Why your Board and Staff need first-hand experience

I’ve written extensively about the importance and benefits of taking major donors to the field. In this article, I’d like to highlight the value that your organization can gain from sending board and staff members.

In some organizations with international missions, it is routine for executive and development teams to make multiple site visits. In others, the day-to-day functions at headquarters dominate their time and a trip to the field may come once every few years. I won’t comment on the ideal frequency of travel, since I think that largely depends on the mission and context of the work. I will attest that every relevant staff and stakeholder should visit the field at least once in their tenure with the organization.

Who needs to get out in the field?

Your program or technical teams are likely already local, living in the field, or making multiple trips a year. I’m referring to those people who do not play a role in implementing the mission directly, but are critical to it’s oversight and financial security.

I’m talking about every single board member, executive, and development staff member tasked with major gifts. Essentially, anyone with a public facing role representing your organization to other entities needs to participate in a site visit. They need to be in the field to better understand the work and be effective champions for your organization.

Here are the four benefits of sending your staff and board on site visits:

1. They will tell the story of the Mission with more truth, relevance, and authenticity

Having a personal experience in the field allows them to tell your organization’s story in their own words. Their personal testimony will be more powerful than any story shared with them from a secondary source. Their credibility will rise with their first-hand experience. As they represent your organization to others, they will inevitably be asked about their personal connection to the mission. Having witnessed the work first hand will be far more impressive and convincing than researching it from afar. It enables them to answer sophisticated questions about the mission and reframe their perspective on the need, which are critical in a dialogue with potential donors.

2. They will connect you with relevant contacts and opportunities

We’ve all had that eager new board or staff member who makes a well-intended suggestion that is way off the mark for your organization. That great connection or strategy may have worked brilliantly in a different context, but you know from experience that it’s inapplicable to your mission and pursuing it will waste precious time. The fact is, people can’t help you if they don’t accurately understand your needs. Going to the field will help your board and staff better understand the needs of the communities you serve, the needs of the organization, and the complexity of your work. A site visit allows them to filter through all their wealth of advice, network, and opportunities to thoughtfully refer their most relevant and important contacts and opportunities.

3. They will better serve your organization

Regardless of their role, an increased understanding of the mission will allow your board and staff to better serve your organization. Executives will make better strategic decisions and be better at hiring people to further the mission. Development staff will tell better stories and better communicate the importance and impact of the work. Board members will be better at connecting the organization to new resources and opportunities and better represent the work (from which they are already quite removed). They will facilitate better connections to their networks and better communicate your mission.

4.  They will stick around for the long term

Though the link between increased retention and site visits has not been statistically proven (though studies are underway), the anecdotes and testimonies are clear: site visits make people more invested, period. Their time with the organization increases, they work harder, and they give more. Even after they leave the organization in a formal capacity, they continue to be involved with the mission, share their stories, and bring in new supporters.

Your board and public-facing staff will be more equipped to meet their goals if they have adequate knowledge, experiences, and a personal relationship to the organization. Help set them up for success by providing opportunities for them to engage directly with the mission in the field.