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Beyond a Dog and Pony Show


I used to be a program officer at the Michigan Women's Foundation, and one of my favorite parts of my job was going out on site visits. I loved going to site visits for the foundation's Social Impact Grants. I loved going to site visits for the foundation's mini grants (yes, we did site visits for grants less than $5,000). But most of all, I loved going on site visits with the high-schoolers who were part of the Young Women for Change ® program.
 

It was not only the young women's enthusiasm that made me enjoy their site visits so much - although their energy was infectious! It was not just their thoughtful questions that were often free from assumed knowledge of the community need or clients being served that left me so inspired. What made those site visits such a pleasure was the way that they approached the conversation and the change in how the potential grantee typically approached them as grantmakers compared to their adult counterparts. The site visit was more enjoyable to participate in, less constrained, and felt less like a dog and pony show.

Our goal as grant professionals should be to avoid having a site visit feel like an overly staged or elaborate display. Our goal for the site visit should be to showcase the organization's strengths while showing how the financial support will create significant impact for the organization and its clients/constituents/community.

Tips for Setting the Stage for an Exceptional Site Visit

1. Clarify expectations with the grantmaker in advance.

When a site visit is being scheduled, if a suggested format, length of time, or presentation style is not provided, ask your contact what the preference of the grantmaker is. If your administrative offices are different from the program facilities, ask if the grantmaker would prefer to meet at the administrative offices or in the location where the programs are held.

2. Ask how many individuals will be attending, and if they know who they are in advance.

Providing name tags for site visit participants in your organization makes the dialogue easier. Providing name tags for your grantmaking guests makes it easier for you and your colleagues to address everyone during the meeting by name when answering a question or chatting during a tour. You can also do research on those who are attending to learn a bit about their interests and other areas of involvement in the community/field of interest.

3. Set an internal agenda for the site visit with rigid flexibility.

Plan a presentation, tour and question-and-answer period based on the request and preferences shared with you by the funder. Be prepared to vary from your plan depending on the interest or attention of the grantmaking visitors.

4. Be gracious hosts.

There is no need for a large spread of food for a site visit. However, be a gracious host. If appropriate, offer water, tea and coffee for those visiting your offices or program facilities.

5. Be thoughtful in your choice to have clients attend site visits or provide live testimonials.

There are situations where having clients or constituents speak can be powerful during a site visit. There are also situations where it feels incredibly scripted and over rehearsed. There are scenarios where encountering specific clients on a tour through your facility can be a more appropriate way to engage with clients during a site visit. There is not a one size fits all solution, but there is the need to be thoughtful and respectful of the clients as you consider how best to engage them, if at all, in a site visit with a grantmaker.

The most important thing to remember in all things grant related, with no exception to site visits, is that each grantmaker is different and has their own preferences for the grantmaking and site visit process. While the tips I've shared are based on my experience as a grantmaker, my continued work on review panels and from the experiences of our clients, we never dare to assume that the tips will work perfectly with a new funder. I think the best rule to live by with site visits is to clarify the expectations of the grantmaker when setting up the visit so you have time to adapt your strategy to ensure the visit is a meaningful engagement and not a dog and pony show.

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