Rancho Santa Fe Foundation Logo

Donors: How to Conduct a Successful Site Visit at a Non-Profit

Questions to Ask Prior to Visiting a Nonprofit Organization You’re Considering Supporting

A site visit to a nonprofit you’re considering supporting is extremely helpful and informative. Nonprofits are serving diverse populations and communities, sometimes the best way to understand them and how they operate is in person.

Why should you request a site visit to the Organization?

Going to visit an organization you are considering giving a grant/donation to gives you the opportunity to get up a close and personal view of the organization and the people who deliver the services. That personal connection can make all the difference in a decision to support or not. Whether you’ve required a grant application/proposal or not, site visits give you time to see the program in action (if possible), get to know the leadership of an organization and ask questions that weren’t answered in a proposal or prior conversations.

Okay, we’ve convinced you, you’re doing a site visit to the nonprofit organization. Let’s put some structure around it so everyone’s time is used wisely.

Be prepared – Look at the organization’s website and get to know what they do. Let the organization know why you are interested in their work and what you expect to learn on the visit so that staff is prepared when you arrived. If the organization provides any materials ahead of the site visit, be sure to spend time reviewing it.

Plan questions ahead of time – see our list of sample questions and what to look for in their responses. Of course, other questions might come up when you get there but having somewhere to start or go back to is extremely helpful to make sure the visitor stays on track.

Identify risks and concerns and address them during the visit. If the organization provided materials (a proposal, grant application, program summary) that needs clarification or you have questions regarding something you saw on their website or on the 990 (which you can access on Guidestar.org), site visits are the perfect time to ask clarifying questions.

Be respectful of the organization’s staff time. Try to limit the visit to just one hour. If you think of suggestions and introductions in the community you can make, include them in a follow-up email after the visit. We find it best to let the organization guide the visit.

Visiting a Nonprofit Prior to Donating

Sample Questions to Ask Prior to Visiting the Nonprofit

  1. What difference will a grant/donation for this project make to the community? What long-term outcomes can be anticipated?

What you want to look for: Forward-thinking and longevity of programs show that the org has done their research and know the needs of the community and how their programs can address those needs.

  1. What are the potential challenges or barriers to accomplishing the project?

What you want to look for: We all know that most things don’t go according to plan and almost always hit some sort of speed bump. Orgs that have anticipated those challenges will have a Plan B if/when they face them.

  1. Will the project be able to go forward if I/we do not fund it? How would the project change if your organization received a grant/donation less than requested?

What you want to look for: Programs developed based on needs in the community. Knowing that the program will move forward with or without your funding shows the commitment of the organization to the program’s success. It’s also important for the longevity of an organization to demonstrate diversity in revenue sources.

  1. Elaborate on ways the project might connect or partner with other community organizations.

What you want to look for: There is strength in numbers and resources. Orgs open to collaboration with their community partners shows they are willing to play ball and do what it takes to address the community’s needs.

  1. Is your organization on track financially for the current fiscal year?

What you want to look for: Is the org facing bigger financial issues that they haven’t shared? Are they operating at a deficit? If they asked for a donation for a specific program, would unrestricted operating support be better? Do they need to address capital improvements before they can effectively serve the community? There are all good things to know before making your contribution.

  1. What, if any, role do volunteers play in this project?

What you want to look for: Do they have the support of the community? Are there opportunities for donors to get involved?

  1. How active and involved is the board of directors?

What you want to look for: What does their leadership look like? What percentage of the Board of Directors support the organization financially?

  1. What other organizations are addressing this need and how is your program different?

What you want to look for: Do they understand the landscape they’re working in? Is there an opportunity for collaboration with other nonprofits? We believe that nonprofits collaborating help share learned lessons and resources for more effective programs and greater impact.

Have questions about what nonprofits to support or want to stay up to date with RSF Foundation? Sign up for our newsletter!