Remembering Michael | Do you have a plan for in-memoriam gifts?

July 14, 2014

In the weeks immediately following my youngest daughter’s birth, tragedy struck. One of my best friends lost her eight-year-old son to a form of pediatric cancer.

iStock_000008811467SmallI don’t imagine anything can quite prepare you for the loss of a child. And for friends and family members, the pain is deep. What do you say? What can you do? Is there any way you can help to ease the despair? Adding to my own feelings of despondency was the fact that, due to what had been a difficult birth and recovery, I could not fly out for the funeral.

I sent flowers, and spent hours on the phone with my friend, and, when she became involved with a charity dedicated to fighting this particular form of childhood cancer, I became a donor. I gave every year. In later years, when I became employed at a grant-making foundation, one of our many benefits was the opportunity to make one or two large charitable gifts every year.

For the seven years I was employed at the foundation, every year I made my gift in Michael’s memory.

And every year I received a perfunctory thank you letter. My friend, on the other hand, was profuse in her gratitude. She never let me forget what I was doing in her son’s memory. She participated tirelessly in a number of events benefiting the organization.

After I left the foundation, I continued to give in Michael’s name. There were times I never received so much as an acknowledgment from the charity.

And, years later, when my friend confided that she herself was no longer supporting the charity, after years of shabby treatment as both a volunteer and donor, I ended close to twenty years of support.

There are two lessons in my story.

1.  How do you recognize your organization’s “in memoriam” gifts?  Do you automatically dismiss them as “one-time” gifts, or do you cultivate and plant seeds? If the gift is made online, do you offer the option of an annual gift?

In the cultivation process, the first gift is only the first step in creating lifetime relationships. That goes for in-memoriam gifts as well.  A donor already has a strong emotional connection when they make an in-memoriam gift.  Map out your processes.

2.  And, when an organization fails at implementing across-the-board donor-centricity, there is a good chance they’re also failing at the other relationships that create a strong, healthy nonprofit.

Additional Resources

What to include in a memorial notification letter  and

Acknowledging memorial gifts: What you need to know from the Little Green Engine blog.

Don’t Treat Them Like They’re Dead!

How soon does the sorry window close?

In lieu of flowers: how to write lively memorial donation thank-you letters

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What’s your strategy for “in memoriam” gifts?

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