Alphabetizing

Q. We need to alphabetize a list of donors but it’s difficult to find a consistent format. Who to list first in a couple with the same last name? Jane and John Smith, if the wife is the principal donor, and John and Jane Smith if the husband is? We have the same confusion regarding couples with different last names. John Smith and Jane Doe, when he is the main donor, and Jane Doe and John Smith, when she is? And what’s the rule for alphabetizing such couples? Do you alphabetize by the first name listed or the second? Does inconsistency matter?

A. Most of your questions are more matters of etiquette than of style or grammar. Your organization could make a little style sheet with answers to all these questions—including whether consistency should yield to etiquette in your donor lists.  Here’s an answer to your one style question, to get you started: yes, alphabetize by the last name of the first person in each pair.