Enter your data soon after contact with a donor.
We have been getting a number of requests to give our input on what makes up a good contact report – what you record in your database after contact with a donor. My friend and colleague Carter Wade surveyed our Associates and also did some research on his own to come up with the following very useful information on this important topic.
First of all, a contact report is a written record of a significant interaction between a MGO and a major donor. It is essential for effective donor management.
Here’s why a contact report is so important:

  • It charts the evolution of the donor relationship and informs the cultivation, solicitation and stewardship cycles.
  • It contributes to a collective library of information (passions/interests, communication preferences, etc.) on each donor.
  • It ensures a continuous and reliable information source if a MGO moves on and a new MGO joins the team.
  • It helps the MGO spot any useful connections between major donors/corporations/foundations – information that can be passed on to colleagues that manage those areas.

A good contact report should contain an accurate account of each “meaningful connection” a MGO has with a donor, whether face-to-face or via some other form of communication. Meaningful connections are those that move a donor, even slightly, towards a commitment.
A good contact report includes the following information:

  • Donor’s name
  • MGO’s name
  • Details of any other people involved (President/CEO, DOD, etc.)
  • Date of contact
  • Place of contact
  • Method of contact (in-person meeting, telephone call, email, etc.)
  • Significant information resulting from the contact
  • Significant information conveyed to the donor
  • Notes concerning any follow-up actions taken or needed
  • Notes on ‘failed contacts’ – If the MGO has repeatedly attempted to contact a donor but has been ignored, then it’s a clue that the donor is not being approached in the right way, or may not want a relationship. This is important information to note.

Your contact report should only be detailed enough to be useful, so it should not be a verbatim account of a conversation. Because these types of reports often contain sensitive information, they should be treated as confidential and only shared with colleagues as required. And don’t forget that you should maintain a neutral tone when writing them, avoiding conjecture and emotive language.
It takes some discipline and focus to maintain a good contact report. And if you have an administrative assistant, you should use him to help you get your report into the system.
Here are some tips to help you to develop the discipline of completing contact reports:

  1. Develop a simple template that mirrors the relevant data entry screen in your database and pays attention to the items we have listed here. This will help you organize your information efficiently.
  2. When possible, enter contact reports directly into your database.
  3. Use previous contact reports when preparing for your interactions.
  4. The more you use these reports and find them useful, the more inclined you will be to generate them.
  5. Always complete contact reports as soon as possible after an interaction with a donor, to ensure that you remember significant details.
  6. Make it a part of your follow-up process (with thank you notes), or put aside a little time every day to bring your contact reports up to date.
  7. Make sure that administrative staff are trained on the appropriate use of contact reports.
  8. Be sure that everyone has a process for regularly getting reports into the database.

Lastly, there is a right way and a wrong way to convey information in a contact report. Here are a couple of examples:

Wrong: Mr. Smith was rude and mean-spirited. He did not even offer me anything to drink. I doubt he will support us and is probably not worth bothering with in the future.
Right: Mr. Smith strongly expressed his disinterest and requested no further contact.

Wrong: Miss Jones was expensively dressed and wore diamond earrings, so she must be very rich. She also has a pet dog so is obviously an animal lover. Perhaps she might like animal charities.
Right: Miss Jones’s lifestyle is indicative of a high level of disposable income. She frequently referred to her dog with affection, which may be an indication of a significant interest in animal welfare that merits further research.

Let Jeff and me know if you have other ideas on contact reports – what should be in them, how to make sure a MGO completes them, etc. It would be really helpful.