Foundations and other funders may request a site visit before they approve funding for a grant. This is often a typical part of the grant review process for a foundation; others may decide to visit programs on a case-by-case visit.
Site visits are crucial. They give you face time with the funder and allow you to show off the best of your program. A well-written grant can go a long way, but ultimately seeing a program in action pulls at the heartstrings in a concrete way that a paper application just can’t.
You can prepare in several ways for a successful site visit:
1. Ask the funder if there is anything in particular they want to see or experience. They’ll obviously want to experience the program you’re requesting funding for, but be sure to ask if there is anyone specific they’d like to meet, how many representatives you can expect, and how long they’ll be staying. Get all the details and make sure you have your bases covered.
2. Be prepared. Refresh your memory by reading the proposal, speak in depth with the program director (or better yet, make sure they are present), put together tear sheets and folders with brochures and more information, and learn everything you can about the foundation visiting. Memorize the names of the people who are coming and if you can, glean some details about their background. Have important staff on call in case a question comes up you can’t answer.
3. Remind the funder of key details. Funders are reading lots of proposals and doing lots of site visits, so sometimes they mix up the details. Start the visit with a brief overview, and emphasize why your program is important. As the visit progresses, be sure to thoroughly answer any questions the funder may have, even if you’re repeating information that’s in your proposal.
4. Don’t oversell. Funders want to a true day-in-the-life experience, so don’t worry about flash and glitter. You don’t have to arrange for the kids in your program to put on a special performance, for example, but if something like that is already happening, the funder may be interested. You don’t need to shower the visitor with gifts and put on the strobe lights, but allow unscripted moments of magic to happen. If your guest wants to interact with your clients, let them, though if you know a particular client is difficult and may cause problems, steer them towards another person. Don’t gloss over difficulties your agency may be having, either. You’re asking for money, after all, so don’t be afraid to say so. At the same time, don’t beg.
5. Be enthusiastic. You’re representing your organization, so drink some coffee and get fired up. Being personable and energetic will go a long way. Ask questions about the foundation’s process and your chances, and follow up after the visit is over. Show you’re invested in working with this funder and that you value their input and their time.
The site visit is an imperative step in building a long-term relationship with a foundation — one that will hopefully grow year after year in terms of dollars.
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