Sunday, April 04, 2010

Site Visits Or the Meeting With A Potential Grant Donor

It is a common step, in the grant application process, especially when the amount requested is a large amount, for the potential grant donor to request to visit the applicant nonprofit's office or the site where the proposed program (that the grant is requested for) already does or will occur.

A nonprofit's key staff may feel a great deal of anxiety or even outright jitters prior to the meeting. It's normal. Even still, I'm hoping to alleviate some of that, in this post.

Let's say that you and I work for a nonprofit, Music Fans For Country Music Memorabilia Preservation. Let's say, too, that our board of directors working with our organization's program manager, has been preparing launching a brand new national program called American Country Tunes' History Campfires. Let's say that the planning has been underway for about three quarters of a year, so far, and we submitted grant applications to three different grant donors (foundations, in this case) about a month ago.

Included in our organization's planning was enough time to be certain that the new program, prior to its launch, could be fully researched, thought out, planned out, budgeted for, and enough new fundraising would be completed before it began, to initiate a strong and viable new program. Grant writing is one of the methods that we included in this program's fundraising plan. In total, American Country Tunes' History Campfires' operating budget comes to $100,000 (which is the operating cost for one year). The fundraising staff decided that the fundraising would involve raising: $20,000 of this budget from major donors; $20,000 from a new direct appeal letter sent to established long time donors that our organization knows are interested in public education; $50,000 from grants (which you and I are working on), and $10,000 from the program's sponsors, eight different country music businesses: music labels, magazines, and national instrument store chains. For the grants portion of the fundraising plan, we applied to three different foundations, to one for $45,000; to another for $5,000; and to another for $5,000. We decided to hedge our chances of raising enough grant money by applying for $5,000 more than is necessary (as the program's budget demonstrates) but we also included, in the spirit of transparency and full disclosure, in all three of the grant proposals (submitted grant applications) a clear statement in both the proposal, itself, and on the budget, stating which foundations we applied to, and how much we asked of each. We figure they will talk with each other about what each foundation's decision making body thinks of the proposed program and whether they're considering funding, and if they are - how much they're considering granting (which is normal).

Let's say that our executive director received a phone call, this morning, from the board president of the foundation that we asked for $45,000 from. Indeed, their president confirmed, their staff has spoken to the staff of the other two foundations that we applied to; and all three are interested in supporting the program, though, they are not sure, yet. This, of course, is terrific news, but it is also no guarantee of anything. Still, encouraging news is a good sign. The foundation's president explains that she is calling because their foundation would like to conduct a site visit, where the new program will be taught, and also meet with our nonprofit before they make a final decision. She explains that the other two foundations told her that they will make their respective decisions about granting or not, and how much, after their foundation meets with our organization and shares their notes and findings with them. In other words, whether we get any one, all three, or none of the grants that we applied for hinges on this one site visit and meeting.

As I said, above, it's completely normal and understandable for our co-workers who will conduct the tour or be in the meeting to get nervous. The key to ensuring that the visit and meeting go well, is for the nonprofit's representatives who will conduct the site tour or be in the meeting to be researched, informed, prepared, and rehearsed. Their having key information, knowing what to say, and having practiced all of this will give the representatives of our nonprofit a sense of confidence and clear talking points, which will help formulate a professional positive experience for all involved and reflect well on the the nonprofit for the foundation's board.

Why is the grant donor interested in seeing the program's site, themselves? Why, too, do they want to meet with the nonprofit? First, this is not always the case. Some grant donors, even when considering granting large sums of money, in response to a grant application, do not request visits or meetings. This is another example of why it's so important for nonprofits to fully research and know a potential grant donor's preferences, interests, and what their grant application consideration process is; in order to be fully prepared. Of those that do, the grant donor requests a meeting to weigh whether or not the grant requested should be donated to your nonprofit. They are not trying to make life more difficult. They are also not trying to be tough on any one organization. Instead, this is a common part of how this particular grant donor considers of all of the organizations that apply for a grant, in a give granting cycle, which to donate to. They want to see where the proposed program will occur. Is the facility safe, accessible by all, are there enough bathrooms, are all safety precautions in place, etc.? Also, they want to see that this proposed program is viable, well thought out and planned, professional, likely to achieve its goal, etc. Seeing a program's site, for instance, can help them formulate this kind of information. They meet with the nonprofit to get a sense of the organization and the people running it (or working for it). Is this a professional, accountable, success-achieving, honest, talented, experienced, etc. group of people working for and volunteering with this organization; or do the nonprofit's representatives demonstrate to the potential donor that their donation would be better spent with another better run organization (for the benefit of the community and the goals of the organization and its proposed program)?

The goals, when meeting with any potential donor (including a grant donor), are: to be oneself; not schmooze anyone or try to sell anyone, but rather provide compelling, confidence-raising, true, and complete information; to listen to the potential donor (being sure to note what transpires in the meeting (to keep in the donor's file, in the grant writing office, for future reference); to note what, if any, documents or further information they request, during the meeting, that you don't have on hand in order to be sure to follow through and get to them, after the meeting, in a timely manner); and to relax as much as possible. Do not dominate the tour or meeting. Rather, offer up pertinent case-building information but also listen and answer questions. Also, the focus of the tour or meeting should not be on one person (i.e. the nonprofit's founder or the executive director). Rather, the focus should be on the beneficiaries of the organization's work, more specifically of this program; and why this program and its intended outcomes (or successes) are necessary and important to our community (or in the example, above, the nation).

Returning to my example, above, you and I help our executive director, the new program's manager, and two board members (which are the people our leadership decided will meet with this potential donor) prepare. The program manager preps the reps meeting with the foundation by being certain that each person knows what the program is going to provide to the public, what the demographics are of the intended students, what the goals of the program are, how the program will be conducted, where, and other key information such as the program's budget and fundraising plan. The reps do not have to memorize all of this material, but they should have it on hand in the meeting, but also be relatively familiar with it in order to be prepared to answer questions. We help prep the reps by being sure that they know what this particular foundation's recent giving history is (especially granting for programs similar to ours' with other nonprofits similar to ours'). We also provide them with four or five key talking points that each one of them may want to express during the tour or meeting such as some really compelling point that clearly states why our organization (above any other) is the best nonprofit to provide this particular public education; or the credentials or experience that we retain in the team that will design the lesson plans or actually do the teaching; etc. We arm them with anything that will help the donor see that their money will be wisely spent with our organization because we are going to achieve the goals of the program, operate efficiently, be completely proactive in our communication and reporting to the donor (including being honest and transparent), etc.

After our reps are educated and prepped, we spend a couple hours with them pretending that they are on the tour and then also in the meeting with the foundation, and the reps each rehearse. This may sound extravagant or unnecessary but it is actually normal for nonprofit leadership to rehearse any meeting with a potential large increment donor. This kind of rehearsal provides the reps with a level of comfort and confidence, allows them to nail down some logistics (i.e. who will lead the meeting, the executive director or the board president? who will speak to which portion of the tour or specific different topics during the meeting?), and it will also allow everyone to work out kinks and ask for assistance from the prep team, if they aren't sure how to proceed if they hit a snag, such as maybe discussing a specific topic, during rehearsal, or touring a specific room or part of a facility.

Meeting with potential donors, including grant donors, can cause any nonprofit's leader's heart to race; but there are tried and proven steps that can help anyone lessen those the jitters; while improving the likelihood in getting that donation.

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