7 Hints for a Successful Site Visit

August 23, 2011

Lina Paredes, Vice President of Program, and her dog, Luna.

Today’s post was written by Lina Paredes, Vice President of Program at the Connecticut Health Foundation.

In my philanthropic career, I’ve been on a number of site visits, some of which went well, and others that went, well, not so well. While I’ve been on the funder’s side of things for the most part, I can appreciate that the site visit can be a source of anxiety for a grantee. I wanted to give you some insight into what I’m looking for with the hope that it will position you for success with various funders.

I’m happy to say that at the Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health), we think of our grantees as partners. While we know there is an inherent power dynamic in that relationship, we also believe that we’re united around similar goals. We’re working together to address particular health systems issues.  Coming from that frame, we truly view the site visit as an additional opportunity to learn about your organization.  Visiting with you and hearing your story in person can help complete the picture beyond what we can glean from your written proposals or progress reports. So, as a grantee, here’s what you can do to ensure that you have a successful site visit:

  1. Understand the purpose of the site visit. There are essentially three reasons why a funder will visit you – to get information to make a grant decision, to check in on progress, or to gain information for an evaluation. The purpose of the visit will frame how it is conducted.
  2. Ask the funder ahead of time what they want to know. What specific questions are they looking to have answered during the visit? What topics would they like covered? Like you, funders are busy people! This will lead to a more effective and focused visit for everyone involved.
  3. Do your homework. Revisit any material you’ve submitted to the funder so you can refresh your memory on what they know about you. Additionally, make sure you’re aware of what’s going on with your funder. Revisit their website or social media platforms to see what else is going on in their world.
  4. Don’t get out “the dog and the pony.” I guarantee your funder does not want an elaborate presentation on how great you are! While we like to hear about your successes and what’s working, we know that it doesn’t present an accurate picture of the challenges you’re facing as an organization.
  5. What we’re really interested in is what you’re learning. Have a candid conversation with us about the challenges you’re facing, and what you’re doing to address them. By being open and honest about the difficulties you’re facing, the funder can help you problem-solve, identify resources/technical assistance, grant a no-cost extension and/or take other steps that will ultimately help you maximize your success. And, you give us the opportunity to learn from you! You’ll be increasing our ability to analyze what it takes to make the work happen, and allowing us to strengthen our strategies.
  6. Take advantage of the opportunity to build a face-to-face relationship with your funder. While our lives are increasingly electronic, the value of getting to know people in person still goes a long way. Make sure to include the appropriate leaders and representatives at the site visit.
  7. 7. You don’t need to have all the answers. If you get asked a question you’re not sure how to answer, acknowledge the question (“that’s a great question,”) and admit you either don’t know, or haven’t thought about the question before – and then find out the answer and get back to your funder after the visit. Getting defensive or angry won’t help you in the moment, but being polite and thoughtful will. And, keep in mind, we don’t have all the answers either! Together, we are learning as we go.

This is what I’ve learned along the way. What’s helped you have a successful site visit? Do you have any suggestions for us?

6 Responses to 7 Hints for a Successful Site Visit

  1. Kristin says:

    Love this article! And I appreciate the author’s acknowledgement of a power dynamic that exists between funder and grantee.

    Tips were extremely helpful!

  2. Tanya Akel says:

    Great article! Helpful and clear while being fun to read.”Don’t get out the dog and pony” put a smile on my face. I intend to follow this wise advise.

  3. Thank you Lina for your thoughtful and helpful article. It is a great resource to hand out to the folks I work with .. they all agonize about funder visits. It doesn’t have to be such an ordeal! Your blog post makes it feel doable. Especially the parts about not having to know weverything and that funders are really interested in what grantees are learning!! not only in successes!

    Thanks..

  4. Lina Paredes says:

    Thanks all, for your feedback! I am glad these tips may be helpful…
    Cheers!

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