Unless you have a brain like Sherlock Holmes, you can't keep the details of every supporter of your charity in your "mind palace". And even if you can, it isn't fair to rely solely on the vaults of information that you have systematically stored in your head, because when you move to pastures new your successor has nothing on which to build.
Showing that you remember what people have told you makes them feel listened to, important and special. Observing supporters carefully and noting down what they like and dislike can provide valuable insights into how to make them feel connected to the cause, and helps you to ensure that every communication you send contains something likely to make them want to read on.
One of the biggest but all too commonly committed crimes against a charity's ability to raise funds is allowing supporters to drop off the radar. If you don't record the name, contact details and anything else you can find out about that chap who asked for more information about your charity's work, it is likely that he will not be included in future appeals. What a waste.
It is more cost-effective to keep and nurture existing supporters than to find new ones. Failing to record the details of people who have expressed an interest, or already given, robs your beneficiaries of much-needed help.
Keeping good records of contact with donors in a central location accessible to others can also help to reduce the chances that over-eager colleagues will scupper efforts to get to know key supporters. Giving donors a consistent contact point and an opportunity to build relationships with individual staff members at a charity can help with building the trust and confidence they need to increase their involvement and level of support.
It is probably not feasible to tailor every letter or email, but adequate information-gathering allows you to send out messages suitable for various groups of people so that you can consider more closely why they might be interested in what you have to say.
When you do get the opportunity to send a message, it is more satisfying for all involved if it feels personal. You are likely to elicit a more positive response if you can ask after their sister, who introduced them to the cause when she did a sponsored climb of Kilimanjaro, or if you talk about your charity's educational activities, because you know that is what gets them excited.
You do not have to spend millions on creating a database that can transform your fundraising prospects. For small charities, it might suffice to have a simple spreadsheet recording your contact with your supporters. The key is to keep it up to date and to capture all the crucial clues that you can about who they are, how they have helped so far and what is likely to motivate them to give again.
Anna Taylor is a freelance fundraiser, writer and researcher and a former UK director of Child in Need India