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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 10.2


Contact Reports

A contact report is a written record of a significant interaction between a fundraiser and a donor or prospect.

Contact reports are an essential tool for effective prospect management. They are important because they:

  • Chart the evolution of the prospect/donor relationship, informing the solicitation and stewardship,
  • Contribute to a collective library of information about the institution’s prospect pool,
  • Ensure a continuous information source that can be invaluable if fundraisers move on and new staff join the fundraising team,
  • Help fundraisers spot useful connections between prospects,
  • Are an invaluable resource for prospect researchers,
  • Assist in compiling appropriate guest lists for events (e.g., who plays golf or who enjoys modern art) and
  • Collect and coordinate information when prospects and donors have contact with more than one person at an institution (e.g., high-level prospect who has a relationship with the institution’s leader and the director of development).
What Should They Contain?

Contact reports should contain an accurate account of each ‘significant’ encounter a fundraiser has with a prospect, whether face-to-face or via some other form of communication.

Significant encounters are those that provide new biographical or financial information about a prospect or donor, or information about a prospect’s inclination to give. Typically, it will contain these elements:

  • Prospect’s name,
  • Fundraiser’s name,
  • Details of any other people involved (colleagues or prospects),
  • Date of contact,
  • Method of contact (meeting, telephone call, etc.),
  • Significant information resulting from the contact,
  • Significant information conveyed to the prospect and
  • Notes concerning any follow-up actions.

It can also be useful to note ‘failed contacts’ in contact reports. If a fundraiser has repeatedly attempted to contact a prospect but has been ignored, then this in itself is an indication of the prospect’s inclination to give or a clue that he or she is not being approached in the right way.

A report should be detailed enough to be useful, but it need not be a verbatim account of a conversation. Reports should be treated as confidential and shared with colleagues as required. Reports often contain sensitive information, and fundraisers should maintain a neutral tone when writing them, avoiding conjecture and emotive language.

In the UK, the Freedom of Information Act gives everybody the right to ask any public body for all the information they have on any subject. Individuals can request details of all the personal information an organisation might hold about them. Unless there is a good reason, the organisation must provide the information within 20 working days. Your country may have a similar policy. In either case, fundraisers should bear in mind that others may read their reports and should always write in a professional manner.

The Discipline of Writing

Busy fundraisers maintain relationships with many prospects at any one time. It can be time-consuming to complete contact reports, and too often fundraisers are tempted not to fill them in. The following tips might help you to develop the discipline of completing contact reports:

  • Develop a simple template that mirrors the relevant data entry screen in your database. This approach will help you organise your information efficiently.
  • When possible, enter contact reports directly into your database.
  • Use previous contact reports when preparing for your interactions. The more you use them and find them useful, the more inclined you will be to generate them.
  • Always complete contact reports as soon as possible after an interaction with a prospect to ensure that you remember significant details.
  • Make it a part of your follow-up process (with thank you notes) or put aside a little time every day to bring your contacts reports up-to-date.

Action Items
  • Develop a contact report template.
  • Make sure that development staff (and other institutional staff) are trained on the appropriate use of contact reports and that everyone has a process for regularly getting reports into the database.

You Might Also Want to Read:

The cultivation process
The database
Prospect management

Contact Report Do's and Don'ts

There are right and wrong ways to convey information in a contact report.

Wrong: Mr Smith was rude and mean-spirited. He did not even offer me a 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 deeper interest in animal welfare that merits further research.

Leisl Elder talks about the importance of bringing back information after a potential donor visit, and the best ways of doing so.