“Yahoo! We’re getting a site visit. We are awesome!” Making it to this point in the grant application process can be exhilarating, and it can be tempting to pat yourself on the back and relax until the day of the visit.
The truth is, these visits do make a difference, and the more prepared you are the better. The people who sit on site visit committees are often volunteers who have to read 20-30 applications in a short period of time, so you can’t realistically expect them to retain all the information from the written application. This means they may ask questions that are already covered in the application, or confuse your application with another one they read that day. Over-preparing is the best way to navigate this potentially stressful situation! Here are some helpful tips for getting ready for the day:
Decide Who Will Be There
Some funders require certain people to be at a site visit, such as a board member. Make sure you get the required people in the room. If you need a volunteer or board member, make sure to contact them with plenty of advance warning. This is a common thing that organizations forget about and they end up scrambling at the last minute. Other than board members, you should probably have the executive director and a representative from the program who can answer very specific questions. If your financials are complicated, you may want to have your finance person there a well. Sometimes it’s helpful to have the grant writer there to take notes, explain aspects of the application, or ask the funder pertinent questions about the process.
Give Everyone a Copy of the Application
Make sure everyone has a copy of the application well before the day of the visit. If you email the application to your group, make it into a PDF that includes all the attachments–such as the board list, financials, budget, and statistics sheets. (You usually won’t need to include the audit, 990, or tax letter, but do make sure one person in the room has access to these documents in case you are asked about them.)
Read the Application
Make sure everyone reads the application–including the budget! You will need to know how much you are asking for and what that funding will support. It’s easy to think you know the program well enough that you don’t need to read the application. But funders often have specific questions or requirements that you may be unfamiliar with. Having all the information fresh in your mind when you enter the site visit makes answering questions easier, and keeps you from frantically shuffling through the pages trying to answer a question you weren’t prepared for.
Brainstorm Possible Questions
Meet a day or two before the site visit and brainstorm what questions might be asked, and write down your answers. You may also want to have a general plan about who in your group will answer which kinds of questions. Some funders send questions in advance, which is a wonderful thing! If they don’t give you questions, you can certainly call and ask what kinds of questions you should be prepared to answer.
Prepare the Location
Some “site visits” are actually just interviews at the funder’s office. In this case, you don’t need to worry about the space. But if they come to you, decide where the best place to meet is. If you run a food bank or a shelter, you will want to meet there so you can give them a tour. If you meet in your office, make sure it is tidy and that you have water available for everyone who is at the site visit.
Come With Statistics, Financials, and Updates
One thing that can really trip up a site visit is when the visitors ask a question about specific statistics or financials. Numbers can be hard to remember, so come with a written summary of your statistics–and updates since the application was submitted–that you can easily reference during the meeting. Come with your most recent financials, and be familiar enough with them that someone in your group can discuss them if needed.
Fit In a Story
This is your moment to shine. Identify your best program story and your best storyteller, and make sure that person finds a way to share the story in the site visit. Another way to do this is to have a constituent or graduate of your program present to tell their own story.
At the end of a site visit, the visitors will likely ask if you have any questions. This would be a good time to ask what the timeline is on decisions (if they haven’t already told you), or ask something else that came up for you in the meeting. But don’t make up questions just to have something to ask!
Being as prepared as possible will help you get through this process. But even the most prepared group will sometimes not be able to answer a question. There is nothing wrong with saying, “We don’t know, but we can get back to you.” Then make sure to get back to them that day or the next.
Hopefully these tips will help your next site visit go smoothly!
By Heather Stevenson of The Write Team