Donor List Kiss of Death: Mr. and Mrs.

If you have taken my “new and improved” annual reports webinar, you know that I am not a fan of those long lists of donor names. I think they take way too much time and effort to get right, and do not produce the value that nonprofits think they do. You have many more opportunities to spell someone’s name wrong or otherwise screw it up than you do opportunities to get current donors even more excited about your cause because they see their names in 8-point type next to some other person’s name they admire.

Case in point: A nonprofit that my husband and I both love — and therefore will not be named in this post — totally screwed up their recent annual report donor list, in at least three ways I saw, and odds are, many more.

By insisting on using the too-formal and very outdated Mr. and Mrs. listing, because it supposedly confers more respect on donors, they have instead done two downright awful things:

1. Wrongly guessed the gender of some of their most loyal supporters

2. Alienated couples who consider themselves a marriage of equals.

How respectful is that?

Donor List Screw Up

Can we please move on from the 1950s?

What makes this all even more laughable is that at the top of the list it says that “every effort has been made to ensure these names are correct.”  You betcha.

Don’t do a donor list unless you are going to get it 100% right. Otherwise, you are actually doing great harm to your cause by including the list.




  • Jennifer Charney

    Kivi, it makes sense that we shouldn’t have to thank donors in an 8-point-type list if we are thanking them all year round. But one of our fundraisers says that we need our list in our annual report. She says hospitals and museums can list donors’ names on the walls, but as an environmental nonprofit, we don’t have a place to publicly acknowledge donors. Some donors are motivated by public recognition. What does everybody think about this justification for a list?

  • Melissa

    I totally agree with you! We just sent out our same old boring donor honor roll, but want some new ideas for next year. How can I listen to your annual report webinar or get your great ideas?

  • Kivi Leroux Miller

    Hi Jennifer — I understand that reasoning, but am really ambivalent about how valid it is, not just for the reasons I mention in the post. When it was just a printed/mailed report, that was one thing. But now these are all online. Do all of your donors want their names on your website? I bet not, if you asked. I wish someone would pay for some real research on this question (I don’t know of any). But I really doubt that the old assumptions really hold up anymore. Given how hard it is to get it right, I’m just not convinced the annual report list is worth it. I think there are other ways to achieve the “donor love” you are going for.

  • Kivi Leroux Miller

    Hi Melissa, I won’t be teaching that webinar live again until the fall, but a recording from February is available in our All-Access Pass holders archive. Quarterly pass gets you just about everything we do for $145.

  • thomast

    At my previous organization (which, admittedly, was an institutional-donor-heavy org), we were quite clear about the fact that the Annual Report’s audience was primarily the Program Managers at the institutional funders. Including the list of individual donors was partly about acknowledging and thanking those donors publicly, but it was at least as much about demonstrating to our institutional funders that we had a growing base of support from individuals, and there were also certain major philanthropists in the region that we wanted to make sure were included. I totally agree that the donor list is not the ideal way to acknowledge individual donors, but some organizations may have important audiences in mind for that list beyond the donors themselves.

    But yes – gendered honorifics are horrible. As a db consultant, we have some clients who insist on this, and it’s really unfortunate (and difficult to get right while both being consistent with data and making allowances for donor preference.)

  • Rachel

    This is terrible! I’d be tempted to stop giving… so many cringey moments – 1. Ignoring donor requests. 2. Putting back gender equality about seventy years despite the nod towards gay couples 3. Poor data management 4. Not being interested to learn what donors actually want.
    If this is how they are treating their best donors, how are they treating their beneficiaries or partners? Perhaps wonderfully, but it does give you pause…

  • Judy Anderson, community consu

    I’m with you 100%. It’s time to start figuring out ways to thank donors meaningfully–and to coach donors to lean forward so that they are recognized (and get the public recognition some crave) in meaningful ways.

  • Tracy Moavero

    I agree with all the points here and will add that the honorifics sound incredibly stuffy. I’d expect to see that kind of list in the back of an orchestra program, but then even orchestras are trying to lose that stuffy image.

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  • Jennifer Charney

    Hi Kivi. We don’t publish the list of donors online.I know lists are hard to get right. One way our development department ensures its accuracy is by asking members if and how they want to be listed.

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  • Skip Brown

    So to extend it further How do we safelky address indivdual letters to donors and supporters? Do I drop the gender reference, do I do Bill & Sue Smith or do ZI send sepoerate letters to each and drive up mailing costs. I see the problem buit I am unsure of the solution

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