Planning a Site Visit: Making the Most of a Special Opportunity
Non-profit organizations love to have visitors, to show people around the agency and to expose them to the creative approaches to delivering services. They look forward to the visitors meeting the wonderful staff members and to providing opportunities for the staff members to engage with these visitors who are either donors or potential donors.
The key question is how to optimize this opportunity to enlist additional support for the organization from the visitors. The process begins with understanding the reasons for the visitor coming to the agency and knowing how to engage them while they are in the building(s). Hopefully, the person will leave not only with an understanding of the importance of the services provided by the agency but also with an appreciation for the contribution the organization makes to the community.
There is a delicate balance between what the non-profit wants to tell the visitor and what the visitor wants to hear or learn about the organization. This often translates into the staff person or volunteer leader who is hosting the individual or group knowing what to say; when to say it; and how to say it. Often too much is said at the least opportune time and the information is neither heard nor received by the visitors.
The challenge is in the planning right balance of talking and seeing. Of course, if the visitors are in a group then there should be an opportunity for a group discussion. This should be figured into the equation of what makes for a successful site visit.
In planning the site visit the organizers, whether they be professional staff members or volunteer leaders, must be clear about the purpose of the visit. What do they want the visitor to know and to learn about the organizations? What do they want the visitor to see while they are on the site visit? What understanding of the agency they want the visitor to leave with?
The leader from the agency has to have conception of the role they are playing while they are with the visitors. They are a “guide” to assist the visitor to developing and understanding of the organization and the unique contribution it makes to the community. This cannot be emphasized enough.
The leader is not a lecturer and not with the visitors to communicate a large amount of information and facts about the organization. “Less is more” is very important in this context. The clearer the leader is about her role the better able she will be to discuss the most salient issues and engage with the visitors. This is especially true with a group of people.
The “guide” should connect with the visitors’ interests and try to identify their interests as well as what they may already know about the agency. Since one of the major purposes is engaging with people who are donors or potential donors the focus should be both are communicating information as well as developing a relationship with the people who have come to visit the organization. Visitors to organizations do not like to be “talked at” they want to be engaged with. The agency leader who goes on talking and talking without any awareness of the people who are present is missing an important opportunity.
When structuring comments about the agency’s services and programs it is important to be clear about what the group will see. They should not be told what they will not see because of the hour or because the programs are not functioning at the present time. There is no mileage in discussing what is not happening or not functioning. It is frustrating to the visitor and this asks them to understand a program in the abstract.
The most important role the agency representative can play is to be a “story teller”. Everyone likes hearing personal stories and being able to provide details about the way the organization assisted people is the best way to demonstrate what the organization does. The visitors will remember the stories and if the clients can meet with visitors and tell their own stories, when appropriate, this is even better.
Site visits should not be endurance tests. An effective program consists of several components. One is hearing about the organization and its mission; the second is seeing what the agency does; and the third is for the visitors to have a chance to discuss responses to what they have seen and heard. This is especially true if they heard particularly moving stories. An hour is an appropriate amount of time to plan to spend on viewing the programs and services. It is very important to have a summary discussion to allow people to share their perspectives both on an emotional level and a cognitive level.
When the visit is constructed properly; when the time available is used most appropriately; and when the group leader is tuned into the visitors then the visit has the best chances of being successful. It will “plant the seeds” for follow-up with the people or the organization that has requested the site visit. This can often lead to the development of donors who are committed to enhancing the organization that is providing services to the community. The key is using the opportunity most appropriately with the best qualified staff or volunteer leaders.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.