Learning from Site Visits

A site visit is often the best and more reliable way to learn about organizing and how a particular organizing group operates. Grantmakers use site visits to get to know a group initially, help board members and colleagues understand the work firsthand, and keep in touch with progress over time.

As a starting point, consider accompanying an experienced funder into the field for a site visit, meeting, or action with an organizing group. You might even want to do this with more than one funder. Here's a short list of questions to keep in mind as you go. Ask your companion for help with understanding the context.

  • Are members in lead roles, rather than staff organizers? Does the group seem dependent on the charisma of the staff organizer?

  • Do the membership and leadership represent the larger constituency in gender, race, ethnicity, etc.? Are there regular methods for bringing in new members? Is the organization growing, renewing?

  • How do members describe leadership development in the organization? Are they continually being asked to take on greater leadership?

  • Do the group's strategies fit their goals?

  • If the group has taken controversial public actions, can members explain the specific goals? How do they describe past "wins"? Is reflection on past action a regular activity of the group?

  • Is the membership moving toward larger, systemic issues? Are they learning?

If your own interest is piqued by what you see and learn by conducting a site visit, consider taking colleagues and board members into the field to experience organizing for themselves.

For help with finding a colleague to talk to or accompany on a site visit, check with grantmaker affinity groups such as Interfaith Funders, Grassroots Grantmakers, Grantmakers for Education, Neighborhood Funders Group, or with your regional association of grantmakers.

Over time, site visits can also help deepen a relationship between a funder and a community organizing grantee. A grantmaker at a community foundation described the value of rigorous periodic site visits to a major local organizing grantee:

"The group does an extraordinary job of gathering neighborhood leaders to describe the work, tell how they’ve grown as leaders, and explain what they've accomplished for their communities. The group spends a lot of time evaluating its own work and are able to elaborate on how many leaders have been trained, how many different campaigns its leaders are involved in, and the results of these campaigns, including interim results that might influence power holders or make them aware of issues, even if a final goal has not been accomplished. Board members have come away with a strong appreciation for the value of the work."

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Funding Community Organizing.