Many years ago (like in the 90s), I was sitting in my manager’s office with him and we were doing some training. We were talking about getting to know our partners, and he pulls out this “recipe box”. He had 2 of them that were on the corner of his desk, one black and one red. They were filled with 4×6 index cards. Well the black one was filled to the point that you probably could not fit any more in it and could not really close it. The red one was half full. Most of the 4×6 cards were dog-eared and had writing on both sides. Some of the index cards were even stapled together. On the top, in black marker were company names. However, in the red box, some of the cards were brand new and had a little writing on only one side. Through out the boxes, there were post-it notes sticking out with simple words like “call” or “B-day Wed”.
My manager had what was affectionately called a “Tickler File”. The black box held his general relationships and the red box held the “Hot” or new relationships. Each week, he went through his tickler file, and recorded notes about these relationships and would make lists of activities or things to do with these relationships (the post-it notes). In my naiveté, I was impressed with his organization, and felt I could create a digital version. I would accomplish what his tickler file did along with creating an automatic alert of what his routine did with the press of a button or two.
Long story short, I scrapped trying to create a complex database and instead worked from multiple spreadsheets. It was not until much later that I got all the benefits of that tickler file in a digital format (ie- SalesForce, Raiser’s Edge). As I grew in my roles and worked with different versions of a digital tickler file, which is now known as CRM, I saw how people became more successful with these tools and how management used these systems as weapons.
No two people used the tickler file the same way. People learned tips and tricks from their predecessors and improved the process along the way. With CRM, there are best practices and fundamental truths, but no two people use it the exact same way. In choosing a CRM or a donor relationship system, leadership is told how they can monitor activity and have information on ALL their donors in ONE place and get all sorts of REPORTS. Reports like a donor pipeline.
We have come a long way from that tickler file. I can generate my activities automatically like I originally hoped. These reports can tell a lot of things, but mostly they can tell who is using the system and who is not. Like the tickler file, the more successful people are the ones that use a relationship management system. So before you become concerned about those reports, remember the alternative is the old tickler file system. There are lots of benefits to the digital system, including having someone else observe your activity. The benefits can be sharing information about your donors, identifying skill sets you can share with others, or identifying skill sets that you could use some help with. You can plan your weeks months out, and pull a list of birthdays for your donors at the beginning of the month, or the start of the week. You will have the details of your last meeting easily available.
However you may feel about these reports, realize they mean that you have a great tool at your fingertips. Be thankful you don’t have to build your own “tickler file” or try to read someone else’s handwriting (that is, if you even inherited a system).