Guidelines for Maintaining Your Gift Documentation Records

Vol. 15 No. 4

advancement eletter Vol15 No4 donorfilin

Time and time again, we hear the question, “How long should we keep our records?” Well, your records—paper and scanned—are legal and evidentiary backup for the actual gifts. You should keep them permanently. These records are your accounting control. After all, you are better off keeping them than regretting you didn’t when you might need them.

Don’t panic. Here are a few guidelines.

Paper Records

  • Only maintain paper donor files for donors who have made gifts.
  • Create a paper file for each donor either after he/she has given a gift or if documentation concerning his/her status as a prospect has been created.
  • Retain all written records pertaining to a gift permanently in a paper file. Paper records are to be stored in the Development Office for five years after the last activity. This includes:

    -letters pertaining to the gift;
    -pledge cards;
    -envelope the gift came in—the postmark is a reference;
    -copy of the acknowledgement sent to the donor; and
    -any government documents that many have accompanied the gift.

  • Files can be moved to permanent storage after the five-year period if the donor is a past parent, past grandparent, friend or past faculty, or staff.
  • Paper files created after receiving gifts from current parents and grandparents stay in the Development Office until their children leave the school.
  • Keep alumni donor files in the Development Office permanently. If this is not practical—schools with very large alumni programs may have issues—keep only the active files in the office. Active means donors who have given gifts within the past six years.
  • Records of parents, past parents, grandparents, alumni, faculty and staff, present and past, whether or not they have given a gift, are kept permanently in the database.
  • Records of past grandparents and friends who have not made a gift to the school can be purged.
  • Records of past parents who left the school on not-so-good terms can be purged if a gift was not made.

That’s a slew of paper, you think. Well, you can scan paper files to store electronically, then shred the paper. Make sure you scan the paper; don’t just enter the information into a database. The scan is an electronic picture of the actual document. When information is keyed in, there is no way to verify that it is accurate—unless you have the paper!

Electronic Files

Which brings us to electronic files. Here we are referring to information that is entered into a database or other record-keeping type of software.

  • Records of parents, past parents, grandparents, alumni, faculty and staff, present and past, whether or not they have given a gift, are kept permanently in the database.
  • Records of past grandparents and friends who have not made a gift to the school can be purged.
  • Records of past parents who left the school on not-so-good terms can be purged if a gift was not made.

With anything electronic, ALWAYS have a reliable backup system.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Advancement Vol. 13 No. 7 Cleaning Up Your Donor Database
The Source for Advancement Vol. 14 No. 1 Advice for New Development Directors
The Source for Advancement Vol. 14 No. 3 What Defines a Major Gift?

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 32 No. 4 Development Office Management: The ISM Stability Marker
I&P Vol. 41 No. 1 Assessing Your Development Operations: How Do You Score?
I&P
Vol. 27 No. 8 Ethical Issues for the Development Office

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