Site Visits in the Zoom Age

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA & Sheldon Bart 

In what we might call the BC era (Before COVID), site visits mainly entailed a tour of your nonprofit’s facility.

You took the foundation program officer or the major donor on a walk around the program site to give them a good look at your day-to-day operations. They were happy to see in action the services described in words in your proposal or application. The tour consumed most of the time available for the visit, with a few minutes left over for questions.

Now, after the disease disrupted our routines (or AD), the site visit is mostly entirely a Zoom production. It all takes place remotely on camera and is an interview with questions and answers going back and forth.

Here are two points to help you ace this oral exam.

First, remember that, as in the old walk-around site visit, funders and/or donors don’t usually request site meetings unless they’re interested in your nonprofit. They’re usually already sold. They want to meet the CEO and/or program director, chat with the clients if possible, and bring back positive impressions to share with the foundation’s review panel.

Second, keep in mind that from the moment the green light is illuminated on your camera, you are essentially putting on a show.

And you can succeed by staging it well.

Below are three pointers to help you stage an effective Zoom call.

1. Create a Dramatic Background

Rather than transmit from your home office, place yourself instead in the foreground of the actual location of your program site. That’s more dramatic.

If for any reason this is not possible, use a strategic photograph of your program site as a virtual backdrop. Pathlight HOME, an innovative Florida nonprofit who outsources its fundraising with LAPA Fundraising, that turned cast-off motels into supportive housing, effectively staged a Zoom visit for a $267,000 funder before a virtual background photo of their recently renovated commercial kitchen which serves as a vocational training site for learning culinary skills. They became a finalist because of that, and are now waiting for the final news. 

2. Develop a Tightly Crafted and Rehearsed Script

Prepare a brief, 10-minute script about your stellar program and its outcomes. You can convey a lot of information in such a short time frame.

How do you know your script fits? You must rehearse it and have a colleague time you. Rehearsal—preparation—is the name of the game in any kind of production, including your performance on Zoom.

3. Provide Powerful Client Testimony

Include having a successful client give a succinct testimony to the benefits of your program. But you can’t let the client wing it, lest he or she ramble on too long. You should create a short script (just a minute or two) for your client and rehearse it.

Of course, many of the “best practices” of traditional site visits carry over to the Zoom versions. Be sure to have a copy of the grant proposal and budget in hand so that you can respond if programmatic or financial questions arise. Be ready to email the documents to the funder or donor if need be. If there’s any question you can’t answer or additional written material they need, provide them with the desired information the same day if possible, no later than the day after the visit.

Also, send an e-mail thanking them for taking time to visit the agency.  Re-state in the e-mail the salient details you learned about them during the visit—the time to submit the full proposal, if that hasn’t been done already; the date to apply for a renewal; upcoming changes in the funding cycle or funding priorities.

Do you have any stories to share about smooth or disastrous virtual site visits?  Please let us know by emailing Laurence or leaving a comment below.

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