Memorial Giving: Overlooked or a Golden Opportunity? | npENGAGE

Memorial Giving: Overlooked or a Golden Opportunity?

By on May 17, 2013


Year-End Giving

“Provide insights to help organizations improve their memorial giving programs.”  This blog topic stumped me a bit since, in spite of years of development experience, this has never been an area of expertise.  I mean, what can you do?  You receive the gifts, mostly from individuals that have no connection to you; you send a nice thank you; and you inform the family of what was received.  Job done.

Or maybe not.  Is there a way to do more with an honor and memorial program?  I have to admit I haven’t heard of many organizations having a lot of success with this.  Many development professionals feel this isn’t an effective way to encourage ongoing gifts, but the topic did get me thinking.

Recently, while researching scholarship support for my daughter from a college where I used to work, I came across a memorial fund that was established during my tenure there twenty years ago.  In fact, I had been the development officer responsible for working with the family and launching the fund.  We received hundreds of gifts—some big, some small—including several thousand dollars from a number of family members of the memorialized student.  I wonder if any of them are aware that twenty years later their gift is still making a difference?

So, are there are opportunities we are overlooking?  A couple of ideas come to mind.  The first—and most obvious—the family.  Are family members routinely invited to provide additional support in their loved one’s honor or memory?  Do you inform them of the difference the gifts have made?  If, as in the case of the scholarship fund I noted, there is an endowment established, the perpetuity of the gifts can be a meaningful lasting reminder to the family.

Next, have any gifts come from existing benefactors?  Don’t assume that all donors are “memorial only”.  Some may already be on your database.  Their memorial giving can be a powerful motivation for future support.  Take advantage of this by inviting them to make their next gift in the individual’s memory as well.   Indeed, it takes a little effort, but done selectively and effectively, it can be the perfect catalyst for an upgrade.

Finally, do you do anything to actually encourage memorials?  I recently came across a blog post from Kate Lindsay Breck, a colleague of mine at Target Analytics:  In this post Kate points out the value of tasteful and timely condolences sent to family members following the passing of a loved one.  Once again, this may not always be practical but, as noted in the post, when the family has a legacy history with your organization, your efforts will not go unnoticed.   You might be surpised at what you inspire.

What does your organization do to make the most of memorial giving?  I would be interested in learning from you.  Comment on this post or email me at


Laura Worcester, senior consultant at Target Analytics, joined Blackbaud in 2001.In her current role she advises nonprofits on utilizing screening results in identifying and evaluating best donor prospects. In 25+ years of fundraising experience, Laura has served as the chief advancement officer for numerous organizations and managed her own consulting business, providing grant writing services to arts, educational and health care organizations. She’s presented at development conferences and has been a regular contributor to Blackbaud’s blogs with selected posts being reprinted in journals such the NonProfit Times. A traveler since her study abroad days in Denmark, Laura’s committed to passing this enthusiasm on to her teenage daughters. Her family’s travel adventures were just featured in a neighborhood magazine in her suburban Milwaukee community. Contact Laura by email.

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