Thursday, October 5, 2017

Greetings and Salutations

In a continuing effort to stretch our consciousness about what matters to our donors, greetings and salutations remains a hot button item. Do you have greetings and salutation standards at your organization? Are they inclusive? Are they aware of this century? More often than not, I find that a simple mistake in a greeting or salutation can have a large impact on the donor experience. 

Of course, one of the hottest debates out there is who comes first? Not a Marx brothers comedy, it's about how you address envelopes, the order of the names in your letters and even more. What seems like a small detail can have large ramifications. I myself am sick of coming into organizations and seeing the classic 1950s version of a couple's combined formal greeting: Mr. and Mrs. John Smith. 
Where is Jane in this picture? Yes, John and Jane have been married for 20 years but when did she stop being seen as an equal partner? Times change and so should your greetings.

Completely erasing the woman in the relationship and undermining her presence in the philanthropic world. Ignoring the fact that women make 76% of the giving decisions.  Seems a bit short sided and altogether antiquated. I grew up in the south, where women always came first, from ordering food at dinner to entering a door to greetings. I always list the woman first for many reasons but also because I was taught never to separate a man from his last name.

It should be 

Mrs. Jane Smith or
Mr. John Smith

Mrs. Jane and Mr. John Smith or

Jane and John Smith 

Some of you may have the person that goes first be the person with the deepest connection to your organization- it's up to you, but you need a standard. And it needs to be consistent. How you address an envelope across a university or an organization is not dependent on what department send the mailing, it's the donor's preference. My favorite reference on the topic is a book from the DC Protocol school-

Also remember if the woman has a formal title, she ALWAYS comes first-
Dr. Monica Weber
Mr. Chris Weber

How do you address partners who are not married? Is your organization constantly using the word spouse and leaving partner out? How do you greet people of the same sex in a letter? Stacked greetings work well here: 

Mr. Alain Raj
Mr. Joseph Stone

And whose name is first- it's alpha order by last name!

I urge you to take a look at your greetings and salutations and look for your blind spots. For example, how many of you have a gender neutral greeting prefix of Mx. in your database? If not, why not? All databases allow for this option. Is gender in your database a binary choice? Why?

All this being said, some people have preferences, and they will express them to you. Once they have, you should follow them, even if it means going against your set guidelines. And remember, dear friend or dear alumni is NEVER ever a good idea!!

When is the last time your organization modernized and examined your greetings and salutations? How have you been able to change your protocol to adapt to a modern world?
I would love to hear your thoughts, questions or advice!




  1. Thanks for bringing this up, especially the part about women making most of the giving decisions. We've been using Mr. and Mrs. John Smith on the envelope and "Dear Sally and John" as the salutation. I think it's time to start using Sally and John Smith on the envelope. I realize that some people probably feel that using prefixes adds formality and is more appropriate for addressing donors. I'm curious to hear what others are doing.

    1. Lisa- my pleasure! Of course everything is dependent on the donor. But if you have met them and they asked you to call them by their first names, then you of course have the right to! I'm not a prefix person myself and find them awkward!

  2. As a historically Quaker organization, we're fortunate to have this conundrum solved for us. Quakers did/do not use titles and equality is a value. So Dear Firstname Lastname is used for everyone. It's always alumna / alumnus or alum first and non-alum spouse second. Still, we do have people who object and we record that in our system.

    1. Now there is a solution! Love the equity and no titles!!

  3. This is a conversation we've been having for what feels like years, but every time a decision is made to start stacking and putting the female name first (or alpha for same sex partners)our database team freaks out about the amount of work involved to convert. Without database expertise to refute their claims, I am on shaky ground to make demands of their time. Any words of wisdom for how to streamline this process and if it really is as hard as moving mountains? Or strategies to start with donors and new entries, then radiate out to less engaged constituents? Best time of year to not throw off direct mail requests or butt up against year end reporting needs?

    1. Hey there- happy to help-don't think of it as a demand on their time, see it as a huge benefit to your donor base. It isn't hard at all and usually they can write a script that would populate this for you. I've done it in auto uploads too- get it done in the summer! But you need to do it! Stick to your resolve!

  4. Well...beware: It depends on your audience. The average age of donors at my organization is 85. Many of my Mrs. John Smiths are proud of being Mrs. John Smith, and many do NOT want to be referred to as Mrs. Jane, or Ms. anyone. In an informal note, I can get away with Jane Smith (sans anything...)

    1. Like I said its about knowing your donors. But wow what an aging donor base- I hope you have plans to extend to the next generation.

  5. Our organization is currently undergoing an update of our recognition pieces, and are thinking about changing the way we list the names of our donors. We currently have a majority of the donors listed in the 1950's fashion, which we would like to move away from, and step into this century a bit. We are partial to listing the female first, and going with the "Jane and John Smith" option, instead of Mr. and Mrs.

    One hurdle we have come across is listing a widowed woman, should she be Mrs. John Smith, even though her husband has passed, or should she be recognized on her own? Of course it is our preference to contact the donor and ask them their preferences directly, but as you know, this isn't always an option.

    Thank you for your input!

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