There’s something about Dorothy

Oh no, it’s that time again. Training of new staff. You’ve been given the brief – go explain what fundraising does. You’ve done this bazillion times before and you know how it will play out. You go in and explain what fundraising does. You mention that a key element of fundraising is Direct Mail. You’ve sussed the crowd, hunting for the 20-something year old person who is going to come out with it… And then they say it…

‘What about younger donors? What are you doing online?’

This particular day, this particular monkey, is not in a particularly good mood. I can’t help myself. So what do you mean when you say younger?

‘Oh, not super young. Maybe 35?’


As a data monkey, I answer questions with data. The problem is in most organisation’s I’ve ever worked in at best, there has been reliable age or date of birth data for about 1 in 4 donors. I answer in my usual style. ‘About 50% of donors are aged over [insert number here usually between 75 and 80]’. The 20 something looks at you unconvinced. I imagine them having a conversation tomorrow on the bus (because we all know that all irritating conversations occur on public transport)… “and this woman was like, saying this stuff like, young people aren’t the best donors, and like, she didn’t even say like every second word.” (Yes, I know this makes me look incredibly old but I assure you that I’ve just been exposed to an excess of teenagers on transport of late who have two words they use to excess. One is ‘like’. The other starts with f. I’ll let you figure out the latter).

If you are as tired as I of people looking at you as if you are a moron when you assure them that the majority of donors are over 65, then try this exercise. Go to your database and select the 20 most common names. Then go to a site such as “Behind the Name” and do a percentage based popularity search (I used United States). If the bulk of those top 20 donor names are born after 1970 or 1980, I’ll eat my data monkey hat!

So what names were popular before people started using the word like to excess? Here’s just a taste:

Ruby SlippersDorothy: If your donors are called Dorothy, then chances are they were born well and truly before 1950. Why have I chosen Dorothy as an example? It’s nothing to do with my employer’s database (although it wouldn’t surprise me if we did have more than our fair share of people called Dorothy). The answer is it was my grandmother’s name (born 1913), and also my aunt (born in the early 1940s). What Behind The Name did show me was that Dorothy actually reached it’s popularity height back in the 1920s and to my surprise doesn’t seem to have an over the rainbow ruby-slippered inspired resurgence in 1939. (The popularity it seems was reserved for the name of the star rather than the character, with Judy and Judith being very popular during the early 1940s. Similarly, the name Shirley surged in popularity in the early 1930s, I presume as a result of a chunderous little 3 year old movie star with ringlets).

The E’s: There are a bunch of E names which just scream early 20th century. Ethel ranks among the earliest and I suspect the days of Ethel being in your top 20 donor names went out a couple of decades ago. (Hmm… this has me wondering when Ethel Merman was most popular… I can see a film and theatre trend emerging here) Esther, Enid, Elsie, Edna and Ernest are all probably in your database but no longer the main names.

Beverley was popular through the 1930s and 40s, as was Donald, Joyce, June and Joan. Anyone called Helen is most likely pre-1940, as is Grace…. or they are still a minor as it appears to have made a comeback in the 21st century. Margaret was around for decades, steadily declining from about 1950 onwards. Marjorie, Marjory, Margery and any other variants thereof, were popular in the 1920s and 30s. Marilyn on the other hand, was a little later… I wonder what impact the movie star had on that one!

Of course, there will be names in your top 20 which are timeless. I expect you’ll find John,  William, Mary and Elizabeth (and all the variations thereof).

If you’re running a regular giving program, perhaps Karen, Sharon, Janet, Mark, Adam, David, Christopher, Daniel, Brett, Kirsten or Laura will be more common?

What are your top 20 donor names?

PS: For those interested you can access the most popular names of recent times at the NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages website. It seems that Ruby has made a resurgence!


Posted on June 4, 2013, in Data, Direct Mail, Fundraising and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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