Donor meeting note best practices

Top three characteristics of good notes and what they should include

Roman Kordasiewicz

You just had a meeting with a donor or a prospect. Well done! Building your relationships and trust with donors is key to helping your organization get more donations to support a worthy cause. Now, you likely did not take notes or record the meeting as this just does not demonstrate a personal interest and inspire trust. You also have a limited window of opportunity to make a complete note before the memory fades and gets distorted. Let’s set aside the question “why write a note?” for another day, for this post let’s assume you know the value of notes but you want to make sure you are capturing the right things.

After talking with multiple fundraisers about note taking it became clear that this topic is misunderstood. Try to recollect some of the good notes you have received from your predecessor or colleague, do you notice any patterns? As a data scientist I can guarantee you that you will notice a trend, it’s not about the length of the notes but it is about the quality of information. We often think that we need to write comprehensive and definitive statements which causes us to get lost in details, creates volumes of information or what is worse we skip note taking since it is seen as a burden.

So what are some characteristics of good meeting notes? Here are top three attributes of good notes we have observed:

  1. Informative but short
  2. Agenda driven
  3. Clear next timebound tasks

So what is the agenda and information we need to capture? This varies drastically as every interaction and situation is different. However there is a pattern and best practice as well. Fundamentally your goal as a fundraiser is to ask for a donation once you have identified the following:

  1. What motivates your prospect to support your organization?
  2. What information is useful to build trust?
  3. What is the giving potential?
  4. When to “make the ask”?

Therefore in your preparation for a meeting have a clear understanding as to which of these questions you are trying to uncover in your meeting. Then in your notes after the meeting capture key pieces of information you learned that advance your relationship. Be sure to capture next steps including when you think they should occur. Here is an example of an informative note with clear next steps after just one meeting.

Has a family member impacted by the disease, and is interested in research to stop the disease (motivation). Really liked our meeting near his work, and is very adamant about taking his coffee black (relationship/trust). Did not like me asking about the kids (relationship/trust). Thinking about downsizing this year as kids are now independent (giving potential). Check the house listing (giving potential + task). Follow up with our latest research results from Dr. Smith in a couple of weeks (relationship building + task).

Final thoughts: you always need to be professional and respectful in your notes, even if you have met someone on a bad day. You never know when this information is reviewed and in the worst case scenario always assume that your prospect will read your notes as they have the right to in many jurisdictions. Stay positive, not too personal and only include information you have heard directly from the individual. Don’t forget to be transparent in your failures, they are often the strongest signals that will help you and others in future interactions.

Roman Kordasiewicz