A donor call report — or what I like to refer to as an ROC (Report of Contact), is a key element in any successful fundraising operation. This donor report is a record of the who, what, where, when, why, and how concerning the interaction between an organisation and a donor or potential donor (D/PD). The donor becomes more vital when an organisation is working with a D/PD through the donor giving cycle for a major, leadership, or transformational gift. Often these types of gifts take years to develop, and through these years there are many changes that transpire both for the D/PD and certainly for the organisation. For the organisation, there are often changes in personnel — the expression “drop the ball” is often used in this instance. Good donor reports can help an organisation avoid this scenario.
THE MECHANICAL ASPECTS OF DONOR REPORTS
There are many different constituent relationship management software systems at a fundraiser’s disposal. Often these systems will provide the fields required to record a contact — type of contact (email, text, letter, phone call, or visit), date/time, people involved, and purpose (discovery, cultivation, pre-solicitation, solicitation, or stewardship). If the system does not have these fields, it is critical that a donor report includes these details. These “mechanical” aspects of the report are important details, but the real value of the report is in the content of what transpired between the D/PD and individuals from the organisation. The detailed narrative is the heart of a good donor report.
WRITE AS IF YOU’RE GOING TO COURT
Rule number one in developing the narrative of your donor report is to write it as if the D/PD will have a chance to read it, or as if the report will be read in a court of law. The donor report is not a place for a fundraiser to vent about all the things that went wrong during an interaction with a D/PD in such a manner that the tone, language or contents is unprofessional. Granted, there are frustrations that arise when working with donors — either on the side of the donor, or from some of the staff of the organisation. Things will go wrong, and they should be recorded for future context; however, there is a way to record such events so that they won’t overtly offend.
For example, let’s say during a solicitation, after the request for the gift was made, the D/PD was thinking and a member of the organisation could not wait patiently and proceeds to talk — that key moment has been lost. It does not behove the author, or the organisation, to include in the donor report how so-and-so blew the solicitation visit. Rather, it would be best to write an objective narrative of what transpired — and a recommendation that an internal role-playing meeting is conducted prior to any future solicitation — so that everyone is on the same page.
THINGS ARE BEST LEFT JUST SAID
Some details don’t belong in a donor report. Frontline fundraisers meet many interesting people on the road and some of these individuals may have “issues”. For example, perhaps a donor is fond of a nice martini at 10:00 am every morning and doesn’t finish drinking until that evening. Further, it is learned that the individual’s life has been negatively affected by his or her drinking. The frontline fundraiser may surmise that the individual is an alcoholic, but there is no place in a donor report for this belief. If ever there was a situation requiring the report to be made public, such content could be very problematic for the organisation. Some details are best shared verbally.
AVOID REPEATING FACTS
When writing the narrative, keep in mind that many people within the organisation will be reading it, and for some — i.e., the CEO — time is an important factor. If donor reports are written with superfluous information, the CEO will be less inclined to read future donor reports, which could negatively impact on meeting preparations and the actual meeting with a D/PD. Keep it factual and do your homework regarding information that was previously covered in earlier reports, so as not to be repetitive and time-wasting. The donor reports are often read collectively for those who are not assigned to a D/PD to capture the historical picture of the relationship with the D/PD. Therefore, repeating in every donor report that the individual loves chocolate is wasting a reader’s time.
YES, TITLES ARE IMPORTANT
It is important to include all the individuals who were present at the meeting and to use their titles — even for those who work at the organisation. A new frontline fundraiser reading a 5-year-old donor report is unlikely to know who so-and-so is, therefore, having the title to accompany the individual helps to put things into context. For those parties involved in a visit, but not working at the organization, it is also important to include the name of the organisation he or she is associated with. There are times when a visit will take place for which people in attendance are not listed in the organisation’s database and it may not make sense to include them.
STATED OBJECTIVE AND LIST THE FACTS
State the objective of the contact upfront in your donor report, to put what follows into context. For example, the visit was a cultivation visit to provide D/PD with an opportunity to meet so-and-so and to learn in more detail about such-and-such. Following the stated objective should be a series of bullet points that provide details of who said what, what transpired, and the reactions. Why bullet points? Because it is easier to digest for a busy CEO who only has time to scan a dossier. At this stage consider yourself a reporter who is just reporting on what took place — not necessarily the creative writer attempting to write the next best seller.
An important element of the donor report is an attempt to get a read on the D/PD’s reaction to the interaction. If the D/PD said he or she really enjoyed the visit to the organisation than attribute this statement in the donor report. Also, make note if the D/PD had warm (or cool) interactions with a particular people from the organisation to help the organisation make an assessment of who best be involved in future visits.
Finally, your donor report should include any next steps to be undertaken, however, it should be clear as to whether the next step has been scheduled elsewhere in the CRM system — return to the report and make note that the next step was actioned. It can be frustrating for a future reader of the donor report to question whether the suggested future action was actioned or not.
Writing the report while the information is fresh in one’s mind (tip: immediately after a visit, use your smartphone to record all the details that transpired, as this will assist in developing the donor report later) is important and should be recorded in the system within 48 hours. The report is written for others and good record keeping is paramount for moving a D/PD through the donor giving cycle.