Memorial gifts are the most emotional gifts.
We buried my aunt on Monday.
She was an incredible woman – a musician good enough to have played professionally, a university professor, an artist with a needle or fabric, a wonderful cook, a loving mother and wife, and an adoring grandmother.
Her loss leaves a big void. She contributed so much to the world – her children and grandchildren, her students, her family, and her friends.
Though distance meant I only saw her occasionally, she never forgot a birthday or Christmas. She had all the social graces that have become too rare today.
She was also a volunteer. So she asked that memorial gifts be made to two charities in her community where she volunteered.
I took an envelope and will be making a gift. I’ll be making it because I hope doing so will offer a small moment of comfort to my uncle and cousins, who are grieving right now. While I think art museums are wonderful things, I have absolutely no tie to this one. My reason for donating isn’t about the work they do or any other measure a thoughtful donor might use.
For me as a donor, this gift has little to do with the museum and everything to do with my aunt.
As a fundraiser, it offers an important reminder about memorial gifts.
Even more than other gifts, this gift is not about you.
You “earned” this gift because someone who was deeply loved passed away. Don’t forget that.
Even if you’re sure it’s a one-off gift, you need to treat this gift carefully.
You have a chance to show your donor care skills. This is where you take the time to learn about the person being honored.
You probably have more information than you might think. Was the person a volunteer? Then talk to the staff member who worked with her.
Had she been a donor? A person’s giving history can tell you quite a bit. Did she give for a long time? Or to particular projects?
What else can you learn?
Write a personal letter to the family.
Please don’t toss off a form letter.
Your organization was designated as worthy of gifts at an emotionally sensitive time. Honor that.
Use the information you’ve gleaned to make it personal.
The family will be hurting, and kind words – especially unexpectedly personal and heartfelt words – will mean a great deal.
Then use those same skills to thank the donor properly.
A year ago, I wrote a post about a memorial gift I’d made and a terrible acknowledgment I received.
Please don’t do that.
Yes, this may be a one-time gift. That doesn’t mean you should receive it less gratefully.
Don’t see this as a task – see it as a chance to offer kindness and sympathy to someone who needs it.
It’s the human thing to do. Someone’s loved one is counting on you.
Photo thanks to Greg Ortega
Mary, I’m very sorry to hear about your aunt. She sounds like such a great lady. I felt the other side of this equation, too, as both of my parents died within the last year and in the case of one of the organizations we asked people to contribute to, we felt like the money went into a black hole. There was really no special acknowledgement to us or the donors. Sad, really. While the majority of these kinds of donors may never give again, I agree that showing great care could go a long way!
Mary Cahalane says
Oh Leslie, I’m so sorry! Really. That must have been incredibly hard.
I don’t understand the kind of organization that can find out it’s to be the recipient of memorial gifts and not treat that as a huge gift of trust it is.
I have to say that my recent case, I forgot to include some information with the check. So I emailed their development director last night. Heard back from him this morning with a very friendly note and some kind words. I live several states away, and I don’t imagine this will be a regular thing – but who knows? If knowing my aunt is being thought of every year makes my uncle happy, then it would be worth it.
Thank you for commenting, and once again, I’m so sorry for your loss.