Memorial gifts – the most emotional gift?
It’s not a gift you look forward to making – or inspiring. It represents someone’s loss and sadness – though also their hope.
As a fundraiser, a memorial gift is one of the most emotional gifts you are likely to receive.
For me, the question is personal. I lost my mom almost two weeks ago. There were no plans in place about where to suggest people give. But I expect there will be some memorial gifts. And given my own bad experience as a memorial donor, I’m concerned. My family needs to know so we can thank people. It’s what Mom would have done and what she’d want. And part of healing is knowing people are thinking of you.
This isn’t a gift to take lightly. Yet, so often that’s how it’s treated. Why?
Here are the usual excuses:
- Memorial gifts are one-offs and the donors are not likely to give again
- Memorial gifts are so emotional and dealing with someone’s death is never comfortable
- Memorial gifts require more work
They’re not likely to give again
This is a gift given to honor someone’s beloved friend or family member. The person making the gift chose your organization to express their loss in a positive way. Please consider how important that honor is!
Your organization is being trusted to do your work in the name of someone who has passed on. I don’t care if that gift is $10 or $10,000 – it matters.
I mentioned my own bad experience as a memorial donor. The treatment I received left me with bad feelings about the organization. And we were donors before this gift! Poor practice means they’ve likely lost at least one donor.
Many memorial gifts will be one-time gifts. The donor is honoring the deceased’s cause, not necessarily her own. But that’s no certainty – unless you treat it as one. Read about my friend Pamela Grow’s experience. Had that organization treated her well, they’d have a dedicated donor today.
So do the right thing – which is also the smart thing. Treat these gifts with care and honor.
Then don’t stop communicating! Welcome them. Tell them again what their gift made possible. Don’t give up on them before you’ve even begun!
Death is uncomfortable
It is. It’s sad and complicated and something we’d love to avoid. But that’s why donors make these gifts – because there’s healing in giving. And there’s joy in remembering a loved one. And joy and healing are needed at these moments.
Are you stuck on how to acknowledge a memorial gift? Just be human.
If the person being remembered was a donor, say so. And be sure to attribute to the deceased all the good work their gifts made possible. (Remember, this is not about your organization – it’s about the donor.)
Offer comfort where you can – tell the memorial donor how the gift will be put to work. Let her know how the gift will be acknowledged. Add your condolences. Don’t worry about being perfect. It’s more important to be sincere. I like Ann Green’s suggestion of a handwritten thank you note.
Lisa Sargent has a terrific article about writing the perfect memorial donation thank you letter. She also addresses what happens after you’ve acknowledged the gift.
Then be sure you also write to whomever the donor has requested. The donor is making a gift for the loved ones of the deceased. These loved ones need to know it happened! And yes, it can be a sad letter to write. But it’s also a caring opportunity to show you see the deceased as a person who mattered.
This really isn’t the time to sell your organization. This is the time to be sensitive and caring. That’s the first and most important step in creating a longer relationship.
Memorial gifts require more work
Is it really so hard to write an additional letter? You know the answer.
It will be easier if you put procedures in place now, not after you receive a memorial gift. Set up the right information on your database. Write the outline of letters to the donor and the family. Be sure everyone on your staff understands how it should work.
Your actions determine whether this is a one-time gift. Or whether it’s the beginning of a donor relationship. Treat these special donors with extra care.
As is true with all fundraising, handling memorial gifts well means preparation and caring. Handled well, memorial gifts can be a gift to the donor, to people who are grieving and to your organization.