Make It Count: Prepping For Your First Foundation Site Visit
Picture this familiar scenario: It’s been six weeks since you spent time and effort researching regional foundations and sending out eight new proposals in support of a planned educational initiative on behalf of your three-year-old community arts organization.
So when the phone rings and it’s Samantha Jenson, the program officer from The Smith Foundation, calling to tell you that the foundation would like to schedule a site visit, needless to say, you’re pretty gosh darn excited.
The odds appear to be in your favor, right? Because if The Smith Foundation had plans to decline your proposal, it’s highly doubtful that it would ask its program officer to call you to arrange a visit. Grantmakers are interested in keeping in touch with the community and regularly scheduling visits to programs and organizations that they fund—or intend to fund.
You congratulate yourself with a jubilant pat on the back because your foot is in the door. Success!
You already are aware that first impressions are powerful, and in the case of The Smith Foundation, they are looming. How do you ensure that they’re not only positive, but also inspire the funding of future grants?
If your goal is to build a relationship for the long haul (and it should be), then guess what? It’s all going to begin with the initial site visit. So how do you make it count? Let these steps guide you.
1. Ask the foundation what its expectations are for the visit, what it would like to see and whom it would like to meet. If possible, arrange the visit during optimal times to shed some light on what your organization is really about. This means that if you run particular programs, schedule the visit for a time when the energy is high.
I once worked with an educational initiative and arranged two separate site visits for it. Due to scheduling difficulties, these separate visits looked very different from each other. The first one? It included just the executive director, myself, a board member, the program director, the foundation’s representative and an office. The other? This one happened during peak programming, and the potential funder—someone we had been pursuing for several years—was impressed with the energy level and genuinely delighted to see the program in action. Aside from the resulting fully funded grant check, the funder became a passionate proponent of our work, funding our organization every year—and drawing in several other new funders! Big difference, eh?
2. If possible, arrange for one or two of your board members to attend, as well as yourself and your executive director. This kind of inclusiveness demonstrates serious commitment to the potential funder, and shows that everyone is on board in your organization’s work and mission.
3. Share your challenges as well as your successes. No organization is perfect so there’s no need to put on a front and pretend. If anything, your challenges and obstacles can provide a compelling case for why you need the funding, just as much as your successes do.
4. Provide directions to the foundation. Confirm the appointment the day before. Details like this prevent hassle—and possible awkwardness—the day of.
5. Have a representative join you. Run a program for teenage mothers? Bring in one of your brightest success stories. Meet with them beforehand and explain what they should expect, and ask them the sorts of questions that may be of interest to the prospective funders. This is a wonderful way to illuminate your good work and its impact on the people you’ve helped.
6. Serve up some refreshments. Coffee, tea, water, fruit and pastries alone won’t win them over, but they sure can contribute to a chill vibe. And that’s what you want! You’re welcoming the foundation officers into your nonprofit’s home, so be as welcoming and gracious as you can.
7. Relax and breathe! If The Smith Foundation has gone to the trouble of arranging a visit to your organization, chances are, it is intrigued and wants to learn more about you. You stood out from the rest of the pack, so own it and recognize that the visit alone is a success and an opportunity—one that can lead to even more victories.
What about after the visit? Hopefully, it’s everything you hoped it would be. Bask in the afterglow and extend the good vibes by following up. A thank-you letter expressing your appreciation for the foundation's time and trouble, preferably signed by your executive director or a board member, can extend that positivity.
Congratulations! You’ve set the stage for a thriving, long-term relationship with a brand new funder.
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.