I am coming from a database that has support for joint accounts. Basically, it has First Name, Last Name fields and then a secondary First Name,Last Name for a spouse or partner in one donor record. It also has support for printing out "John and Mary Smith" in mailings and the like. I have looked at Household accounts but that seems to only have a Last name for the household. It's not clear how to have a joint account. How are couples handled in CiviCRM ?

4 Answers 4


The short answer:

  1. When you want to store information about two people (e.g. "John Smith" and "Mary Smith") together, create a new household.
  2. You can name the household whatever you like (e.g. "John and Mary Smith", or "Mary Smith and John Smith", etc)
  3. Add shared information like home phone number (land line) and home address to the household record.
  4. Also create individual records for each of these people. Now you have three contact records.
  5. Create relationships between the individuals and the household. You can also set up the individuals to use the address of their related household.
  6. Add other data to the individuals which is specific to them personally (e.g. cell phone, email, birth date, gender, etc.)

The long answer:

While you're in this phase of deciding how to store your data in CiviCRM, I would suggest first taking a step back and considering why you might need to store data associated with multiple people, and if it's worth it to use households at all (because some organizations choose to disable them entirely and only use individual/organization records). For example:

  • Contributions:

    • When using households: If you receive a check with two names on it, an intuitive approach is to store this contribution on the household record.
    • When using only individuals: Another approach is to store it on one individual and soft credit the other one.
  • Event participations:

    • Regardless of your household strategy, it's best to keep event participations on individual records.
  • Memberships:

    • You can store memberships on household records or individual records, or some combination thereof. How you choose to do so will likely depend on your overall membership strategy
  • Relationships

    • When using households: relationships are created between individuals and their shared household. This makes it somewhat cumbersome to navigate from individual to individual because you must first navigate through the household
    • When using only individuals: you can set up a relationship type like "Spouse" to store the connection between two people and easily navigate between their records
  • Combined solicitations:

    • When using households: If you are sending a paper mailing, you can use CiviCRM to generate a mailing list which uses households to group contacts together and avoid duplicate mailings.
    • When using only individuals: grouping related individuals into the same mailing piece will be more difficult and probably require some custom work
    • This, in my opinion, is the biggest argument for using households
  • Keeping your data clean:

    • When using households:
      • Creating the requisite relationships and extra records is more work
      • De-duping is somewhat more complicated
      • When two people split up, it can be a pain to figure out what to do with their household record
    • When using individuals:
      • De-duping is simpler
      • Setting up the relationships requires fewer steps
      • Relationships can be disabled (even with an end date)
  • Not sure about putting one and the same person in both a Household as well as an Individual record; I have yet to find a good purpose for Households - I always use Individuals and Link them up w/ Relationships Apr 26, 2017 at 19:29
  • Thank you for a comprehensive answer. I find it surprising that it would take three records to contain the info that formerly was contained in one. This impacts how we will import data from our current database but in a larger aspect, our donors have come to expect having a joint account and both receiving some specific benefit regardless of which person actually makes a donation during a fundraiser.
    – chrisfs
    Apr 26, 2017 at 22:15
  • Having two names on a contact seems easier than the solutions suggested. I will have to discuss them with my co worker, Connecting the individuals seems easier, but using households seems to have more features in generating mailing lists.
    – chrisfs
    Apr 26, 2017 at 22:17
  • this is a good description of how to get started... We usually use the household contact, every member of the household has their own contact, and relationship to the household, and only give user accounts to the individual contacts. Individual users log in to a website, a household is abstract and therefore has no fingers to type with to log in :) Apr 26, 2017 at 22:44
  • Anone working with households may want to have a look at this extension: github.com/systopia/de.systopia.householdmerge Disclaimer: It's one of our own etensions and still in beta phase
    – Fabian
    May 2, 2017 at 17:37

Sean describes the 'text book' answer well but depending on your usage, there are other options you could consider:

1) If you want to stick closely to your old system you could add custom fields for the spouse/partner name. Customise the Addressee field as Kainuk suggests for mailings.

Assuming 'John Smith' is the main contact and 'Mary Smith' is in the custom fields, the disadvantage of this is that if Mary registers for events, creates a memberships etc then she will have her own record in addition to being mentioned on John's ... but that may not matter for your usage.

2) You could simply set the first name to 'John & Mary' and not create custom fields (assuming they share the same last name). That would get very confusing if one of them registered for an event since it would show 'John & Mary' regardless of which one was attending etc. Again, that may not be a problem if you just intend to record donations and send mail.

You mention donor records - in some jurisdictions you need to record which member of a couple/household made the donation for tax purposes. That may be a factor in deciding how to set up these contacts.

As mentioned above, think about how you will handle couples splitting up, and also how to handle two of your existing contacts pairing up.

Having said all that, even if you only intend limited usage of CiviCRM now, these systems have a tendency to grow in their desired functionality so the effort to set them up properly as individuals with relationships with or without a household is probably worthwhile in the long run but it's your system and you can do what you like with it!

  • Thank you, That is a helpful option. In our current database, it has a tool for merging duplicate records, which can be used when Mary Smith inadvertently gets her own record. You could specify two specific contacts to be merged and their donations etc would be combined as well. Does CiviCRM has that functionality ? I see a 'bulk' deduping tool, but not a specific one.
    – chrisfs
    Apr 28, 2017 at 17:47
  • 2
    Yes - eg search for 'smith', tick the checkboxes next to Mary and John, in the Actions menu select 'Merge contacts'
    – Aidan
    Apr 28, 2017 at 18:55

Late, but thought household aggregate contribution report might be helpful to some searchers.

We use up to three records for a couple. Event info goes on individual record and gifts generally go on a household record. Some gifts will be on an individual record before we knew of spouse or for raffle ticket purchases (where our state's DOJ allows - and requires us to track - only one purchaser) for example.

To aggregate contributions to households where they exist (and to access more robust and complex first, last and largest filter sets) for solicitation segmentation, honor rolls, and accurate acquisition and retention tracking, we cleaned up all our household relationships and had this awesome report built:

Donor Detail with Contributions Aggregated for Households

I could not follow fundraising best practices without it, and am happy to share the report, the ways I use it, and the pitfalls to be aware of (like special considerations required to work with exclusion criteria, and the open issue you see on github).

  • Thanks for your post. I've made the link clickable so that it is easier for others to follow. Jun 21, 2017 at 12:29

If the first need is printing labels, use the field Addressee with a customised value.

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