Your visit will allow you to flesh out your understanding, confirm your assumptions, and answer many specific questions about the organization. That's because little can rival the direct experience of visiting a nonprofit to get a feel for the work that the nonprofit does and the people or causes it supports. The activities you observe during your visit—whether of scientists hard at work on the next big vaccine, eager students with their arms raised, or a bevy of job seekers receiving training in needed skills—will likely inform your thinking long after you have left the grounds.
However, there are two important issues you'll want to keep in mind: First, be aware of the unavoidable dynamics of being a potential funder—the organization will be putting its best foot forward. Second, keep in mind that requesting a site visit often raises expectations on the part of the nonprofit and can be time consuming and even disruptive, so it is wise to visit only if you are truly serious about funding the organization. Even if the grant you’re considering is large, you will likely still want to start with research you can do on your own—information you can get from public records, for example. In other words, you'll want to avoid taking on high-involvement activities (such as site visits) unless they will aid in decision-making. (For more on customizing your approach, see here.)
- Share your goals in advance: If you know there are certain people you’d like to meet (say, the director of the program you are most passionate about), or programs you would like to see in action (like the youth poetry class you read about in the paper), make sure this will be possible at the time of your visit.
- Bring other decision makers: If there are people whose opinions you are counting on to make your decision, bring them. Recognize, though, that the more people you bring, the more formal the conversations, so resist the urge to bring an entourage.
- Be prepared: Bring any remaining questions you have and be ready to ask them if the situation arises (or try to answer them through observation).
- Know how close you are to a decision: You may be asked specifics about your decision-making process. Because site visits do raise expectations, be ready to share where you are and the likely timing of your decision.
For those of you who have conducted a site visit, when did you decide to request a visit? What worked well during the visit? What didn’t work as well?
This is the latest post in our Nonprofit Due Diligence series. Click on the links below to read previous posts. Join the conversation by commenting below or on Twitter at #NonprofitDueDiligence. You can follow Give Smart updates at @BridgespanGroup.