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In memory fundraising

Updated: May 25, 2021

I hold a regular Cuppa and Chat session in my Facebook group. In February, 45 of us came together to discuss ideas, best practise around In-Memory fundraising, and I’m delighted to share some of these tips and ideas with you.

We’re continuing the conversations in my Facebook group. If you work in any area of Public Fundraising, please do come join us.

Where does in-mem sit?

This data is taken from the 31 fundraisers who responded to a poll in the chat. Most respondents said that in-mem sat under IG.

“Other” was higher than expected and the responses were varied. Most said that in-mem was woven across all teams. At least one said it was “no-one’s responsibility”.

Why is in-memory fundraising so important?

We opened the session by sharing a bit about why giving in memory is so important. The main reason is because it can be an important part of someone’s grief journey.

“Grief is just love. And because that person is gone and we can’t pour our love onto them with hugs, words or gifts…we give our love in other ways. Giving to a charity that supported our loved one, or that was close to their heart is just one of the ways we show love after they’ve gone.”

This is such an important thing for us to remember in our fundraising. Thank you to Emily Grint for sharing these beautiful words with us. (I hope I paraphrased correctly.)

Ideas for stewarding and thanking in memory supporters

Attendees shared the various ways they thank and steward their in mem supporters, some of which we explored in more detail.

  • Handwritten thank you cards

  • A packet of Forget me not or wildflower seeds (a personal favourite of mine)

  • A personalised candle holder and tealight

  • Opportunity to share their stores (online, in newsletter)

  • Message and/or photo in a book of memories (or book of prayer at religious charities) sometimes this is online instead of a physical book

  • Leaf on a memory tree

  • Christmas cards

  • Invites to special in-mem donor events

  • Invites to general supporter thank you events

  • Researchers report once a year (specific to a medical research charity. This same idea of a special report or update on the work could be used too)

  • Anniversary thank you or recognition on the anniversary date

Not all of these are offered to all donors and varied between a one-off in mem donor, in-mem fundraisers and funeral collections, or those who set up tribute funds and often raise very large sums. Think about what works at your charity, who your in-mem supporters are, and what stewardship or donor journeys would be most appropriate for them.

Personalise personalise personalise

If you ask for a loved one’s name or relationship, make sure you use it. This may mean you need to invest time and resource into making sure your automatic forms can do this. It’s a needed investment. Giving in memory is so personal, the last thing that donor needs is “You rock for making an amazing £10 donation to XYZ Charity!”

Mix your mediums Just because someone gave online doesn’t mean you can’t also send a letter or card. A short note of condolences and thanks can mean so much.

An online giving experience is over and done in a few minutes, and can feel quite impersonal. Getting a personal note a few days later will deepen the connection to the charity, and help that donor continue to feel proud that they did a good thing in memory of their loved one.

Handwrite wherever possible

Not a unique tip to in-mem fundraising, but perhaps where it is the most important. You want your donor to know that another person took the time to acknowledge them. Not that a generic letter went out in a batch of hundreds.

How to further engage and communicate with in-mem supporters

There was a lot of talk about how best to manage on going communications with this special group of supporters.

Ring-fence them At a couple of charities, in-mem supporters are permanently ring-fenced. No communications are sent to them without the in-mem fundraiser ok-aying it and the message or any ask.

We heard a couple of horror stories of incidents where in-mem supporters were sent really inappropriate asks (“Buy this gift for your mum this Mother’s Day!” when supporters had just given in memory of their mothers…not great!)

The thing with this is, it requires fundraisers (and your database) to be completely on top of things. It may be worth while if you have particularly sensitive relationships with in-mem supporters, or if your donor pool is small enough to easily ring fence.

Think about timings Most of the attendees agreed that no fundraising asks within a year was appropriate. I’d suggest there are exceptions to this, for instance if the ask is very clearly in-memory such as Light Up a Life or a remembrance event.

However, you want to keep your donors engaged and understanding the impact they made. I’d suggest a newsletter (perhaps with a “stewardship only” letter and no donation form if your newsletter normally has an ask) so you can still share stories and how your in-mem supporters are making a difference.

Specific in-memory events/appeals Where another ask is made of in-memory supporters, this is often limited to (or at least in the first 12-18 months) to only being other in memory asks – such as remembrance events.

It’s important to remember that we don’t make decisions for our supporters. Giving in memory is a really personal decision, and for many people making an annual gift or attending a remembrance event could be really important. So don’t make that decision for them by saying you won’t send them an ask. In addition, in memory supporters often give at a higher level and with a greater response rate to a specialist in memory appeal than any other.

Events and products

For anyone new to in memory fundraising, here’s a run down of some of the in-memory events or ways to give often offered.

Memory trees

There was a lot of talk about memory trees and other similar remembrance displays. (Side note - how gorgeous is this Lavender design that I saw go by on LinkedIn) Often displayed in reception or another common area of a charities building, each leaf is in honour of someone lost, sometimes with a personal message. Donors can sometimes choose a different size, colour or design by gift level, and how long they want their leaf to be on the tree. This can be a really important way for someone to place a ‘lasting’ tribute to their loved one somewhere it will be read by a lot of people. I loved the charities that said when someone no longer wants to renew their leaf, that the leaf is packed in a special presentation box and sent to the family so they can keep it if they want to. That’s a really lovely opportunity for a really special thank you for everything they’ve done over a period of time.

Light up a life / Lights of Love A Christmas event that is normally very reflective in nature. Generally, a short service which includes readings, talks and music. May be religious or secular depending on the charity. At the end a Christmas tree or strings of lights are turned on, each light representing a loved one. Supporters donate “for” a light, often with a pre-event DM appeal and digital marketing. All supporters and families are welcome to attend. On the night some charities may also fundraise through collections or merchandise such as battery candles or pin badges.

Sunflowers / daffodils

Normally more of a “celebration of life” type event, often held in Spring or Summer. People may buy a physical flower made from metal or ceramic and see them displayed somewhere, then take them home at the end (think of the Remembrance Poppies at national landmarks).

Challenges / community fundraising Sometimes families may want something to focus on to help them process their grief or feel close to a loved one. You only have to cheer at a Marathon for an hour to see the beautiful messages like “Running for mum” or “26.2 miles for Grandad” to know how important a physical challenge can be as an act of remembrance. We didn’t talk about this much in the session, but it’s so key for in-memory and events fundraisers to work closely together so supporters can be stewarded and thanked appropriately. It’s why I advocate for Public Fundraising teams – it makes that cross-over that little bit easier if it’s all one team.

Marketing in memory giving

Let the memory tree do it for you When placed somewhere visitors often see it, it’s a clear way of explaining how to give in this way. People can read the messages and pick up a leaflet if this is something they’d like to do. It’s important the leaflets are high-quality and well-designed. In memory supporters will want to feel they’re doing something special for their loved one, not that it’s a cheap marketing gimmick.

Relationships with funeral directors

For local or regional charities in particular, relationships with funeral directors can be really key.

  • Build relationships in the same way you would others in your community. Start with your data – are there any FDs that already support you? An intro phone call and initial meeting to discuss working together could help.

  • Engage them as a unique group of supporters. A couple of fundraisers shared that they run regular webinars or networking events just for staff or owners of FDs.

  • Keep them up to date, ensure they always have the most current literature and information.

  • Be aware of the difference between a FD supporting you and the charity recommending particular FDs. They may not always be the same thing, and you may want to think about who you work with as supporters.

If your charity is one that might suggest Funeral Directors to a family as part of the work of the charity, you need to make sure any implied recommendation (sponsorship, listing them on your website etc) is in line with FD’s your charity would also genuinely recommend without any financial obligation.

Information in bereavement packs If you are a charity such as a Hospice, this may be something you can do. Of course it needs to be done sensitively, but as we spoke about, giving in memory can be an important part of a grief journey and so this could be welcomed by many family members. It’s sometimes tricky to do this if the service delivery staff don’t understand in memory fundraising. A slow drip feed of explaining that importance is key. Showing examples of where giving in memory has helped a family can also be really powerful. If you can; use a story with a quote or photo from an in-mem supporter in your literature.

Little and often messaging Make sure you talk about in-memory giving in your printed newsletter, on your website, in your email updates and on social media. Your aim here is to drip feed it, not blast all your supporters at once. Use stories and quotes wherever possible.

More resources and tools

Online remembrance platforms

We covered a lot in the hour that we met online. Thank you so much to all of the fab fundraisers who shared their insights and expertise. This blog is a collaborative effort from all of you.

Subscribers to my newsletter got to see this blog first before I shared it elsewhere. To have articles like this from me and other brilliant fundraisers across the sector pop into your inbox you can sign up to receive emails from me here.

You’ll also find out about upcoming Cuppa and Chat sessions. I hope to see you at a future one!

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