The Death of the Contact Report?
Friends, it’s been awhile! Since I last posted, I’ve been to a bunch of places, including Minneapolis (twice), Seattle (again), Kentucky (four times!), and Canada. I was preparing a post on the most Frequently Asked Questions I receive as a consultant, but then something inspirational happened this week so I decided to table the original post topic to cover this. Bear with me.
I was invited to speak at APRA Virginia’s 20th anniversary conference in Richmond. Since Virginia is the state I both live and work in, I was very excited to attend and speak. The conference had a fantastic line-up – Jay Frost, David Lawson, and Josh Birkholz were just some of the speakers. However, all of those amazing speakers pale in comparison to the presentation that inspired me.
On Thursday afternoon, Chris Pipkins and Martin O’Donoghue of James Madison University presented. I’ve mentioned Chris a couple times before on this blog. Most notably, I’ve mentioned him for including this slide in many of his presentations:
If you want to know more about the background behind this curious slide, take a look at my Bucket List: Faculty post.
This was my first time meeting Chris’s co-presenter Martin. Martin is the director of AIS at JMU, and I have to say, based on this presentation, if he’s speaking at any conference I’m attending in the future, I’ll be in the audience. I walked in about 20 minutes into their presentation, so I missed some of the lead-in, but here’s the basic idea…
We have a problem with contact reports. Development Officers don’t file them in time, don’t file them at all, or spend too much time describing the meeting location and pleasantries and not enough on the key elements the institution needs to know to move the relationship forward. Researchers often read huge blocks of text to get to the “meat” of the report, if they end up finding it at all.
For those of you reading who aren’t familiar with what a contact report is, it’s a visit report that development officers complete following every visit they have with prospects/donors. They’re asked to go into the prospect’s record in the database and fill in the date of the visit, their own name, and the stage the organization is at with the prospect following the visit. There is also a free-text field for the development officer to enter the full detail of the visit. That section could contain information on how engaged the prospect is with the organization, friends the prospect has who are also related to the organization (fellow alumni, for example), and any ideas in terms of initiatives the prospect might want to support or when s/he might be ready to make a big gift.
There have been some advances made in this area, including voice dictation software, databases that can be accessed online from anywhere or via an iPad, and automated stage updates. Unfortunately, we continue to miss key data elements in our contact reports, and the problem has largely been diagnosed as a training/onboarding issue with Development Officers. If only they could remember to enter all of the necessary information in a timely manner, all of our problems would be solved! We spend a lot of time focusing on behavior modification techniques and/or figuring out how to make uploading these contact reports easier.
No one has really stopped to ask if we can change the format of the contact report.
I’ll give you a moment to take that in.
What if we’ve been asking the wrong question all along? What if the issue isn’t that the development officers aren’t entering the right information or they aren’t entering it quickly enough? What if the issue is that the systems we’ve been using to store this information doesn’t allow the right amount of flexibility for us to codify information on prospects following these highly informative 1:1 meetings?
Martin from JMU asked this question. JMU talked to their database provider, along with a bunch of other sources, and they didn’t find a satisfactory solution. So Martin pulled a Field of Dreams and decided to build it himself.
JMU’s advancement office has something awesome called an innovation grant – anyone with an idea that will benefit the university’s fundraising efforts can pitch their idea and get money/time to develop it. Martin did just that, and with the funding he received, he hired a JMU student to create some magic.
What is this brilliance, you ask? Martin and his all-star student designed an app that asked development officers to use a scale (0-10) to answer eight questions following their visits with prospects. Various questions were piloted throughout the project, with the intention of identifying the questions that JMU most needed to know to advance their relationship with the prospect. Here are the questions they arrived at:
The development officers who piloted this project pulled out the handy-dandy app on their mobile devices following the visit. The format resembles a client satisfaction survey that you might get from a retailer after your most recent shopping experience. While there were a few other questions the development officers also answered, these eight questions were meant to cover the “meaty” parts. JMU’s datanerds now have codifiable field data that will allow them to dynamically change affinity scores, establish a trigger to re-assess capacity ratings, and include the prospects most likely to return to campus in event invitations.
JMU is still working through some hurdles to get all the results back into their database. This is where the call to action came in. At the end of the presentation, Chris Pipkins challenged us all to come together as development professionals and tell the CRM developers that we need more in a contact report. It’s time the format involves more codifiable fields than date, participants, and stage.
Well, friends? What do you think? Is the current format of the contact report working for your organization?