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Keeping a Site Visit on Track: 7 Tools from Experienced Grant Managers

You just got the call: your funder is coming for a site visit. Is the program ready for a closer look? Either way, it is time to get to work! With some strategy and organization, a site visit will turn out to be a positive experience for the grants manager and project team as it provides the opportunity to reflect and foster further development of the program. All you need is a few simple tools. Seven items recommended from the toolbox of experienced grant managers include:


1.) RAILS: A RAIL, or rolling action item list, is a fantastic project management tool that will not only help you plan the visit, but also clearly align tasks, deliverables and status. This is an Excel-based, more detailed version of a GANTT (Lean Six Sigma tool) which outlines the objectives of the site review. RAILS will keep you on track and on task because no one likes to see red by their name.

2.) Site visit schedule and itinerary: Once you have started your RAIL and identified the key players, start a schedule and itinerary. This is the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the visit so that everyone involved – even your funder – will know what is happening. Use this itinerary to also get the visit on calendars to ensure leadership and staff readiness for the visit. You probably will not have the itinerary finalized until prior to the visit but get it started now. 
3.) Grant documentation and policy binders: All site visits will most certainly include a review of the program and financial documentation. The finalized application and contract, grant management guidelines, electronic program activity reports, copies of financial transactions, etc. should all be neatly organized with dividers in binders. If you have been using a RAIL to help manage the project, include that as well. 
4.) Scorecard: Site reviewers should not be the only ones taking notes for a site visit. A scorecard provides the dual purpose of reviewing the current status of your grant prior to the site review, as well as a method to track questions or missed opportunities during the site review. 
5.) PDCA (if needed): Hopefully, your review of the grant project with the project manager to complete the scorecard, has identified no delays, missed goal or benchmark attainment. If the world were only perfect! So, work out these issues using a PDCA (plan, do, check and adjust) worksheet, summarizing and clearly outlining corrective actions to be put into place for areas currently not on track. 
6.) Talking points: You will not be able to script conversations for a site visit, but you can make sure that specific points are noted, especially important successes to date. Having a site reviewer hear consistent comments about the status of the project from multiple sources in different areas communicates a cohesive, organized project. 
7.) Checklist: The site visit RAIL should have all the critical resources necessary for the visit outlined well before it occurs. Creating a final, one-page summary of resources you can review prior to the visit will calm last-minute nerves and assure everything is in place. Arrive early the day of the visit and make sure all participants have a copy of the checklist and are ready.  

Finally, grant managers should organize all of these tools in their personal toolbox to ensure timely coordination and structure for an organized site review. This organization will put the rest of the project team at ease and further demonstrate the value of the grant professional. 

S. Kimberly Jones, GPC is the Director of Community Health Advancement for the Adena Health System, located in the southern, Appalachian region of Ohio.  She is a member of GPA and its Central Ohio Chapter and is currently completing a master's degree in rural Community Development with the University of Nebraska. She will be speaking for a third time at the 2017 GPA Conference in San Diego in November on building social and financial capital in rural communities. She can be reached at