Insights: Why Site Visits Matter and What We Expect
/ Dana Schmidt / Insights / January 16, 2019
It is hard to count the number of site visits I have done over the course of my career, but suffice it to say there have been a lot. Some of these visits have been worth their weight in gold. I have come away with deeper knowledge about the organization, an appreciation for its opportunities and challenges, and stronger relationships with staff. Other visits have been less fruitful—largely because I was not as explicit as I could have been about my expectations.
In 2019, our team will spend considerable time and effort to visit programs and organizations will spend considerable time and effort to host us. What makes this year different from the past is the guidance below, which we plan to share in advance of every site visit. We are posting these publicly to be transparent with our grantees and because we have not seen many resources like this elsewhere. If you have ideas to make our guidance more helpful, please let us know here or in the comments below!
Echidna Giving Site Visit Guidance
Site visits are a true privilege for Echidna Giving staff. They provide insight, context, and texture to the work that we cannot get by reading proposals and reports from our desks in California. They are also an opportunity to better understand the needs of organizations and their ultimate beneficiaries.
We recognize the limitations of site visits. We do not have enough time during our visits to see a fully representative picture of any organization’s work. And our very presence changes the normal dynamic, rendering it impossible for us to observe what ordinarily happens.
With these opportunities and limitations in mind, we have reflected on what makes for a good visit. Since different donors have different expectations, we want to be explicit about our own. The most important thing to know about our approach to site visits is that nothing impresses us more than honesty and transparency. The deeper we understand the work, the more meaningful our interactions with you will be over time. Below we share more details about our expectations in hopes that they help us all make the most of the significant effort required in arranging a site visit.
What We Like to See
- To see the program in action. We like to observe the real work rather than a showcase that has been curated for us. To the extent possible, we would like to see what would happen if we weren’t around. (If we could be a “fly on the wall,” we would!)
- When feasible, we like to see a range of what’s happening to get a (more) representative picture. This means we don’t only want to see the “best in class” work, but also sites that are more average or even struggling.
- To interact with program and field staff. Traveling with staff to and from field sites is a great way to do this. It’s a treat to get to know the larger team and benefit from their insights about what’s happening on the ground.
- To engage with participants in a way that’s the least disruptive possible, both to the programs and the participants themselves. This requires having adequate translation so that participants feel at ease speaking in their own language and we can make the most of the engagement.
- To cover costs of the site visit as much as possible. This means paying for transportation to and from the sites, paying for meals and snacks, etc. Please let us know how we can best arrange to do this.
What We Do NOT Expect
- To be showered with praise, attention, or gifts. If it would be inappropriate not to be thanked in some way, give us a heads up. In general, we don’t seek to be at the center of attention and getting thanked is not the reason we came. We’re present to learn.
- The program or community to plan a special event for our visit; we want the visit to be as low key as possible.
The Opportunity for You
- We hope the site visit is an opportunity for you to do your own monitoring—let’s learn together about what’s working well and what the challenges are.
- We’d like you to feel free to be an equal participant in asking questions. It’s helpful to know what you look for in a program—especially because you’ll have an eye for details we may otherwise miss.
- Please interact with us and ask us questions, too! We like to share from our experiences to the extent that it’s useful.
- Invite us to reflect on your challenges with you. Yes, it may feel scary to show flaws, but we know they’re a part and parcel of the work. Seeing you are cognizant and curious is what gives us the greatest confidence—we value working with organizations who take learning seriously.
We Want to Know…
- Any expectations you have of us, and any ground rules for our visit. For example:
- Is it ok to take photos during the visit?
- How should we respond to requests for contributions/gifts?
- When will we be expected to speak, if at all?
- Are there any questions it would be inappropriate to ask?
- Any cultural sensitivities we should be aware of?
- Feel free to share pre-reading that would help us understand the context and more of the details about what we will see.
- If possible, an agenda for the visit and names of sites/people we will meet.