Hello all. It’s Deb Montgomery here again (Board Officer of Capacity Builders Inc. nonprofit and CEO of Resource Associates Grant Writing Firm). I’m blogging you today on the topic of site visit preparation. My nonprofit, Capacity Builders Inc. (CBI) is the recipient of approximately $3.5-$5 million dollars in grant funds at any one time. Nearly all of our dollars come from federal and state sources. We just had our last site visit from the State of Arizona this week and have had ongoing visits from other funders almost monthly throughout the past year. One thing that all of my Board and executive staff have learned is that being organized from the date of the award till closeout is vital to your site visit success. Any funder should be able to walk into your office at any time to assess whether your organization is on task or has fallen behind in accomplishing your goals, objectives, grant obligated tasks, and spending. There are many blogs online about site visit preparation so I really wanted to target this blog to those busy nonprofit executives whose life would be so much easier if they were to prepare for their site visits every day of their grant periods as opposed to scrambling right before the visit.
Here are Deb’s 6 “Spook-Free Tips on being prepared for a Site Visit”:
- Upon notice of award, start developing a large binder right away with your grant and award documents. The binder should have the RFP, award notice, grant proposal, and budget. Have dividers already printed by your staff for every grant binder that allow for additional sections such as: site visit engagement letters and agendas; organizational chart (grant and agency as applicable); list of board of directors; copies of any consumer satisfaction or other evaluation tools relevant to the grant; financial management procedures; time and effort reporting procedures and reports; copies of progress reports (PPR’s); financial reports (FFR’s)/records of draws; copies of participant recruitment and partner documents; etc.
- The grant binder should be on file for key grant administrators/the board/funders/executives only. You don’t want this information falling into anyone’s hands. Because there is typically a large window of time between the writing of a grant to the grant implementation phase, budgetary changes and activity changes are more common than not. These, of course, should be discussed with your funders and those discussions should happen between the funder Officer and one core member of your administrative team. The last problem you want to have to deal with is justifying the fidelity of the grant scope of work and budget to staff members who may not understand these challenges. That being said, upon the notice of grant award, make sure there is a letter sent to the funding officer indicating the contact information, grant award number, and title of the one person who will act as the “mouthpiece” for that grant.
- Prior to the implementation of any grant, CBI puts a few items in place that will make it easier for direct program staff to coordinate the grant. This is one of several documents we share with staff service providers and partners. Using an easy to understand scope of work chart, we create a simple workplan which goes into our “workplan binder.” The public accessible workplan is created by executive staff. It lists all grant activities including evaluation requirements, implementation timelines, amount budgeted for key staff and line items, a list of any contracts or subcontracts that will be needed, simple job descriptions of staff, and suggestions on partner follow up. Our MOU’s and letters of support submitted in the original proposal will be included in the workplan binder so that an assigned staff member can inform partners of the award and begin establishing a partner communication forum for grant input.
- It is important that grant staff understand the main categories of spending allowance for the grant (i.e., personnel, fringe, contract, materials, etc.) and understand three protocols: 1. Every expenditure must be accompanied by a receipt or hand written justification of the expenditure and which line item that expenditure comes from. 2. Time and effort reports should be conducted for all grant staff in accordance with federal requirements. 3. Every time an expenditure is made, SOMEONE (whether it be a finance/accounting staff member or the Project Director) should track that expense deduction from the total grant budget amount per spending category so that you know – at any one and all times – how much money you have left to spend in each budgetary category. Draw down and budget tracking documents as well as proof of expenditures should always be updated in the grant binder (or workplan binder based on who is in contact with the grant officer).
- In context to documentation, every activity conducted for the grant should have what we refer to as “process documentation.” For example, if you create a flyer, put it in the grant binder (or workplan binder) along with documentation of the date it was created, who it was disseminated to, how many copies were made etc. CBI uses a simple half page activity report template that makes these types of record keeping fairly easy. If there are a series of workshops, for example, CBI will secure sign-in sheets, keep copies of the curriculum and participant feedback surveys, and will complete the half page report template that tells executives and the funders the “ who, what, where, when, how” of every grant activity we implement. Every day before our grant staff goes home; these documents are added to the appropriate binders. We call this “proof of implementation.”
- With the above components and processes in place, you should be prepared for a site visit at any time. I always try and engage in lots of open communication with my funders before the visit – making sure I understand what they will be asking for and their agenda. Sometimes they want to see information about CBI’s policies and procedures and audited financials. Because of this, I often go ahead and just have these handy near my grant binders so I can quickly grab them and place them in my binder if requested. I always try to be as helpful as possible – making access for the funders to talk with our partners, staff, and participants if they so desire. I, of course, will brief these individuals so they understand their role in the site visit. This helps to relieve common nervousness and anxiety. I take copious notes during the visit and follow up with my funders afterwards – making sure our notes properly reflect any action items discussed during the visit. And, lastly, I always send a thank you note as follow up. Site visits can sometimes put grantees on the defense, feeling like “why are they here picking on me and my work.” Always remember that this is the funder’s job and the funder primarily participates in site visits to support and guide you.
If you are getting spooked over your next site visit, I encourage you to read about Resource Associates’ site visit preparation service. It is very affordable and will help get you on track so that little to no prep is involved in future visits. Check it out our Grant Management services or call John Nawrocki at 505.326.4245.