Which is More Important – the Individual or the Household?

An interesting focus of different systems is whether the Individual or the Household is more important.  Generally in Advancement Systems for Colleges and Universities, the vendor systems focus on the Individual and their involvement with the school, both before graduation as a student (e.g. their major, their graduation years, their degree, and activities while in school) and post graduation as an alum (coming to reunions, getting their information into the Class Directory, and their giving.)

On the other hand, Advancement Systems for Cultural organizations often focus on the Household (and maybe its members). But generally the family gets a membership to the Orchestra, the local Museum, the Zoo, or what have you. Members may get a Husband/Wife membership or an entire family (including kids) membership.

So what are some of the Pro’s and Con’s of either of these approaches?

Individual Pro’s

  1. The system is more “granular” in that you can capture all of the information on each persons individual record – their interests, their involvement, their giving, and so on.
  2. When an individual dies or is married or goes thru some other life change, this data is recorded on their record and there is no question as to whom the change applies.
  3. When you are asking an individual to be a board member, a volunteer, an event attendee or sponsor, it is clear who (which spouse or family member) you have asked and track your conversations with them and their individual participation.
  4. Tracking individual gifts (maybe with soft credit to the other spouse, etc) make it easier to track giving through marriages and divorces.

Individual Con’s

  1. The system must have a rock solid “joint” mailing capability to get the names and addresses to mail to people at the same address. It also must handle all of the salutation options (formal, casual, just husband, just wife, combined, etc.) in mailing to the same address.
  2. You end up having two times (or more) the records on your database. More opportunities for errors.

Household Pro’s

  1. For the perhaps 80-90% of the donors and constituents who are giving you only 10-20% of your contribution dollars, all you may need is the household record. The family or household unit is not that involved with your organization.
  2. Mailings are typically easier as all the recipients are on the same record.

Household Con’s

  1. It is so easy to confuse which person is the more generous donor of both time and dollars on a household record.  Which of the constituents is or should be more involved with your charitable organization?
  2. Which person got which degree, attended which event, volunteered for which project, etc? Your record keeping is less likely to be accurate and understandable in a household record.

I am not trying to suggest which system approach is best for your specific organization. I am suggesting that this is a critical area to explore as you are selecting a new system.  And there are many more issues that those listed above. To oversimplify, if your organization focuses on direct marketing, the Household approach may be fine. Or, if your organization does more major gift fundraising, the Individual approach may be preferable.

I would welcome your additions (or modifications) to the list above as well as your thoughts and comments. Let me know via e-mail at CharliesBlog@riarlington.com  And please sign up for my periodic blog posts in the space in the column on the right!

 SDG, Charlie Hunsaker
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