In Memoriam giving remains one of the most under-developed and reactive methods of raising funds within the whole voluntary sector. Yet the opportunities it presents for both securing significant levels of income and building powerful, long-term relationships with supporters is almost unique. John Grain explains why.

Five colourful bunches of flowers
Donations in lieu of flowers are becoming the norm

Consider for a moment the tragic case of Claire Squires who died while competing in the London Marathon in April – an event she was doing in memory of her own brother. Within days, her JustGiving page was transformed into an In-Memoriam site and, at the time of writing, has raised just under £1m for the Samaritans (excluding Gift Aid) from over 80,000 separate donations.

The critical thing to understand is that the motivation for the donation is not the charity or organisation itself, but the recognition both of, and for, the loved one

It is widely accepted now that the value of In-Memoriam giving is very significantly higher than is formally recorded, as very often it is not captured as a motivation for a charitable gift. In 2007, JustGiving had 2,000 In-Memoriam pages (with around £3m income), by 2010 this had grown to 8,000 pages and around £8m income. This is estimated to rise to around 30,000 pages by 2021 and £27m per annum on JustGiving alone. In the USA, 87% of all obituaries now mention donations in lieu of flowers (that is well over two million charitable collections per year).

By better understanding people’s motivations for In-Memoriam giving and adopting a strategy to sensitively and appropriately build pro-active relationships, this can become a hugely important and valuable source of sustainable, long-term income. Typically, In-Memoriam gifts are left for two reasons. Firstly, to benefit an organisation that has directly helped or supported the deceased during their illness or hardship (for example, a local hospice or hospital ward, charities like Macmillan Cancer Support, the Motor Neurone Disease Association or the Alzheimer’s Society). This is a way for family and close friends to directly say thank you and ‘give something back’.

Secondly, and of much more relevance to arts organisations, it is to support an organisation or institution that the deceased was enthusiastic about or heavily involved in. What can be termed a ‘loved in life’ motivation, where the giving is prompted by a celebration of their loved one’s passion or interest. The critical thing to understand is that the motivation for the donation is not the charity or organisation itself, but the recognition both of, and for, the loved one. It is this motivation that will be the primary driver of any future gifts, but not if you fail to recognise this in future communications.

Currently, many organisations will receive the contribution from a funeral collection via the next of kin or the Funeral Director and aside from a nice, sensitive thank you letter that will be the end of the relationship. Others will sporadically send newsletters (in print or online) about the organisation’s work, but nothing else. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it is an entirely reactive approach that singularly fails to acknowledge the hugely personal motivation of In Memory gifts. By capturing this motivation in ongoing communications and letting the donor know you are aware of their circumstances, you can create a relationship that is far more likely to be respected and productive on both sides.

If this approach is allied to a proactive strategy providing appropriate fundraising offers, propositions and engagement opportunities then very significant and perhaps, more importantly, sustainable income can result. The basics of a strategy should include regular promotion of In-Memoriam giving, the development of Tribute Funds (particularly online), regular giving products, and opportunities to provide tangible memorials (if possible). All of these provide excellent engagement channels and are not difficult to implement.

Perhaps the biggest change in In-Memoriam fundraising recently has come with the introduction of Tribute Funds. This is an approach that allows close family and/or friends to create and fundraise for a loved one via a dedicated memorial page. Particularly popular online, it allows people to add photos, capture memories, blog, and set up virtual tributes whilst raising money for the benefitting charity in the ways they feel most comfortable with. So while Granny may set up a Direct Debit, a grandson may run the London Marathon and work colleagues hold a sponsored sporting event. All of these generate income for the Tribute Fund, and there is no limit to how and what people can choose to do to fundraise. In all probability this is income which, in the past, would never have been raised without a vehicle of this kind.

Consider the Meningitis Trust who, from setting up a Tribute Fund programme around five years ago, now attribute well over £2m of income to this area. They have even set up a Memorial Garden in Stroud, planting roses (once a fund reaches £500) and placing tasteful etched oak pegs (£5,000) on site and available for Tribute Fund holders to visit. So far around one quarter of Funds have achieved the £5,000 income level. With reputable suppliers like offering a flexible and customisable online platform to all voluntary organisations for a minimal cost, the scope for offering a high-quality and impressive Tribute Fund scheme is within reach of everyone.

Finally, it is fundamental to the success of In Memoriam fundraising that the stewardship of these supporters is of the very highest standard. The income potential is such that many could and should be viewed in the same way as Major Donors to your organisation: with the right approach, sensitive handling, and appropriate acknowledgement they can be enthused and inspired to raise very significant funds for your organisation.

John Grain is Director of John Grain Associates, a specialist fundraising consultancy with particular expertise in In-Memoriam Giving.

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