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Donna Caputo
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Individuals vs. Households and How to Use Them


Question:  When is a spouse like an alias? 

Answer:  When you treat your constituents and their spouses like they are simply two names for the same person. In other words, when you don’t treat individuals as individuals.

When solicitations were primarily mailed, much of our focus was on eliminating duplicate mailings.  Donors don’t like getting two envelopes in the mailbox, because that’s clearly a waste of money. In order to handle this deduping of mailing efforts, spouse names used to hang off constituent records as appendages. In fact, many databases were designed to hold two names on a single constituent record.  

Fast forward to today. We still want to eliminate duplicate mailings, but now we send many communications through email. Do the same rules apply for email communications? Does it matter if two individuals in a household each receive an email solicitation? What about the uniqueness of our relationship to each household member?  Is that not more important than our desire to have a simple database model?

Today’s fundraising focuses on the importance of the individual, and our CRM databases have evolved to support that understanding. The fact that the donor or prospect has a spouse is important, and our knowledge and acknowledgment of their spouse is important.  More important, though, is our ability to understand who each individual is in relation to our organization.  We need to be able to treat individuals individually, rather than as simply a member of a spousal unit.

Enter today’s “Household” record.  Different than yesterday’s “Joint” or “Dual” constituent record, the household entity is more than two constituent spouses linked through a relationship, or “Name One” and “Name Two” on a single record.  In many of today’s CRM systems, Households records are their own type of entity.  They are used to link individuals together in partnership, and they allow viewing of data at a household level rather than individual by individual. 

In order to use Household records effectively, an organization must decide what information belongs put on the Household itself and what belongs at the individual level.  Households work by aggregating individual data and activities for viewing at a higher, consolidated level.  When you are looking at a Household record, you’ll see activity (i.e., ticket purchases, donations, event registrations) for all the household members in one place.  If you store activities directly on the household record, you won’t be able to see it on the individual records.  This makes the Household entity a powerful place for viewing information, but not as powerful a place for storing information.

Keep these three tips in mind for managing your individual relationships and your households.

  1. When you have to identify a primary household member, consider the involvement of the members, not simply gender.
  2. Document and train your users so they can access combined data such as Household Revenue with ease.
  3. Enter data at the Individual level so that you create a specific record for each individual and you harness the power of the household for summarizing and viewing data.

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