Managing Expectations: Site Visits

Are grantseekers reading too much into your site visits? Should you schedule fewer visits — or make them only to "sure thing" groups — thus perpetuating a misperception? Here experienced grantmakers share advice on how they recognize factors that influence grantseeker expectations — and how hey avoid needlessly raising hopes. For grantseekers, a site visit often signals — whatever the real facts — that a foundation is virtually certain to make a grant. While you’re helping your foundation arrive at a decision, and preparing to give it, potential grantees are waiting hopefully to hear the word yes.

Some grantmakers, having learned about this dynamic the hard way, limit site visits to avoid raising hopes. They make visits only after a grant is already made, or when there is a high chance a grant will follow. (This, of course, reinforces grantseekers’ conclusions that site visits are reliable predictors of grant approvals.)

Other grantmakers, aware that they might give up important learning opportunities simply to avoid tricky interpersonal dynamics, forge ahead with site visits anyway. And some grantmakers seek a middle course — between a total ban on site visits and liberal site visiting that leaves a trail of crushed hopes. They control expectations during visits by recognizing the factors that influence grantseeker expectations.

If you know how your institution’s approach or your personal style during site visits might be needlessly raising hopes, you can better manage expectations. Contributors to the GrantCraft guide, Saying Yes / Saying No to Applicants, offer these observations on the topic:

  • The normal etiquette of visiting can often leave grantseekers even more hopeful. A visiting grantmaker, out of courtesy or genuine appreciation of the organization, can raise expectations further just by making an approving comment.
  • One grantmaker has developed her own protocol: “During site visits, I’m aware of myself, my temperament, what I say, and how I say it. I maintain an awareness of my vocabulary. The more time I spend, the higher I feel their expectations will be”
  • Another grantmaker has developed a simple test to check how her interactions with grantseekers might be raising expectations inappropriately: “I always ask, ‘What is my goal in this situation? Why am I asking a grantseeker for ideas about the field? Why am I making this site visit?’ If the goals seem sensible, I go out of my way to state them before I ask anything from a grantseeker. If I’m uncertain about the goals, I’ll know that the grantseeker probably will be as well, and that’s when expectations get raised too high.”
  • Candidly disclosing doubts is advised by an experienced grantmaker who makes frequent site visits: “If I know I am going to recommend a turndown, I often tell them this toward the end of the site visit. I say something like, ‘I’m willing to keep trying, but you really have to decide whether you want to keep working on this.’ It takes a lot of courage to say it, but I think taking the risk is helpful. It also expects a lot of professionalism on their part to hear.”

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 Saying Yes/Saying No to Applicants.