Posted February 1st, 2012

Memorial Motivations and Planned Giving

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day and a number of upcoming religious holidays mark the beginning of the memorial giving season. The months ahead offer the perfect time for gift planners to promote the memorial concept to their constituents.

The desire to create a lasting tribute to a loved one is one of the most powerful motivations for making a bequest or other planned gift, according to a number of past surveys by the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning.

Show them the way

As with most charitable giving opportunities, memorial and honor giving needs to be regularly explained to your donors: Tell friends of your organization about memorial giving by sending an informational mailing on the subject or by using materials on this subject as gift acknowledgment inserts.

Communications encouraging memorial gifts need not be complicated. Many organizations include information about memorial gifts on their websites and may send one or more annual appeals built around the concept of memorial giving.

A typical memorial giving package may include a cover letter, reply device and brochure that explains how memorial and honor gifts allow donors to pay tribute to someone special in a unique and meaningful way. Information about funding options including current gifts and estate gifts should also be included.

Perhaps most important is telling donors about what has been and can be accomplished thanks to their immediate gifts. Memorial gifts also help donors establish a future legacy in memory of loved ones by providing longer-term funds. Your communications should reinforce the fact that you understand those who make memorial and honor gifts are sensitive, thoughtful, caring people who want to make a meaningful donation in honor of a loved one.

A large number of planned gifts each year are made in memory of a spouse, child, sibling, parent or other loved one who has predeceased the donor. Whether in the form of a bequest, gift annuity, charitable remainder trust, remainder from retirement plans or other methods of giving, planned gifts offer a unique way for donors to make significant gifts.

Evaluate memorial materials

Once policies and procedures have been reviewed and updated, consider the basic materials you will need to carry out your memorial gift program. Do you have effective, attractive acknowledgment cards for both donors and family members of honorees? If so, do you have enough on hand for the upcoming memorial giving season? If the cards need to be updated or redesigned, now is the time to finalize them and print the necessary quantities.

Beyond saying thank you

No matter how you acknowledge memorial donors, it is vitally important to thank them in a timely fashion. Gifts made in memory or in honor of someone are among the most personal of expressions—ones that sometimes occur during very emotional circumstances. Memorial gift donors have usually put a great deal of thought and care into the decision to make the gift.

Make every effort to process memorial gifts promptly. In some of the more successful programs, all memorial and tribute gifts are handled on the same day they are received. Acknowledging memorial gifts immediately helps ensure your donors’ continued confidence.

This prompt processing should also apply to notifying the families of memorial and tribute gift recipients. Families often request that memorial gifts be made in honor of a loved one who has just passed away. Timely recognition of such gifts can be helpful to the family who would also like to send their own prompt expressions of gratitude to those who donated in honor of their loved one.

Details, details, details

Just as timely notification of memorial gifts is critical, so too is accurate processing. Make it your policy to double-check every donor’s and honoree’s name as well as addresses for both. Review the names and addresses of family members who will be notified of the gifts. If you are processing an honor gift, ask the donor if the gift is for a special occasion, such as an anniversary or birthday, and record the occasion for which the gift is being made.

In addition, consider revising the letters you send to honorees and family members of those in whose memories gifts have been made. Many donors make multiple gifts, so be sure you are not sending the same form letter on multiple occasions to the same donor. If time permits, a handwritten note may be the best way to assure a personal response. In any event, make certain that letters to the families of those who are honored adequately express your sympathy and gratitude.

Donors who make planned gifts are often among the most thoughtful and careful donors. Good stewardship of even the smallest memorial gifts is one key to building the confidence necessary to help a donor decide to make much larger gifts in the future.

The publisher of Give & Take is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Give & Take may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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