Showing Your Impact with Site Visits: Tips for the Grant Development Professional

As grant development professionals, we know the importance of showing the impact of our work to a potential or current funder.  While a sound evaluation plan is necessary for demonstrating quantitative and qualitative impact, there is also a less quantifiable means of showing impact that is vital to getting the grant – the site visit.

A compelling grant application is not enough to secure funding in the competitive grant-making market.  Often, private, corporate, and community foundations rely on site visits before making their final funding decisions.  There are many reasons why a funder may be interested in visiting a nonprofit organization that is seeking a grant award. Funders may use the site visit to:

1) learn more about a new or unknown organization and their capacity to deliver the project;

2) hear updates and see progress from past grant awards;

3) become active partners in the work of the organization;

4) see a program in action; and/or,

5) meet new staff. 

Regardless of the reason, the site visit is the single event that can make or break an organization’s chance at receiving funding. Preparation is the key to presenting a clear and successful impression.

What Might Funders Ask at the Site Visit?

Typically, those individuals that serve on grant review committees are usually present at the site visit.  They want to hear about the organization’s work and the purpose for the grant. Specifically, they want to know what impact the project will generate. 

It is helpful to brief all staff prior to the site visit and be prepared for questions from the funders.  The types of questions that funders might ask during a site visit are:

  • Does the organization have the time and ability to undertake the project?
  • Is there President/CEO support or “buy-in” for the project?
  • Does the organization have a previous track record for undertaking a project of this scope and magnitude?
  • Is there a consistent message from staff?
  • Who is the target population?  The foundation representatives may want to meet members of the target population.
  • Is the project/program director enthusiastic and capable?
  • What are the best practices in the field?
  • Does the grant project duplicate efforts in the community?
  • How will the grant project/program’s results be measured?
  • How does the grant project align with the funder’s goals?

These question look quite familiar, don’t they?  And many were likely asked in the written grant proposal.  Even so, it’s best to assume the people conducting the site visit have not read your application. Or that several weeks or months have passed since they last read it. Or that yours was one of hundreds received that year. The site visit is the chance to really allow funders to picture how your project works…in person!

Advice from the Funders

The following table is a summary of advice gleaned from interviews with a variety of funders – corporate, private foundations, and a community foundation.

A site visit is a chance for positive interaction with a funder. The most rewarding part of the work of being a volunteer, family member or staff of a foundation is the ability to support the work of an organization that is making a strong impact in the community.  The site visit is an opportunity to demonstrate that impact in person.

Excerpts for this article were taken from the 2010 Journal of the American Association of Grant Professionals, “Strategies for Successful Site Visits: Tips and Techniques for Grant Writers and Managers” written by GPA members, Margit Brazda Poirier, Danny Blitch, Eden Freeman, and Kimberly Hays de Muga.