A few months ago, I got a bit huffy when I saw that my husband and I were listed in a local nonprofit’s annual report as “Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Miller” for a donation we’d made. I’ve been living in a small town in the South for five years, so I guess I should be used to being relegated to “wife of” status by now, but my Berkeley feminist roots were pinched. I chalked it up to the cultural and generational divide between Boomer and older age groups (who make up the board of directors of the group and probably most of its donors) and my cohorts in Generation X who were raised to expect equality in all aspects of life.
I didn’t think about it again until the ever loyal husband told me he had informed the development director of the group about my little dining room outburst and disappointment in the group for not taking what I considered to be a more modern approach to their donor list. The next solicitation letter we received from the group a few weeks later was addressed to Mrs. Kivi Miller and Mr. Edgar Miller.
This issue came up again recently when I was working on a client’s annual report. Because of the way their database was set up, the donor lists included entries like “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith” and “Sally Jones and James Smith.” About half of the entries used Mr. and Mrs. and the others didn’t. In other words, if the two people who donated together were not married or the woman had kept her maiden name, she was included by name in the donor list. If she had taken her husband’s name, she was not. The staff noticed this aberration and spent a few days rejiggering their database reports to create a new list that included the first names of both partners, regardless of marital status. In this particular case, all Mr. and Mrs. courtesy titles were removed from the list. This particular group is very progressive, as are their donors, and it was definitely the right decision for that group.
So what should you do in your annual report?
I recommend that you list donors however they request to be listed. If someone fills out a donation slip with Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Miller, then print it that way. If they complete the form like we always do (Kivi and Edgar Miller) then list them that way. I quickly reviewed about ten annual reports from major nonprofits this week and found the majority used a mixed list. I don’t know how they are deciding when to use the courtesy titles and when to use the first names of both partners, but I hope it’s based on the donors’ stated preference.
What do you think? Is using the courtesy titles with the husband’s first name only as the default style for a donor list still OK in 2007? Should both first names always be used sans titles? Or is a mixed list based on donor preference OK, even if it makes your list look a bit messy and inconsistent? You know how I feel. Tell me what you think.