Making Contact Reports a Priority
Meeting with donors and prospects is some of the most important work that a development officer can do. Cultivating these relationships should be both meaningful for the donor and beneficial for the institution, maintaining a connection and leading to increased support over time. If you have a productive meeting with a prospect, the outcome can have a significant impact on your program. But one of the most important—and most overlooked—steps in the meeting process is sharing what was discussed with other members of your team.
That’s why the contact report is so important. It serves as a written summary of a development officer’s interaction with a prospect. The contact report records the purpose of a meeting and provides notable information about prospect interests and priorities that are uncovered during the conversation. When a development officer fails to make time to write a contact report, it can end up being a big loss for the institution. Here are three reasons why you should always make contact reports a priority:
First, they provide an easy way to share intelligence with others who work with or on behalf of the prospect. It’s a much more efficient method of communicating a lot of information to a large group of people than having to rely on additional meetings or conversations. Distributing contact reports to colleagues is considered a best practice and can be accomplished simply by sending an email.
Second, the mere act of writing a contact report forces you to reflect back on your meeting and determine the critical elements. A good contact report is concise and only includes information that is relevant to advancing a prospect’s relationship with the institution. A contact report should not document what color shirt the prospect was wearing or that the server spilled orange juice on your lap. It should, however, communicate how the prospect feels about the direction of the institution, what campus events they recently attended, or which professor they liked best when they were in school. It’s also beneficial to include other details that, while maybe not directly related to your institution, help to paint a picture of the person, such as their business interests, leisure activities, or other philanthropic causes they support.
Third, contact reports are good for posterity. A development team may come and go, but a prospect’s relationship with an institution will often last a lifetime. Contact reports not only help new staff when they need to get up to speed quickly and learn about the prospects they’re responsible for cultivating, they can also help experienced staff recall important details and past events. They provide a useful point of reference when thinking about how to best engage a prospect moving forward.
The best time to write a contact report is immediately following the meeting, while the details are still fresh in your head. Don’t get caught up thinking it has to be long or elaborate; in fact, short and sweet is usually best. A good contact report should include:
- Your name
- Prospect’s name and their relationship to the institution (e.g., alumnus from Class 1994)
- Prospect’s estimated wealth, giving patterns, gift capacity, and inclination rating
- Date, time and location of the meeting
- Other participants (e.g., spouse, dean)
- Summary of the meeting (no more than 5 sentences)
- Key outcomes from the meeting (in bullet form)
- List of next steps and your goals for cultivating and soliciting the prospect in the future
- Other items of note (this is where the extra details go)
Unfortunately, writing a contact report is easily (and frequently) put off. But the longer you wait, the more likely it is that it will never get done. When a contact report goes unwritten, important details are sure to get lost. You may not have a chance to process the meeting thoroughly, colleagues may remain unaware of key elements, and future generations may never know about the information that you worked so hard to gather. To avoid this unfavorable outcome, the next time you wrap up a meeting with a prospect, be sure to prioritize writing the contact report.
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