Do names matter? A few weeks ago, Roger Craver wrote about an issue dear to my heart. Having been caught in a tweetstorm with Whiny Donor, my tweets on the subject were mentioned.
It shouldn’t work like that.
Your name is powerful – to you, at least.
We are usually given our first and middle name(s) by our parents. They are chosen for as many reasons as they are people, but they are gifted to us.
My dad chose my name. And he chose Mary because he didn’t want a name with nicknames attached to it. (So of course, he often called me “Mare”. That’s how life goes!)
My last name is a gift from long-ago ancestors in Cork, Ireland. Growing up in an area that was heavily populated by the children and grandchildren of immigrants – mostly from Ireland, Italy, Poland, and Germany – I celebrated that connection to history.
You probably feel the same connection to your names. You use them to introduce yourself. You use them to identify yourself as a unique individual. You answer to your name. You think of yourself with your name.
So why treat other people’s names casually?
Thankfully, we are now getting into some good social habits. Many of us think to ask about pronouns – because how a person wishes to be seen matters.
But titles seem to be trickier, and I’m not sure why.
In my parents’ generation, getting married meant a woman gave up her name – often her entire identity. She was addressed as Mrs. husband’s first and last names. Thinking about that today horrifies me. I married my husband; it wasn’t a property transfer!
You might remember a sexist article recently insisting that Dr. Jill Biden had no claim on her title because it was an academic doctorate, not a medical degree.
And same-sex couples? Gender-fluid people? We have a lot of new titles to learn and use.
Software needs to serve our needs, not define our practice
Too often, the fundraising software we use isn’t flexible enough to accommodate different titles and more than one donor name in a record. (To be fair, a number of good systems DO make this possible.)
But if your organization is small or new and struggling to manage data, you might be stuck with a clunkier donor management system.
Every system needs to make it easy to track and add names and titles.
Let’s not make assumptions based on our preferences, instead of the donor’s.
Some people are perfectly happy being Mr. and Mrs. Some, like me, are emphatically not.
Some donors give only as a couple. Many make individual gifts and wish to be acknowledged that way.
Two people at the same address may be roommates – or a couple.
The only way to find out is to ask.
Ask on your forms. When you send a thank you letter, ask if the donor is being addressed properly. Call a donor to say thank you and ask how they prefer to be addressed.
Time-consuming? Yes, absolutely. But if you do a few a day, and keep your data updated properly, you’ll make progress. And if you offer donors opportunities to correct you, they’ll help keep things straightened out.
Here’s one more situation to think about: former employees. Your data entry rules shouldn’t be so unbending that they don’t accommodate this, too. If someone worked for your organization, addressing them formally adds a distance to your relationship that you don’t want. Ask them.
How you address someone – in person or in writing – says a lot about how much you respect them.
Donors who feel seen and known will also feel more connected to your organization. That’s what you want, isn’t it?