The Executive Director’s Role with Call Notes

Call notes are like getting regular service for your car: you can keep pretending that you don’t need to do them, but sooner or later, you won’t be able to get anywhere.


Image courtesy of Tom VanNortwick on Flickr

The development director’s responsibility for call notes is clear. Even those that are naturally inclined toward recalling details can improve the quality of their follow-up by using call notes. Even more importantly, call notes provide vital continuity in the organization’s institutional memory when the development director leaves.

That said, the executive director has an especially critical need to create call notes. You are often out in the community, meeting with or bumping into constituents and community leaders. It is critical to log every meaningful interaction. Your unique role as executive director — externally focused, personally identified with your organization, and a key connector between donors and your mission — strengthens the need for your interactions to be recorded.

The development director’s job is to know and coordinate the current relationship status of every donor (and potential donor) in your organization’s orbit. The executive director’s call notes help the development director know critical pieces of information, the date and circumstances of the last interaction with the donor, and what was discussed. The development director simply can’t do his/her job fully if you’re not sharing these critical details in a consistent and timely fashion.

Here’s what happens in organizations where this practice isn’t followed: a donor feels that she has asked something of the organization by speaking with the executive director about it, but it isn’t followed through on because you failed to write it down and delegate it. Or the development director schedules their next in-person meeting with a donor and proceeds without critical data that you already knew.

“Call notes” don’t just apply to phone calls. In-person conversations, second-hand communications, e-mail exchanges, and of course phone calls are all example of interactions that would prompt call notes. Call notes are ideally entered into a CRM (constituent relationship management) database (donor database), but could be accomplished with simple text documents entered into the donor’s electronic or paper file.

You don’t need to set aside hours to do call notes. You really only need about 10 minutes per meeting, or just a few minutes per casual interaction, to create call notes. They don’t have to be thoughtfully composed, beautifully formatted, or meticulously proofread. An imperfect note is infinitely better than no note at all.

The 3 Characteristics of Good Call Notes

1. Written soon after the meeting
Ideally, you’ll write your call notes the same day (see my post about scheduling time to follow up from meetings). But 24-48 hours is just about as far out as you can wait. The subtle details that you need to capture will be gone from your memory after that time.

2. Brief but detailed
You can type the notes in stream of consciousness format. Most meetings don’t need more than about 1/2 a page.

3. End with next actions
Identify next actions — both those that are mentioned in the meeting, and those that you identify as the next steps in cultivating the relationship with the donor. Schedule these tasks into your calendar or, if your CRM supports it, set them up there so that those actions are also digitally tagged to the donor.


Date: Monday, June 23, 2014
Note by: Ryan Ripperton, Executive Director
Subject: Lunch with Phil and Mary Smith
Attending: Phil and Mary Smith, Ryan Ripperton (E.D.), Jane Doe (Director of Development)

We met the Smiths at the Italian Grille on Main Street at Noon. Phil seemed to be doing well, and Mary said she was feeling a little overwhelmed with all the volunteer responsibilities she takes on. She said she is thinking of doing less volunteer work, probably no more than two organizations, but that she’s pretty sure ours will continue to be one of those.

As we waited for our lunch, Jane and I gave Phil and Mary an overview of our capital plans — sharing the new renderings, the updated budget, and the fundraising progress to-date. We asked their opinion, and they said they think we are on the right track. They said some of the donors they will help us approach will want to see the formal blueprint plans, so to be sure to let them know a date when those will be done.

Jane reminded the Smiths that their early gift to the campaign was critically important as a vote of confidence at the front of the campaign. She specifically said we wouldn’t be asking them in this campaign, but as Phil looked over the renderings, he volunteered that they’d be making another gift before the campaign was over.

Phil specifically asked about our plans for the rear entrance, and wanted to know whether our plans allowed for enough of a parent pick-up queue in the back parking lot. I told him we’d have the site planner do an actual count to ensure that this concern is addressed.

The Smiths insisted on paying for lunch, and we thanked them.

Next actions:
* Send thank you note for lunch and their time
* Inform the Smiths of the expected date the blueprints will be ready
* Inform the Smiths of the outcome of the site planner’s analysis for pick-up queue
* Set a date with the Smiths for hosting the luncheon where they’ll ask their friends to give to the campaign

Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Note By: Ryan Ripperton, Executive Director
Subject: Cole Foundation Funding Date

Amy Johnson, executive director of the Cole Foundation, mentioned to me this morning at the networking breakfast that the Cole board has decided to delay its review of all applications until August, with notifications in September. I mentioned that this changes the nature of our pending application, since our fiscal year end is August 31, so notification in September would put their gift in next fiscal year. She said she hadn’t thought about non-standard fiscal years, and that she would look into whether applicants could be notified on or before August 31 so that we could book the grant in the correct fiscal year. She’ll let us know within the week.

Next actions:
* Check in with Amy Johnson on July 15 if we haven’t heard of their decision about notification dates.

Date: Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Note By: Ryan Ripperton, Executive Director
Subject: Call with Jeff Jones

I was given a message by the chair of the arts council that Jeff Jones had attended our recent event and expressed that he was very impressed with our work. I called Jeff to introduce myself, thank him for attending, and ask if he’d be interested in getting together to talk more. He was very warm and glad to hear from me. He said he’d be happy to meet with me at his office one day soon.

He mentioned that he couldn’t meet Friday, June 27, because his daughter Wendy was graduating from high school.

We selected Monday, June 30, at 10:00am. I’m to bring him an overview of each program so that he can get a sense of what all we’re doing.

Next actions:
* Meet with Jeff Jones, June 30, 2014, 10am. Ask about Wendy’s graduation.


Make the commitment to do this for 60 days. Schedule time in your day or week to create the call notes for your interactions. I guarantee that you and your team will notice a marked improvement in the relationships with your donors.

Question: Can you share an example of when a call note has helped you build a relationship with a donor? Please leave a comment below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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