Prepping For Your First Foundation Site Visit

It’s been six weeks since you spent considerable time and effort researching the 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 program officer Samantha Jenson from The Smith Foundation to tell you that the foundation would like to schedule a site visit, you’re pretty excited.

After all, if The Smith Foundation planned to decline your proposal, it is doubtful that they would arrange a site visit.Grantmakers like to keep in touch with the community and regularly schedule visits to programs and organizations they fund.

So, your foot is in the door.

How to make a favorable impression on The Smith Foundation for future grants?

Follow these simple steps for your next site visit.

  1. Do ask the foundation what their expectations are for the visit, what they’d like to see and who they’d like to meet.  If possible, arrange the visit during optimal times.If you run programs, schedule for a time when energy is high. I once worked with an educational initiative and arranged two separate site visits for them.Due to scheduling difficulties, one was held at a time when nothing was going on – just the ED, myself, a board member, the program director, the Foundation’s representative and an office.The other was scheduled 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!
  2. If possible, arrange for one or two board members to attend – as well as yourself and your Executive Director.It demonstrates commitment to the potential funder.
  3. Share your challenges as well as your successes.
  4. Provide directions to the Foundation.  Confirm the appointment the day before.
  5. Have a representative join you.You run a program for teenage mothers?Bring in one of your brightest success stories. Coach them on what to expect.
  6. Serve refreshments.Coffee, tea, water, fruit, pastries. You are welcoming the foundation officers into your nonprofit’s home – be welcoming and gracious.
  7. Relax!

If they’ve gone to the trouble of arranging a visit to your organization, chances are that The Smith Foundation was intrigued with your organization and want to learn more.

Follow up with a thank you letter expressing your appreciation for their time and trouble, preferably signed by your ED or a board member.

Congratulations! You’ve just launched the first step in a wonderful relationship with a brand new funder.

For more information on preparing for a foundation site visit, check out The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s discussion on How Charities Can Benefit from a Foundation’s Visit.

Addendum:  When this article was posted to LinkedIn, one foundation officer didn’t take too kindly to my suggestion to offer refreshments, likening it to “bribery.”  Folks, we’re not talking high tea here.  How well I recall one blistering day in August when I made my third site visit of the day – and was not offered so much as a glass of water!  Hospitality goes a long way.


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3 Responses to “Prepping For Your First Foundation Site Visit”

  1. Lauren says:

    I’m thrilled to have discovered your blog through Twitter! I’ve been working as the foundation relations officer at Stetson University in DeLand, FL, for almost a year and am eager to connect with others in my field.

    I recently experienced my first foundation site visit and it went great – and today we received that foundation’s check for scholarships! We had one of their 2008 scholars join us and he really impressed the foundation. I didn’t even think about inviting our board members – I have very little exposure to them myself, but I think it’s a great idea.

    Thanks for the blog! I look forward to becoming better acquainted with it.

    Best,
    Lauren

  2. Great tips – espeically #1. Also remember to ask if they have any questions or concerns about your proposal in advance, so you have time to prepare appropriate responses.

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