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February is National Constituent Record Filing Month…

February 1, 2013
stack of papers

These are the sorts of piles that sometimes just get thrown out for expediency’s sake.

…and thankfully, this is the shortest month of the year.

All those who loathe filing (digital or paper), say “Aye!”. Newton had his law of gravity. Einstein devised E=MC2. My law (for this month anyhow) is that filing is universally reviled.

Don’t get me wrong, Cannon’s Law of Reviled Filing doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. It doesn’t mean that some people and processes are really, really good at it. It just means that it’s the last on the list. And, while the post-election “binders” jokes have worn thin, I would bet most of you that you have somewhere in your office “binders full of prospect notes” and other “piles of shame” containing all those things you haven’t gotten around to filing.

So, because it’s important yet boring, we should shed a little light on the topic. I should note that there are entire professional groups and technology suites dedicated to this topic. You can learn all about those things here. Instead of filing details, I wanted to share a central framework to guide of focus on National Constituent Record Filing Month:

  1. It’s the institution’s file. Those emails and paper files strewn about your desk. They belong to your employer. If not due to a confidentiality agreement, it’s just the right thing to do for your institution’s long-range relationship building.
  2. The risk of a blank is worse. Have you ever stumbled upon an empty file folder that clearly once held the holy grail of detail on that donor? You can see the folder is slightly bowed and once held important tidbits about a great uncle’s railroad lines in the 1890’s. Now, you have nothing. That’s what will happen with your prospects if you stop the filing cycle.
  3. There’s more nuance there than you think. Filing isn’t just about paper anymore, which is one nuance. But, even more subtle are the things that can be learned from a file. Did your organization’s previous president strike the “Dear William” on a letter and write-in a heretofore unknown “Bubba,” indicating a pretty close relationship that perhaps has gone dry. Did the donor’s $100 check come from the Bank of Saudi Arabia? Sometimes, the database doesn’t hold the whole story, so the files are that much more important.
  4. Automation and discipline will get you through the month (and beyond). If you enjoy filing as much as I do, you need to a) automate and b) get rigorous. Contact a vendor who can digitize and link files (or, if you have resources in place,  do even more with your current application). Set a day a month where all filing will be completed. And, if automation is still out of the picture, hire an intern to help focus on this issue.

National Constituent Record Filing Month may not catch on. However, we owe it to our organizations to spend enough time on this topic to maintain a time-honored tradition of capturing and filing data for the sake of future fundraisers.

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One Comment
  1. A quick update from one of my colleagues confirmed the plight of empty file folders: “I’ve been working on my ancestry for a few years now. My cousin found one of those empty files like you mention. While looking for information in the New York court house records from the early 1800s, she found a file with our relative’s name on it, but he file itself was empty. If only the records were still there….”

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