Working for a nonprofit means that you’ll probably have to deal with a lot of people wanting to visit you on the ‘field‘, from funding agency officials looking to escape their paperwork-ed lives to corporate ‘volunteers‘ and school kids who’d rather be at an amusement park.
Working at a nonprofit can seem like the reception line at an Indian wedding where your face becomes permanently frozen from smiling and nodding vaguely at an endless stream of visitors.
People on site visits can often feel like the Roman army—they come, they see and they conquer all your resources. So, it’s really important that they are successful. Yet, some of the things most critical to successful site visits are unknown to most people. Don’t worry though; here are the most well kept secrets to organising an awesome site visit.
Secret 1: Have a fat binder
Most people just send a two column agenda and a website link as pre-reads to the site visit. Big mistake! No matter who you are, everybody is impressed by thick binders with multi-colour tabs and a fancy index.
But what will I put in this binder you wonder? Ahhh that’s the beauty of it, it really doesn’t matter because no one will read it anyway. The trick is to overload people with information that seems relevant but too boring to really read—a map, the weather forecast, the Constitution of India, your CV, a theory of change—you get the idea.
Secret 2: Act poor enough
People want their money to go to empowering others, not towards frivolous things like decent working conditions or a liveable salary. And so nonprofit offices and teams that appear too ‘rich‘ are a big no-no.
I know, I know you’re probably thinking that the only thing rich about your office is the smell coming from the adjacent garbage dump/sewer/alcoholic guy who never showers. But here are some of the things you can do to be absolutely sure that you don’t fall into this trap.
- Remove all pictures/screensavers of that international trip you took (FYI that picture of you pretending to lift the Eiffel Tower is really not as cool as you think).
- Hide the donated espresso machine.
- Only show people the old computers and throw in a power cut once in a while if you can manage.
Secret 3: A cupcake/gulab jamun is your ultimate weapon
The food served during the site visit is more important than you’d think so; use it wisely.
Want to impress folks with how rooted you are? Serve khichdi that was made by the ‘community’.
Don’t want people to notice the rather glaring holes in your ToC or the lack of one all together? Serve some heavy chole bhature to put everyone to sleep.
Want to put people in a good mood before you ask for their money? Serve some cupcakes or gulab jamuns. They are really the most magical things and can solve anything. If you don’t believe me think of how much happier you’d be if you were eating one while reading this.
Now after reading the previous secret you may be tempted to use food to show your poverty. Be careful not to take it too far though, because getting diahhorea from shady Chinese food is not good for anybody (not even cupcakes can help you recover from that).
Secret 4: Meet the team
People may also want to meet the team during the site visit so that they can create more paperwork about things like institutional capabilities and second line management.
For some of you this may be a problem and in the past you could explain away job titles like CEO/accountant/office peon/cookie lady using phrases like a ‘dynamic workplace’ but unfortunately I think people may be catching on. So make sure you introduce visitors to as many people as you can and be as creative as you can.
For example your niece who taught everyone how to use excel is your new ‘Systems Guru‘. Remember that intern who volunteered to collect everyone’s lunch orders? You just found your ‘Procurement Guy‘.
Using vague sounding job descriptions like ‘guru’ or ‘person’ means you can’t be pinned down later. Other people you should definitely find include an M&E chap, a fundraising wizard and the operations mastermind.
Secret 5: Give people something to do
Being in the ‘field’ is like visiting a nightclub for the first time, you’ve heard great things and are super excited to be there. But once you reach, you’re not quite sure what to do so you hang out awkwardly at the back and try not to draw too much attention. Help your visitors out but helping them get over their inhibitions and feel involved (exactly like vodka did for you at the nightclub).
One of my favourite options is to ask visitors to give speeches about themselves. As a bonus you’ll get to roll on the floor laughing as people use their broken Hindi to try and explain what they do and why anyone should care.
You haven’t lived till you’ve heard at least one person explain what an M&E specialist does in Hindi. Trust me as a former site visit pundit, it’s the best.