Thursday, November 21, 2013
In Memoriam and In Honor Gifts
Every now and then, life challenges us in ways unimaginable. This week, my friend's father passed away and I have been stewarding the family through the process. Was I prepared? Is this something I've ever done before? Nope. Did my skills in donor relations and stewardship come in very handy? Absolutely. As a part of the process, we identified two organizations and funds that would receive gifts in lieu of flowers or memorials. It was a difficult process but in the end a very rewarding one. Do you have your ducks in a row for donors or families who choose your nonprofit to donate to?
If you don't, I highly encourage you examine your processes. When a bereaved family member or representative calls, who answers the phone and what is the process? Do you have something in place to make it less awkward and troublesome for them? What does your notification process look like? Can donors sends card or note from you to let the family know? Do you have notecards for families who want to send thank yous to the donors? Instead of just giving them a list of people who have contributed, why not also provide them with some beautiful notecards and a pen to help them complete their notes?
I can tell you from a few days of experience that it's wonderful to have someone take care of the details for you, someone you can call at the nonprofit to ask questions and help you through the process. Are your notifications simply a modified receipt or is it truly a sensitive and meaningful touch point. Have you made sure that the donors who give in honor or in memory of someone don't receive a phone or mail solicitation the next month or quarter?
Have you spoken with your development officers and front line fundraisers? Let's encourage everyone not to establish restricted or endowed funds in memory of someone unless you know there will be adequate gifts to fulfill the minimum. There is nothing worse than a memorial or honorarium fund that goes unspent or doesn't have enough money in it to award. Explaining that to a family is awkward at best. It's hard to tell a family that many their family member's death or loss won't raise the minimum, but it's better to steer them to unrestricted or scholarship or something and then think of recognition later to avoid those pitfalls. I've seen too many memorial gifts go wrong, it can reopen a horrible wound.
Don't ask the family or representative to complete lots of paperwork in order to make this happen, especially in the beginning. Unfortunately death brings a great deal of paperwork with it, I was shocked by it, so adding one more thing is an undue burden to them. Help them and offer to be a resource but take the bureaucracy out of the process if possible. Many of these things sound like common sense, but you would be amazed at how many people get it wrong.
What does your process look like? Have you been through this before? What are other tips and tricks you can share to help us all?