What to do With In-Memoriam/In Honor Donors

March 1, 2019

I admit it. I read the obituaries daily. First, I check to see if my name is there. If it isn’t, I go to work. Seriously though, I always look for folks I know and see if anybody left direction to donate to the charity that I’m associated with. I’m seeing more and more often the direction of the deceased’s family to donate to charity in lieu of flowers.

Let’s look at a case study — Jane Doe passes away and her family respectfully ask that donations be made to your charity to memorialize Ms. Doe. There are 23 gifts, totaling approximately $1,700 that come in through this initiative. You have added these folks to your database (so they can get the proper charitable tax receipt) and you have flagged them as in-memoriam donors.

Do you solicit them for funds in the future? Are they now ‘warm’ prospects? Do you add them to your stewardship plan? What do you do with the family that directed donations to your charity?

I think the underlying theme is that the donors are really not giving to your charity. They are giving to memorialize Ms. Doe. That being said, perhaps some of the 23 donors are already in your database as existing donors (in which case the regular stewardship plan is appropriate). I would suggest that the vast majority of these ‘new’ donors have no affinity to you and it would be disingenuous to treat them as donors.

But what would have happened if there were 300 gifts that totaled $62,000? I would suggest that perhaps you could meet with Ms. Doe’s family to see how you could recognize the $62,000 that was raised (perhaps naming of a room, a program, etc.). Then you could have a stewardship event presenting the Named Opportunity and invite the 300 donors to this initiative. At that time, you may be invited to make a further connection between Ms. Doe’s friends/family and the charity and perhaps warm up the prospect even further.

This is a sensitive situation. Realizing that most first-time donors do not make a second gift, my supposition is that the rate would be even lower for this type of donation.

Please don’t treat these donors as any other newly acquired donors — there is a further degree of separation between the donor and the charity. You cannot force a relationship when the other party is merely interested in the transaction.

Until next week, folks.