As a fundraiser, your daily or weekly routine likely includes sending acknowledgment letters to donors who made a gift to your organization. You may be so accustomed to this process that you don’t have to think twice before generating an acknowledgment letter and dropping it into the mail. Are you as comfortable with your process for acknowledging memorial gifts?
You probably don’t receive memorial gifts as often as you receive traditional gifts, so it’s understandable if the process isn’t second nature to you.
As you set up your process for acknowledging memorial gifts, you may feel intimidated about writing to people who are grieving. It might help you to think of your role this way: your job isn’t to console. Instead, you are sharing that their loved one is being remembered in a meaningful, thoughtful way. This is an opportunity to play a positive role in carrying forward someone’s legacy and extending kindness to their family and friends during a difficult time.
One of the most important things to remember is that you typically need to send two different letters after your organization receives a memorial gift: an acknowledgment letter to the donor and a notification letter to family of the deceased.
1. Communicate with the family or donor
Often, the family of the deceased will reach out to let you know that the organization is named as a recipient of memorial contributions. Use this opportunity to ask which family member should receive notifications of gifts, make sure you have that person’s contact information, and to learn about the deceased’s connection to your organization or mission.
If you receive a memorial donation seemingly out of the blue and don’t recognize the name of the deceased, you may want to contact the donor to thank them for the gift and ask if there’s a family member they’d like you to notify of the gift.
Tip: If you receive a memorial donation and you don’t recognize the name of the deceased or don’t see the name in your database, it’s worth checking with your executive director, board members, and even former board members to see if the person has a relationship to the organization that you aren’t aware of.
2. Acknowledge that the gift is a memorial donation
Create an acknowledgment template that’s intended specifically for donors who make memorial gifts. You can adjust the content of the letter as needed, but having a template for this purpose gives you a great place to start. It doesn’t have to be long or complicated – consider including a message as this one:
Thank you so much for your donation to the Ocean Point Land Trust, made in memory of Sarah Jennings. Your contribution will carry Sarah’s legacy forward and help protect open space in our community. Thank you for this meaningful gift.
Remember to include gift details, such as gift date and gift amount, in your acknowledgment letter to the donor.
3. Create a notification letter template to notify a family member of donations made in their loved one’s memory
In a notification letter, you do not include the gift amount received but it’s a good idea to include the names and addresses of the donors so that the family can send thank you cards if they wish. Here’s an example of text you can include in your notification letter:
Thank you so much for honoring your wife’s memory by recognizing Ocean Point Land Trust. We feel privileged to be able to honor Sarah’s memory, and her commitment to land conservation, thanks to donations received in her memory. The following donors made contributions in celebration of Sarah’s legacy:
Nancy Trout 113 Main Street Granville, OH 43023
Jim Schmidt 12 Bass Lane Granville, OH 43023
4. Build relationships.
It’s very important to send acknowledgments and notifications out in a timely manner, but the process doesn’t need to end there. It’s a good idea to send a follow-up letter to the donors and family members in a few months, letting them know how the donations are being used. Connect the memorial gifts to a tangible outcome. The update doesn’t have to be long; a brief update will mean a lot and remind them that their loved one is being honored in an ongoing way. Here’s an example:
Thank you again for honoring Sarah’s memory with a gift to Ocean Point Land Trust. We wanted to write to let you know that yesterday, Ocean Point Land Trust placed a new parcel of land under conservation easement. Your donation made in Sarah’s memory was instrumental in making this possible. Today, ten additional acres of beautiful land are preserved and protected in perpetuity. It’s an enduring symbol of Sarah’s commitment to our community. Thank you for honoring Sarah and for sharing her legacy with generations to come.
Ongoing: Once you’ve acknowledged gifts and sent an update, you can include these donors and family members in your organization’s newsletter mailing list to keep them informed of your work. Whenever possible, include a handwritten note with the mailing. Stewarding these donors will help them feel a connection to their loved one, and can help ensure ongoing support from them.
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