In the days before the pandemic exiled us to Zoom, in-person contact between funders and nonprofits was part of our work – a trustees’ learning tour, an educational site visit, local nonprofit site visits as an option at a national conference. Such hands-on learning can be fruitful in our field, but these visits are not without cost to the hosts. What form should a funder’s thanks take?
Nonprofit site visits
There are few substitutes for witnessing people and places directly when working to better understand what nonprofits do, what their leadership accomplishes, and what may be possible with additional resources. Nonprofit site visits can even re-connect us with our own mission.
Few nonprofits decline the chance to open their doors to an interested group of funders. A visit is a wonderful opportunity to cultivate relationships, make the best case for the nonprofit’s philosophy and programs, and enhance the organization’s reputation. And we can’t deny that the power relationships embedded in philanthropy could make it difficult to decline a visit.
Consider, then, the costs of hosting a site visit – planning, administrative time, schedule coordination, briefing of board members and constituents, spiffing up the facility, and ordering refreshments or lunch. Even a virtual site visit, so common during COVID, takes energy from the nonprofit, as it prepares, gathers people, and thinks about its message to funders.
Thanks with a donation
I would suggest that funders who visit offer more than their thanks. Attach a small donation or honorarium to the note; at the very least, pay for lunch! An unsolicited donation following a visit speaks of the value you place on an organization’s time and insights, and your trust that its team will continue to perform effectively.
On a memorable site visit, I accompanied a trustee group to an excellent community school. The vintage building’s auditorium seats were in need of refurbishing, and the local funding drive had not yet met its goal. After the meeting’s conclusion, the visitors granted $12,000—the entire outstanding balance. As one trustee put it, “they spent a lot of time helping us learn, and our budget is flexible.” The school community was thrilled!
A thank you donation need not be that size, but the gesture does communicate respect for nonprofits’ work and costs. Such a donation, along with heartfelt thanks, speaks clearly about our appreciation for what we have received.
Amy Segal Shorey is a senior consultant and principal at GMA Foundations. She can be reached at email@example.com.