How to Manage a Successful Tour or Site Visit By: Hayley Waynick, GPC

Tours and site visits are key components in establishing and maintaining strong, productive relationships with grant funders. Hosting them offers a chance to showcase your programs, meet face to face, and gauge how a funder’s interests intersect with your agency’s strategic initiatives. Here are helpful tips to help you manage a successful tour or site visit.

Offer Funders a Tour Before You Apply for Their Grant

Tours are especially useful before you submit a grant application. You can engage funders or program officers and let them help you decide which project is the best fit for their grant program. If possible, give them options to increase your chances of being funded.

In your correspondence to funders, whether via emails, letters, and/or phone calls, extend an invitation to tour your facility and see firsthand your programs or projects.

Program officers are unique. First, find out via email or phone call if they have time for a tour and when it best fits with their schedule. Some program officers welcome and prefer tours, while many others are far too busy with other duties. Funder panels hosted by your local nonprofit and grant associations are a great way to gain insight into program officers’ preferences. I recently attended a panel where one program officer told the audience of development and grant professionals, “I just don’t have time for tours.” Another said, “Please call me, I’d love to come out!” You just cannot know until you offer an invitation.

Conduct a Site Visit at the Funder’s Request

Site visits operate similarly to a tour, but they are requested on the funder’s side versus per your invitation. Some funders will require a site visit after you submit the application and prior to making the award, mid-way into the grant cycle, shortly after a report is submitted, or after the grant period is complete.

If the funder does not require a site visit, still consider extending an invitation to specific funders so they can see the completed or in-progress project. Use discretion with this approach and reserve it for bigger grants and projects.

Prepare for a Tour or Site Visit

Identify which senior leader(s) and/or program staff should be involved in the tour or site visit. If possible, keep the number to three to avoid overwhelming your visitor(s). Once the participants are selected, identify their personal strengths and take advantage of them. Your tour or site visit dream team might consist of:

  • A staff/senior leader with strong donor relation skills
  • A staff/senior leader with in-depth knowledge of the program(s), project(s), or agency’s services in general
  • The grant writer and finance staff member who know the grant process, the funder, and the budget well

Get Everyone on Your Team on the Same Page

Schedule a pre-tour or site visit meeting with your team. If a meeting isn’t feasible, share a detailed agenda for the tour or visit. Do this as far in advance as possible to allow time for review, questions, and clarifications.

For tours, decide which buildings you will tour and the projects on which you will focus. If you are pitching an idea or project to a funder, focus on two or three main initiatives that you feel fit their priorities versus pitching only one project, and prepared to share your strategic priorities for the coming year. Make sure you’ve carefully read the funder’s guidelines and reviewed other organizations and projects they’ve funded, as well as your own organization’s history with the funder.

For site visits, funders will typically arrive with their own agenda and list of questions. In this case, allow them to take the lead while still being prepared with your own updates and overview of the funded project.

In the pre-tour planning, a team member should be appointed as presenter for your program’s overview, as well as how it will be presented. It is perfectly acceptable to have your presenter verbally share their good work. Be sure to give your program staff time limits for speaking and touring so your visit ends on time. If the program or project has a tangible or visual component, allow time to show the funder after your sit-down meeting.

Be sure everyone in attendance has access to the submitted grant proposal and report, if applicable, and ensure everyone is aware of funder “quirks” like past funded projects, restrictions, priorities, your organization’s history with the funder, and known topics to avoid in conversation.

Tackle Timing, Logistics, and a Little Wow

Timing-wise, tours start off best with a sit-down overview of your organization, giving the funders ample time for questions. Begin site visits with the funded project, allowing the program officers to guide the format as they have most likely come with prepared questions.

Logistically for site visits, show where the program takes place or show the results of tangible projects (e.g., a remodeled shelter, new equipment, etc.).

Logistically for tours, show all of your programs or, if you have a large campus, be strategic about what you show based on the focus your potential ask.

Any time a funder is visiting, make sure all program staff working at the time are aware and prepared for you to bring a funder to view their program.

Plan something special, like a ribbon cutting, a speech from a staff member, testimony from a client, or something that exemplifies the heart of your services or population served, like children playing a basketball game or volunteers packing food or backpacks.

Thank Funders for Coming

After the tour or site visit, send the funder a handwritten thank you note. Offer to answer any questions they may have not thought of during their visit. Send your staff a note of thanks for their part in supporting a great tour and advise them of next steps with the project.

With preparation, a focus on the funder’s wishes, and a little wow, your tours and site visits with funders will be a huge success.

GPC Competency 8: Knowledge of methods and strategies that cultivate and maintain relationships between fund-seeking and recipient organizations and funders.  Skill 4: Identify methods for collaborative efforts among the grant manager, program manager, and support staff during funder site visits and site evaluations.