Four leaders from African organizations sat down to give us their frank feedback about site visits from funders a few years ago. I recently ran across my notes from the discussion, and because they offered such good reminders, I am sharing them here. Organization founders from Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, and Lesotho offer the following important, though too-often-unheard insights from a local group’s perspective.
(Pssst, pay attention, donors and aid workers. This is what your partners would tell you if they were given the opportunity to share their “real” feedback.)
- Plan the visit in consultation with the host organization (objectives, itinerary, and logistics).
- Devise a site visit plan that links to program aims and objectives.
- “We have to teach” about context, i.e. educate donors about country or rural context.
Review and adhere to the site visit plan. Ensure timing is controlled by a realistic and mutually-convenient agenda.
- When a host organization’s director does not always accompany the donor, i.e. let other staff, beneficiaries and stakeholders speak. They must feel comfortable to share their challenges/failures, too.
- Schedule time for an end of visit debrief in which open dialogue can occur about what the donor observed during the visit and a summary of strengths and weaknesses.
- Foster listening through mutual openness. Use relaxed tones of speech.
- “Not quite policing” – Aim for genuine, transparent, shared learning. “It’s about learning.” “We put everything on the table.”
- Bring in technical inputs (e.g. publications, materials, network links and support, etc).
- Leave funds within the grantee and/or community for any expenses incurred to host the donor, e.g. meals, fuel.
- Provide a brief follow-up report, including any issues of concern or rationale for shifts in original plans. Ensure frequent, regular checks on progress toward any expected action items.
- Top down approach – arrogance and judgment. Rude and offensive behavior.
- Demands of donor organizations focused on quantitative indicators, neglecting “faces & processes of change”
- Donors “using” visits for their own fundraising based on grantees’ work.
- Overemphasis on “dark” side of Africa.
- Misrepresentation to the community, i.e. raising expectations (“You can get x from the office.”)
- “Disbursement agent” approach to grantee relationship (overemphasis on accountability and fixed-line budgets).
- Donors getting too involved – too many visits.
- Frequent re-scheduling of planned visits.
- Lack of follow through in communicating about issues.
- TIME – There is a need to allocate sufficient time, because people are always in a hurry.
Overall Recommendations for Donors:
- Clarify expectations and priorities for the site visit from the start.
- Spend at least one day (preferably, one and a ½ days).
- Learn from each other and work together.
- “You [the visitor] have to eat. You have to be able to listen to our stories.”
- Recognize the difference between a “visitor” (one who comes in and out) vs. a “supporter” someone who helps you to grow and develop over time.
- Offer feedback, feedback, feedback based on what you observed and experienced!