The foundation rep is coming to see your program. Now what.

For most proposals, even the ones that get funded, you’ll never so much as see the eye color of the program officer (and  decision committees are pretty much the Illuminati in terms of how easy it is to meet them in person).

But there are those foundations who take the extra step of interviewing and even visiting applicants. This is your opportunity to really make your case in the most effective way possible– right there, on the ground, with the people at both ends of the funding equation– the ones with the money, and the ones getting the help. So what do you need?

Know what you’re talking about
Reread your proposal, and then read it again. Jot down three or four talking points that relate to the proposal. Other programs may come up, or may be impacted by the one under discussion, but keep to the topic of what the funding is for.

Sit down with someone completely unfamiliar with your program and have them ask you about it. If they don’t understand, it’s not because they “just don’t get it.” It’s because you’re not explaining yourself well.

Prep the site
You want the officer to come when there’s activity if at all possible. Do a brief tour with a general overview of the agency. This is the only time you’ll really talk about the organization as a whole. The rest of the visit will focus on the program under consideration. Make opportunities for them to briefly meet clients or observe the program, then go to an office, nearby coffee shop or other spot where you’re not likely to be interrupted. The site should be presentable, but no need to hire professional cleaners.

Get there early
You REALLY don’t want the program officer to beat you there.

Have a spokesperson
It’s nice to have up to three people at a site visit. Choose strategically. The development officer, the executive director, the program director, the program coordinator, or the person (possibly a board member) with a personal connection to the foundation or the officer are all good choices, but never more than three. Only one person leads the discussion and everyone knows who it is going in. If you’re not the spokesperson, wait for that person to direct a question to you. They’ll let you know when you have information that they don’t.

When you talk
Don’t interrupt, don’t re-explain, don’t overexplain. Only answer the question you’ve been asked.

It’s okay to have notes
Or even the proposal in front of you, and to refer to it.

It’s okay to not know something
If you’re asked a question, especially about numbers, budget, or stats, and the answer is not right there in front of you in your notes, say so. Don’t make something up, or approximate, and then have to backtrack later. Tell the foundation officer that you will find that information and get back to them. Plus, this gives you an opportunity for another “touch.”

After the visit
Send a thank you email within 24 hours including any information they wanted that you didn’t have. Send a handwritten thank you  note.

When the funding decision comes through
Send a formal thank you, whether they funded your program or not.