Posted February 1st, 1999

Spring Cleaning for Gift Planners: Spruce Up Your Memorial Program

Whether your organization or institution has 500 or 500,000 donors, chances are good that there are persons who have made gifts to your organization in honor or in memory of someone close to them. In an increasingly affluent society, combining charitable giving with tributes to loved ones is gaining in popularity as a way to let discretionary dollars do double duty. As spring approaches and we head into the prime time of the charitable memorial giving season, now is the perfect time to review and “freshen up” your memorial and honor gift program for maximum effectiveness in the months ahead.

As with any other fund development endeavor, a successful memorial gift program should begin by establishing clear and organized policies and procedures. While memorial giving procedures and the way they are carried out will necessarily vary from charity to charity, there are two main ingredients that all organizations should include in their policy mix.

No time like the present

First, no matter how your organization decides to acknowledge memorial givers, 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 and ones that often occur during very emotional circumstances. Memorial gift donors are typically persons who have put a great deal of thought and care into the decision to make their gift. For this reason, every effort should be made to process memorial gifts promptly. In many successful programs, an important policy is to handle all memorial and tribute gifts on the same day they are received. Acknowledging memorial gifts immediately helps ensure donors’ continued confidence in your organization.

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

Accuracy is the best policy

Just as timely notification of memorial gifts is critical, so too is accurate processing. Make it your policy to doublecheck every donor’s and honoree’s name as well as addresses for both. Also 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.

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? Look back on your records from the past few years to determine how many acknowledgment cards you will need. If the cards need to be updated or redesigned, now is the time to finalize the new look and print the necessary quantities.

In addition, reread and consider revising the letters you send to family members of honorees and memorial gift donors. 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 deceased adequately express your sympathy and condolences in a thoughtful and tasteful manner. Make sure that letters to donors demonstrate your organization’s gratitude for the memorial gifts, as well. Memorial gifts are sincere, thoughtful, personal gestures from donors. Therefore, make sure your memorial giving letters are sincere, thoughtful, personal expressions that articulate your organization’s genuine gratitude.

Prepare promotional pieces

As with most charitable giving opportunities, memorial and honor giving needs to be regularly explained to your donors. Donors should be consistently educated about how and why they may want to make memorial and tribute gifts to your organization. One of the most economical and effective ways to tell friends of your organization about memorial giving is by sending an informational mailing on the subject.

A mailing encouraging memorial gifts need not be complicated. Many organizations send at least one annual appeal built around the concept of memorial giving. Most memorial giving promotional mailings generally consist of a cover letter, reply device, and an informational brochure. The brochure should explain how memorial and honor gifts allow donors to pay tribute to someone special in a unique and meaningful way. The brochure might also point out the variety of funding options available for memorial gifts, such as gifts of cash, stock, or assets from donors’ estates.

Perhaps the most important function of promoting the concept of memorial giving is to inform donors about the positive achievements that can be accomplished thanks to their gifts. Memorial gifts help donors establish a legacy in memory of loved ones and, at the same time, provide charitable organizations with resources to serve others. Memorial giving promotional materials should reinforce the fact that those who make memorial and honor gifts are sensitive, thoughtful, caring people who want to make a meaningful donation in honor of a special loved one.

A bridge to planned giving

Finally, fund-raising veterans know that 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 that might not otherwise be possible in the form of a check or other outright gift. Donors who make planned gifts are often among the most thoughtful and careful donors. Good stewardship of even the smallest memorial gifts may thus be the 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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