Even the most artful and comprehensive grant proposal may not convey all the information necessary for a foundation to make a fully informed decision about a grant request. And sometimes, there is nothing that can replace the opportunity to sit down face-to-face with an applicant, see agency staff in action, and flesh out important details about an organization or program.
For this reason, often there is nothing as informative to a grantmaker as a pre-grant site visit. For a site visit to be successful, however, some planning is required by those on both sides of the process. Based on review of the proposal and/or initial discussions with the applicant, a funder will generally prepare several questions in advance, and pose others based on interaction at the visit. Applicants should prepare answers and documentation necessary to address likely questions, as well be ready to explain and illustrate the need for the grant requested.
To ensure that all information is provided and gathered in a reliable and accessible manner and that no “basic” information is overlooked, below is an outline of a typical pre-grant site visit, including questions that are commonly asked by site visitors.
(from “The Family Advisor: Site Visit Companion – Developing a Site Visit Program by Ann D. Gralnek, www.cof.org) A site visit does not infer a grant is forthcoming. It is an investigative fact-finding method used by grantmakers to determine the advisability of investing in a particular program or agency.
What are the Purposes of a Site Visit?
- To gather subjective as well as objective information
- To determine personal response to the people involved and the program
- To provide a comparison with other organizations in the community
- To verify accuracy of proposal
- To determine grant possibilities and, ultimately, probabilities
What is Reviewed During a Site Visit?
- The organization or agency as a whole: IRS determination, lobbying activities, independent or umbrella agency, governance and administrative capacity, history, mergers and name changes, mission, fundraising. Is there adequate talent in the leadership to make the program/organization a success?
- The agency and program personnel: sufficient staff and support, training and development, levels of experience and qualifications, communication, turnover, decision making and problem solving capabilities, role definition and workload appropriations, understanding of program or proposal, dependency on volunteer staff. Is the staff willing and capable to undertake the proposed activities?
- Assessment of facility: location, ability to attract and accommodate clients, accessibility to constituency, physical space and layout, compliance with code, upkeep and cleanliness, equipment and supplies, furniture, conduciveness to productivity, confidentiality of records and files, storage of hazardous materials and medications and supplies. Does the facility support the mission?
- Program information: geographic area served, number and demographics of people served, number of program specific staff, stated goals and purposes, evaluation and outcome measures, internal review processes, activities related to grant funds compared to on-going services, staff accountability and responsibilities, duplication of services, referral networks, documentation of activities. Is the applicant asking for what it really needs (in both amount and purpose), or just what it thinks will increase the odds of receiving funding from the grantmaking agency? Does the request meet the grantmaker’s mission and current funding priorities?
- Financial assessment: current operating budget, program budget, fundraising, cost allotments, salaries, operational expenses, indirect costs, staff responsible for financial affairs and budgeting, recent audit, billing opportunities and strategies, fees. Will the grantmaker’s involvement help the organization gain additional funding from others?
Site visits are very important to a grantmaker’s ability to assess a request; however a site visit can prove beneficial to the grantee organization as well. Discussions during a well-planned site visit allow opportunities for foundation personnel and grantseekers to share their experiences and knowledge, often strengthening the proposal. Such exchanges can also help determine alternative approaches to grantseeking, qualifications of new staff, useful outcome measures, technical assistance or managerial expertise, or even potential for unused facility space and equipment.
Here is an informative and candid article prepared for grantseekers by the Minnesota Council on Foundations, which explains why grantmakers make site visits and what you should know about the process: The Truth about Site Visits, http://www.mcf.org/Mcf/forum/1999/sitevisit.htm