Not Coffee: A Crash Course in Site Visit
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Posted by: River Wilson
My first site visit was a nightmare. I had to resist the urge to pinch myself as the office I arrived to was under construction and looked utterly deserted. I walked through a gymnasium-sized, pitch-dark lobby to the office door, which was illuminated by a single lightbulb. I took a deep breath and buzzed a call button to be admitted.
We all prepare as best we can for site visits. The advice I am about to offer about my first plan, and how it unraveled, will likely prove even more useful today, in a time when site visits are virtually impossible. Or perhaps, to state it more literally, site visits today are either virtual or impossible. Because we were funding a group behavioral health program, a private foundation observing the program in person was not permitted. So we came up with an alternate plan.
We would introduce the funders to a program staff member, present our data, and show a short video of the program in action. The funder found these terms acceptable. Yes, we could have had a video-conference call and email the materials; but, this funder always emphasized they love to meet their applicants, so we wanted to give them face time rather than FaceTime.
Our potential funders had driven for hours to see us. When Pam, our program manager offered them drinks, she said, “I’ve got hot chocolate, tea, but not coffee,” because her temporary office did not include a coffee maker. One of our funders heard “hot coffee” and exclaimed “Oh, hot coffee would be amazing.” And with that small stumble, the tone was set for this meeting!
As soon as we all sat down, our only available staff member ran from the table, sick. She had to go home, and Pam and I were left to make our case to the funders alone. Pam set a manila accordion file of paper data in front of each of our extremely eco-conscious funders, and I nearly fainted. We attempted to play a video, but it wouldn’t work, so we moved to a different conference room to try another system. It never worked; the file was corrupted. The room began to blur!
I was a totally new grant writer. I had no idea how to salvage this. I took a deep breath, and spoke from the heart. Pam did too. She laid out all her hopes for the future of the program, and she honestly expressed her fears of what would happen if we did not receive the funding. Somehow, our guests were moved. Just a few weeks later, a check showed up, and then another. Our funders were so impressed by our passion for the project, we had been selected to receive a bonus award for program materials.
This site visit prepared me for 2020, proving that with careful planning, creativity, and a whole lot of improvisation, our cases can still be made to funders whose preference would be to shake our hands and offer a hug.
GPC Competency: 0.8 Funder Relationships
Article Theme: Site Visits
Author Bio: River Wilson is a versatile grant professional with a background in a range of nonprofit spaces including healthcare, human services, education, and public television. River is currently serving as President of the Grant Professionals Association Miami Valley, Ohio Chapter.