect to spend with you. In addition, if you have questions, send those to the nonprofit in advance, so they can prepare. Be sure not to repeat questions during your site visit that the applicant has already answered in their proposal. Site visit conversations should collect additional detail or bring clarity to what an applicant has already submitted in their proposal. On the backend, site visit conversations should help a funder understand the impact their grant made in the community.
Determine the Guest List
Because nonprofits welcome visitors, donors, and potential funders to their programs frequently, there may be opportune times for you to conduct a site visit. For example, a regularly scheduled lunch and learn could be a good opportunity for you to visit the organization. This would prevent them from scheduling something separate for you. If you are part of a local funders forum or Grantmakers circle, consider doing joint site visits to save nonprofit staff members time and effort. In addition, take time to consider who should be a part of the site visit. If your board members are very involved in the grant review process, or you have external grant reviewers, consider inviting them to join you on the visit. If they are not able to, be sure you have a process in place to share your site visit learnings back with your grant reviewers and/or board.
Finally, communicate with the nonprofit how the information you gather will be used. Funders conduct site visits for a variety of different reasons and at different points in the grant process. Consider if the site visit might be able to replace a couple questions on your application or even serve as the final grant report for a project. Helping the nonprofit understand how your site visit will help support them – not just you and your process – will ensure the experience is valued by everyone involved.