8 tips for hosting a site visit

Posted on August 29, 2011


Foundation site visits – How to put your best foot forward when foundation officers come calling

“You’re not serving lunch? Put out a spread – we need to impress them!” The program director was incredulous.  She could not believe I would host a foundation officer’s site visit without food.

As a young development staffer, I was baffled by her response. Like most human services nonprofits, we worked on a shoestring budget.  We couldn’t afford to fix the copier, let alone provide catered meals.

I thought that buying lunch would send the wrong message. Shouldn’t we spend our money on programs, not chicken salad?

Both troubled, we settled for a strange compromise. We put small bowls of mints and nuts on the conference room table. (No one ate them.)

Fast-forward 12 years, and now I’m the foundation rep going to nonprofit site visits. Without question, it is the best part of my job.

Here are some tips I’ve learned from many welcoming hosts:

  • Set and meet expectations. Before the day arrives, understand what the foundation rep wants to see. Suggest what might be the best way to experience your program. Be clear about the time commitment.
  • Think through the details. Send an email the week before with the location, agenda, contact info, names of other attendees, and other helpful details. (Where do I park? Do I need steel-toed boots for the construction site?)
  • Review the basics. Early in the visit, spend a little time reminding the foundation rep about your request. It’s helpful when trying to remember many requests.
  • Bring in the experts. The closer to the funding request, the better. Help translate jargon and clarify when necessary. Otherwise, let the experts do the talking.
  • Give a sneak peek. Who can resist a behind-the-scenes tour? It provides insights to your organization’s strategy and strengths.
  • Allow time for questions. Getting to know each others’ mission and organization better will help both the funder and nonprofit.
  • Serve food. Or don’t. Honestly, this doesn’t matter. I’d prefer that people not spend a lot of time, effort or money on feeding me. But a modest meal during the lunch hour may be appropriate on a longer visit. (Mints and nuts are totally optional.)
  • Follow up. Be sure to deliver any additional info you promised during the course of the visit. Thank-you notes should go both ways.

No two site visits are alike. Nor should they be. Each site visit should reflect the strengths of the organization and speak to the interests of the foundation officer.

What do you think makes a foundation site visit successful?

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