Writing Top-Notch donor notes

There are many things that one could associated with the term “top notch”. Restaurant comes to mind. Or service. The quality of donor notes in your database is probably not one of them. But  of the Veritus Group think they should be. Quality notes are listed as one of their 7 absolutes for major gift fundraising success. This got me thinking… what makes a note ‘top-notch’? What should you be recording in your donor database?

Now, some of these will seem obvious but sometimes some of the simplest details are easy to overlook. Here is my list of things that at some point in my career I’ve found myself wishing someone had recorded!

  1. The donor’s first name. Yes, I warned you that I was going to state the bleeding obvious! Believe it or not, I’ve seen this scenario a couple of times. Major Donor Officer visits donor. Returns to office. Writes down notes about his/her chat with the lovely Mrs Johnston, lists the name of all her grandchildren and even the dog but at the end of it her record still says “Mrs C Johnston”. I understand that not everyone likes using their first name but it is a very valuable piece of information when it comes to major donor research; particularly if the donor has a very common surname. To give the major donor officers the benefit of the doubt, they may not have actually known the name, which brings me to item 2.
  2. Preferred way of being addressed. If a donor says “call me Betty”, it’s something to note. I’m sure that many major gift officers have a fantastic memory for names but in the event that person leaves the Organisation, that most fundamental of information is lost if it is not recorded.
  3. Location of the meeting. I’m reading a note someone wrote about a donor meeting 18 months ago – why do I care where they met? If that meeting was at the Organisation’s facilities, then we are going to avoid that embarassing situation of asking whether a donor would like to come on a tour, only for them to tell you they did that last year!
  4. Duration of meeting. This isn’t about clockwatching. While longer is not always better, I think recording duration can give you a hint to how comfortable, engaged or interested the donor is in the Organisation. I do stress the word ‘hint’. In my mind, I’m confident that a donor who has a discussion which lasts an hour is very likely to be more engaged that one who has a 5 minute conversation at the front door. I certainly wouldn’t go as far as saying that 1 hour conversation is better than a half an hour one. Some people can talk for a long time about not very much!
  5. Connection to Organisation. Most major donor officers are pretty good at recording this one – why did the person first start giving? What is their connection to the Organisation?
  6. Other connections and Relationships. Like the reason for giving, most people record when a donor mentions they went to school with someone connected with your Organisation – in a note. Don’t get me wrong, writing a note is certainly better than doing nothing. However, I’d encourage you to go one step further and put a big smile on your data monkey’s dial – link those contacts in your database. Data monkeys love links as these are so much easier to find and use than some text notes.

I’m curious – what would do you think makes a top-notch donor note?

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Posted on June 8, 2013, in Major Donors. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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