Memorial gifts are certainly not the latest, hottest giving vehicle in the gift planning world. As a matter of fact, memorial gifts have been around since before the first millennium began. Plato left an endowment of land to perpetuate his school, the Academy, which was named in honor of the Attic hero Academus. Many churches and chapels in medieval times were built thanks to funds from wealthy parishioners as gifts in honor of themselves and loved ones.
Thus, memorial gifts have for many years represented a significant component of many of the most successful fund development efforts. They offer donors a special service – a way to express their feelings and/or establish a legacy in a charitable manner.
As the traditional season of memorial giving approaches (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, etc.), now may be an especially opportune time to examine how memorial gifts can build a bridge from current to deferred gifts.
Memorial for you, memorial for me
Today memorial gifts are generally made in one of two ways:
Gifts in memory of others – Memorials given in someone’s name are often relatively small current gifts, sometimes gifts made in lieu of flowers after a loved one passes away. These types of memorial and honor gifts are what the majority of development officers and donors are most familiar with. In other cases, larger memorial gifts are made through the use of a planned giving vehicle, such as a charitable trust or gift annuity, or included in a donor’s estate plans as a bequest. These larger gifts may be given in honor of the donor’s parents, grandparents, or other loved ones and may provide an opportunity to name a program, building, or other edifice for the person being memorialized.
Gifts that honor the donor – Many donors find that making memorial gifts to charitable organizations that are important to them offers them the additional benefit of perpetuating their own memory. Self-memorializing, or making gifts in one’s own honor, has long been a popular practice as part of “bricks and mortar” campaigns. While memorial gifts for capital projects like buildings are generally made as part of campaigns for current funding, most often gifts for scholarships and endowment funds for particular projects are completed as part of donors’ estate plans. Because self-memorializing gifts are usually made to establish a donor’s ultimate legacy, they are often the largest memorial gifts of all. Whether a donor gives in honor of a loved one or in honor of himself/herself, it is important to note that memorial givers as a group are special because:
- they attach special meaning to their gifts
- they are thoughtful
- they are often repetitive, loyal givers
- they have established an interest in the organizations to which they give.
Memorials in the new millennium
Memorial gifts will no doubt continue to be made for traditional bricks and mortar projects as well as for named endowment funds and other program-oriented projects. Gift planners need to plan for a new wave of donors who may be more interested in different types of memorial giving opportunities. Consider the fact that 70 million people will turn age 65 in the next 20 years and will be considering how best to make their ultimate gifts of a lifetime. Many will enjoy inheritances from parents and may be particularly interested in honoring their memory and that of other departed loved ones.
Now is a good time to reacquaint your donors with memorial giving opportunities. Remind your constituents that every gift can include a memorial aspect. For example, explain that annual and campaign pledges may be made in honor of a loved one, thereby allowing a donor’s gift to do “double duty.” Fund development programs should also continue to encourage memorial and honor gifts such as gifts in lieu of flowers and tributes to family and friends on special occasions.
Once you receive memorial gifts, be sure to acknowledge the gifts in a timely and sensitive manner. Respond to both the family of the honoree and those who donated, thanking them both for their generosity and interest in your organization. Some organizations present the family of the honoree with a certificate bearing all the names of those who donated on their loved one’s behalf. Other gift planners make it a policy to personally call or visit with the honoree¹s family to explain how the memorial gifts will be used in their organizations.
However you decide to acknowledge your donors, remember that the thanks you give them today is just one step in the cultivation of long-term relationships that could lead to planned gifts in the future. As baby boomers replace their parents as planned givers, think of a well-executed memorial and honor gifts development effort as an opportunity to further demonstrate that your organization or institution is worthy of both their current and future gifts. Ultimately the goal of the memorial program is to promote a mutually beneficial alliance between the donors, the family of those honored, and your organization or institution. Once such an alliance is established, it is up to the gift planner to preserve and nurture that relationship so that it can become a bridge to future planned gifts.