For a charity organisation, each donor is important as they provide the much-needed support that the organisation needs to conduct its programmes. However, when a donor expresses an interest to visit the project communities/project sites, not always the not-for-profit organisation feels comfortable about it. A variety of thoughts, questions and concerns arise for the organisation. Common ones include the following:
- What does the donor want to see actually?
- What if the donor discovers or finds out something that they shouldn’t know?
- What if something goes wrong, as the visit is in an area which is different than a donor’s environment, etc.
- A fear that the donor themselves may directly fund the community and surpass the not-for-profit organisation.
And thus, in some cases, the grant receiving agencies avoid taking donor/s on a project site visit, without even realising that by doing so they are losing out on some of the big opportunity and advantages!
In fact, a donor project visit, is extremely helpful in enhancing fundraising opportunities for an organisation.
Donor Visit Outcomes:
One of the biggest and most important outcomes from organising a donor visit is “Strengthened relations with the donor”. One must realise that the donor has already contributed in the past and when she/ he has shown interest to come for a project visit, means at least there is an interest from the donor in the work you do with their support. It’s now very important to organise an open interaction between the donor and the project beneficiary/ies so that the donor not only understands the quality and quantity of impacts but also understands the situation (including challenges and problems) that your organisation faces in implementing the project.
Visit to the project site by a donor makes appreciating and accepting of the field realities and situation rather easy and convincing for the donor. In most cases, where genuinely the work is being carried out, such visits make the donor an equal partner in solving the development problem, which otherwise was just handled by you and donor was a passive supporter by making her/ his contribution. Such relationships go a long way as it is no more the spirit of mere give and take that the donor carries, instead, it transforms into the spirit of ‘let’s do it together’.
In fundraising, its often said, a donor is not married to an organisation. Though in most cases this is true as till now, the donor is just contributing what she/he is hearing from the project team. But a visit to the project makes the scenario change. The donor is no more a mere recipient of reports but becomes an active partner and contributor to the development actions. In several cases the donor in fact becomes your brand ambassador/ spokesperson, raising more and more support for the organisation.
Another important aspect that the donor visit can teach you, is how much the donor is interested in your work, cause and are there any other specific expectations from this partnership. For this, it’s very important that you allow the donor to speak, share her/his views, ask questions, etc. This will help you at least roughly estimate the big reason for donor’s association/interest with your organisation. And you must remember that the association with the donor in most probabilities shall continue till this reason exists.
All in all, experiences show that donor visits for most organisations have been extremely beneficial. Post visits, there are examples when the donor joined the board of the organisation or increased the quantum of support in the next cycle of contribution; and in one of the cases that I was a part of, the donor even signed-up for a huge legacy grant.
Thus, the power of donor visits is huge. It all depends on how the development organisation visualises, plans and executes it.
Steps to organising a donor visit:
The steps to organising a donor visit can be divided into three phases. The overall duration of the three phases can be depending upon how intensive the visit is. Normally, this overall duration could be of about a month and a half.
Phase 1- Pre-visit
This is about month duration or so, depending upon the kind of preparations required for conducting the visit. Some of the key activities conducted during this phase include:
- Identification of the project for the visit- The first step in organising a donor visit is to identify the project. This will depend on various factors like the interest/mission/cause of the donor agency; kind of project the donor is interested to visit; total time the donor can commit for the visit; when would the donor like to visit and it’s feasibility; how long is the donor willing to travel, etc. Based on this, identify the project in consultation with the project team.
- Develop a detailed note on the project and the visit- Once the project is identified develop a detailed note on the project including background information, status before the project was initiated, duration, project activities, changes that have happened since the project is initiated, etc. The note must also cover expectations from the donor during the visit including field conditions or any other specific aspect regarding the project such as cultural conditions, etc. and some key do’s and don’ts including clothes to wear, aspects can discuss, etc. particularly because the donor may not be aware of the socio-economic and other field conditions. But again, these should be communicated in a firm yet polite manner.
- Clarifications on the cost- It is advisable to request donor to cover their personal costs till they reach project location. On-field expenses, field location to beneficiaries’ location, etc, could be covered from the project. This is also important to ensure that the funds committed for the project are directed only for on-ground activities and it creates a positive impression among the donor as well. A donor who is committing her/his time will definitely be willing to support her/his own expenses but it’s important that this should be communicated to them before the visit.
- Draft a schedule with as many details as possible and share with the donor and finalise with her/ his inputs. The schedule should cover the overall purpose of the visit, day/ time when the donor is expected to leave her/his location, on-field activities and return proposed. Once this is finalised, share this with the community and the project team and get their confirmations too.
- Composition of a team during the visit- The team should comprise of someone from the project team who has directly been handling the project and interacting with the community, communication team (both writing and photo/ video skills- if possible can have one each) and someone from the fundraising team as well. In addition, depending upon the profile of the donor, one may also have a senior member from the organisation.
- In-field Meetings and interactions: If on-site, it is planned that the donor should meet/interact any community groups, or a project beneficiary, or another NGO partner or a government officer, etc. it is important that these interactions/meetings are also planned in advance and the respective individual/group/organisation or the officer is informed in time and also provided with the necessary details of who is visiting them and why and what is expected from them, etc.
- Plan the travel and book tickets- If the project location is at a far off location and can be reached better by train or flights, need to book tickets appropriately for all those travelling for the visit. As mentioned earlier, the cost of tickets for the donor must be borne by themselves. Booking train or flight is always advisable so that the donor is not tired by the time s/he reaches the field and is able to properly interact with the community.
- Plan for accommodation and any other logistic details- Depending upon the travel duration and location, you will need to plan and book accommodation and other logistic details such as meals and vehicle for local travel. Again this should also be done well in advance so that the same is available and the visit is comfortable. Again appropriate accommodation may not be available in the field location. In such cases, you will need to explore nearby town/ city. Another important aspect is food. The last thing you would want from the visit is donor’s stomach is upset and she/he is not comfortable during the visit. Remember, comfortable travel, food and accommodation is very important so that the donor is comfortable in the field.
Phase II- Field Visit: On the Day
The duration of the visit will depend upon on how intensive is it- this could be just a day-long to 2-3 days. Normally, when the donor has to spend a lot of time in travel and reach the project location, a 2-3 day is preferred and if the donor is local, coming from a nearby town or say, a day-long visit to is fine.
Key elements to be covered during the visit:
- Introductions: – It’s important to introduce donor to all the beneficiaries that they meet so that the interaction between the donor and beneficiary is done in a more open and comfortable environment. Similarly, it’s key to introduce donor to each and every location and key beneficiary so that the context is built appropriately and the donor is aware of what can be expected.
- Interaction: Ensure there is enough space (time and physical) for interaction between the donor and the beneficiary. It’s important that the beneficiary speaks so that the donor is able to get a better field idea about the project and the difference it has made. Simultaneously, it is important that the donor speaks so that all their doubts/ queries are sorted and she/he gets a better understanding about the project and also you get to know about the motivation of the donor.
- Experiencing the field: A big advantage of organising a visit is it also offers the opportunity to experience on-field and is a big motivation for donor and thus, this should be part of the visit. These experiences will be long-lasting for the donor and will, again and again, emerge in her/his discussions/ interactions in years to come. Thus, this will keep your organisation’s activities lively in the donor’s mind for years to come.
- Documentation: This is also one of the key activities during the visit. As it is said, a picture speaks more than a thousand words. It’s important to capture all important occasions/ discussions through photo/ video. Again this is also important as this documentation can be a very important resource for your fundraising initiatives.
- Closing: Sharing of feedback from the donor to the beneficiary/ project team is important as this again shows donors interest in your program and the motivation of being associated with your organisation.
Next Step with donor…
It is always important to close the donor visit with clarity on the next step with the donor. As you come nearing the completion of the project visit, there will already thoughts going in the mind of the donor and also this is an opportunity to also clarify if there are any doubts. The donor may want to continue with kind of activities they are supporting, further strengthening/ enhancing their support or come up with some new action/ change that she/he will like to see happening. Not the donor will fund all your activities but once they are convinced of a particular action, they would also be willing to come forward and raise support.
Thus, it is important that before you close the visit, discuss with the donor and understand from her/ him on going forward, what would be the next steps.
- Compile the documentation: You must compile and label the photo and video documentation of the visit at the earliest possible as later you may forget the details. Without details, this will reduce the meaning.
- Publish the visit report: Compile the visit report and publish. The report should not be just a list of activities. This is extremely important as its not feasible for all donors to go for project visit. And thus, the report should be presented with quotes and experiences, making it as an experiential sharing document.
- Social Media: Do inform and take consent of the donor on sharing experiences of the visit on social media. If possible, take a quote too. This is extremely important as this is someone outside and as a donor of the organisation talking about your work, which adds further credibility and help spread the work much higher. And if the donor is an influential person, this will further enhance reach, reaching out to all the followers of the donor as well.
Some Challenges and a word of caution!
However well planned you are, but in the field, anything can go out of bound. Reasons could be anything- a sudden change in the weather, some religious festival in the community, occasions like a death in the neighbourhood or anything else. You may not reach on time or u reached but couldn’t conduct the visit as per the plan. Thus, always, one should be prepared and plan for the contingency. You may not be able to organise a new visit but you may have to change some activities but still able to conduct without losing much on the experience.
Secondly, keep flexibility in the programme. Certain activities that you thought may happen faster may actually take quite longer than the assumption, perhaps because as experience were so diversified and enriching which you did not expect earlier. Donors too were keen and quite engaged. There would be some unplanned heartfelt moments. Let this get emerge as this will make visit highly experiential. But yes, one needs to be also cautious that it is enriching. If not, should consciously move forward as the objective is to organise an experientially rich donor visit, within the fixed time period.
A donor project visit should be a regular activity in any organisation as this will not only ensure getting support from donors but also enhancing their support and also raising support from other sources. One should treat donor as an equal partner of your organisation and as much possible, an internal member too.
Plan well in advance so that all would have a comfortable experience.
During the visit, document each step of the visit as each of these experiences is livelong experiences for the donor and will ensure the relationships continues.
Last but not the least, before you close; identify the next steps.
All the Best…