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Lessons Learned from a Botched Site Visit

A client told me a story about how NOT to conduct a site visit. With the details altered slightly to protect the innocent, their story follows.

An organization decided to visit a local foundation before submitting a grant request. They had never received funding from this foundation, so this meeting introduced the funder to the organization and vice versa. The Executive Director, Director of Development, and a very active volunteer with a relationship with the funder met ahead of time to create a game plan.
The day of the meeting, the board chair also showed up unexpectedly to participate in the conversation with the funder.
The meeting started very well with the Executive Director making introductions and turning the meeting over to the Director of Development to provide an overview of the organization and statistics on the program for which they planned to seek funds. At this point, the board chair interjected information about a different program with which he had a personal connection – against the plan to focus on the targeted program. The board chair then felt he had to contribute, so he started talking about other programs including a contract they had lost in the state into which the organization planned to expand with this foundation's funds. At this point, the meeting had lost focus on its original intent. 
Thankfully this story has a happy ending as the organization received significant funding from this funder and an invitation to submit an application for additional funds. But it easily could have ended with no funds and a ruined relationship.
How can your organization prevent such a potentially disastrous site visit?
Clearly communicate who is invited and who will attend. No one knew the board chair planned to attend, so he was not included in the meeting preparation or plan. No one can remember who invited him or if the board received a blanket “come if you can” invitation, but today they clearly communicate who will and will not attend site visits.
Invite carefully. You want people with the right relationship with the foundation and the right knowledge of your organization and programs. However, some individuals shine in these situations and others flop. With a goal of making your organization look its best, better to have a shining star than a dud with the right relationship or title. Choose your attendees carefully.
Clearly prepare all participants ahead of time. They did this right – with the exception of the unexpected guest. However, this experience told them to talk explicitly about relationships individuals have with the potential funder, what to mention and what not to mention in the meeting. This organization has many programs which can confuse potential donors. Keeping the focus on the program under consideration rather than discussing other organizational programs helps the funder understand what his or her money would support.
Clearly delineate the purpose of the meeting. Be clear with everyone involved if you plan to ask for a gift, thank them for their support, or seek additional information about your program's fit with their guidelines. In this case, the purpose revolved around giving an overview of the organization and focusing on the program under consideration. With these purposes clear for all participants, anyone who goes “off script” should still provide information that feeds the primary objective instead of distracting from it. However, take your lead from the funder; if they take you off script, follow their lead.
Debrief. We all make mistakes. We have good meetings and less than good meetings. If someone goes off script or derails the meeting, calmly and politely tell them so they will not make the same mistake twice.