One Simple Trick for Keeping Up with Donor Prospects by Alex Comfort, CFRE

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I sat in a meeting with a long-term executive director and their brand new director of development.  We were planning a feasibility study for a capital campaign and talking about the names of the 30 to 40 people/couples to be interviewed.  The E.D. thought for a long time and finally said:  “You know, there are about five people over the past couple of years with some definite capacity who told me they were very interested, but I never got back to them and now I have forgotten their names.”

Ouch!  Weeks went by and she never remembered.   How could this happen?  Well, it is much more common than you think.  In the first place, most executive directors (and even development directors for that matter) have no training in fundraising and don’t really know what to do.  And, the E.D.’s workload was absolutely crushing.

We mustn’t be angry at executive directors.  Generally they are master program people and overwhelmed by the need to be fundraisers.  Boards and staff have to urge them to get some training.  Once they do, then the rest of the staff and board has to decide what the E.D. can realistically do as a fundraiser.  (It doesn’t help if people just nag them – some E.D.’s simply cannot do this and other plans have to be made). 

But, back to the issue at hand – how NOT to lose track of donor prospects. The short answer is to use a Contact Report. Contact Reports don’t have to be fancy. In fact, you can buy pre-printed pads for taking phone messages at any office supply store that will suffice.

No matter what, all key staff people can be taught to use a Contact Report.  This is just a very simple report that chronicles any significant phone or personal contact with a donor prospect.  If the E.D. in question had simply made a habit of doing these, she would have had a record.  Yes, it is a trial to make people do them, but if you make it part of annual personnel evaluations it can work.

Computers were supposed to have killed our need for paper files, but my handwritten contact reports (I used to do 300 per year when I was working full-time as a fundraiser or E.D.) saved my neck more times than I can imagine.  Just buy a pad or make up a pile of blank ones and put them by the phones of all people who do fundraising – including board members. If you rely on donor management software, make sure you have a procedure for entering these important notes in your system. But don’t let process override practicality. Too many of us lose track of important details when we wait until we’re in front of a computer to make notes.

Don’t lose track of your potential donors. Take a few seconds to write down pertinent information and make it a part of your organization’s standard operating procedures. The results of doing so can be incredibly impactful, to the tune of literally millions of dollars.

Alex Comfort, CFRE

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