Coronavirus and legacies: Inspiring heartfelt goodbyes with in-memory fundraising

Coronavirus and legacies: Inspiring heartfelt goodbyes with in-memory fundraising

Guest Bloggers | 13 May 2020

Kate Jenkinson from Legacy Foresight looks at how this climate is particularly challenging for in-memory fundraising but outlines some measures that can help. This blog forms part of a series curated by Remember A Charity, the Chartered Institute of Fundraising’s long-term campaign to grow legacy giving.

How quickly we modify our definition of good news at a time of crisis. A couple of weeks ago, Matt Hancock announced new measures allowing close family members to visit their dying relatives for a final goodbye. "Wanting to be with someone at the end of their life is one of our deepest human instincts," he conceded. “It's a moment that will be with you forever.”

Sadly, this relaxation of restrictions has come too late for thousands of grieving families.

Nowhere is this disconnect between loved ones being felt more keenly than in our near-deserted crematoria, the backdrop to a mounting number of ‘ghost funerals’. As venues set limits on numbers, families are finding themselves subject to a cruel new postcode lottery. Unbearable decisions have been made about who to admit, who to turn away. Too many people have found themselves stripped of the opportunity of saying their goodbyes. What does this mean for in-memory giving?

Funeral giving is still the largest segment of the charity in-memory market, accounting for over a third of total gift value (In-Memory Insight research, 2019). While many funeral supporters give once, others go on to engage in numerous different ways – purchasing commemorative items, taking part in events, even leaving a gift in their will. A great first experience of stewardship at the time of the funeral can be the cornerstone for a long, fulfilling relationship with the charity.

At Legacy Foresight, we’ve long talked of a secret disappointment syndrome connected with the traditional funeral experience – where next-of-kin are left feeling they haven’t done ‘proper justice’ to their loved one. Despite their best intentions, the old-style service just wasn’t a relevant, fitting or generous enough tribute. We know this has fuelled the rapid growth of highly personalised remembrance events; we’ve seen it stimulate in-memory giving to charities. Tribute funds, in particular, are seized on by supporters who have no wish to close the door on their remembrance and actively seek out ways to make sense of their loss.

But this pandemic is causing memorial deprivation on a whole new level. What will happen to these people who have been denied the opportunity to give loved ones any kind of meaningful send-off? How will their experience impact on charities?

We anticipate a delay effect, where close relatives will wait a few months until restrictions are lifted before congregating for the memorial event of their own design. If anything, these events will be even more personal than those they replace. There will be greater emphasis on celebration, more resistance to sad memories. But will charities still feature? If they do, this might centre around marking connections with charities that reflected how that person lived rather than how they died.

With the nation battling high levels of loss and grief, it is a particularly challenging climate for in-memory fundraising. Charities need to work hard to stay relevant and front of mind, but also to communicate with great sensitivity. There are lots of measures that could help:

  • Make sure that the in-memory content on your website is easily accessible. Revisit this content now. Is it as informative and inspiring as it could be? Is it genuinely warm and appreciative, making it clear how much your charity values in-memory gifts? Is it still relevant, acknowledging these exceptional times?
  • In particular, is your funeral collection information engaging, helpful and sensitive? Do you advise on fundraising at any memorial event, e.g. by signposting to third-party collection pages?
  • Tell supporters how your charity uses in-memory gifts, as this could reflect directly on the person they’re remembering
  • Include an outlet or forum for the donor to share and celebrate their loved one. If you don’t currently offer tribute funds, could you create an online book of condolences to accommodate storytelling?
  • Remember, the way your charity treats all supporters during this period will not be forgotten. The role of supportive, non-ask communications at this time is vital, including those to existing in-memory donors.


Beyond the funeral, Legacy Foresight estimates that other types of event fundraising account for a further third of in-memory motivated giving. With the collapse of the seasonal events market, we’re already anticipating a saturation effect as restrictions are lifted, with charities rushing to cram a summer’s worth of postponed events into the pre-Christmas period.

Perhaps, in these extraordinary times, fundraising should be less about trying to replicate opportunities that have passed by and more about embracing the new. As embodied by Captain Tom, heroically circling his garden, lockdown has spawned a new spirit for creative, alternative events. Could our pent-up desire to get outdoors and exercising again hint at a new blueprint for smart event fundraisers? Does the wave of community spirit we’ve seen over the past month herald an era of more informal in-memory fundraising events set up by families, communities and workplaces?

As one donor said recently, “Who isn’t quietly planning their street party for when all this is over?”

We’ll be exploring the impact of the coronavirus on in-memory giving – both short and long term, bad and good – in our next cycle of In-Memory Insight research. For more information, contact Caroline Waters.

More on how the pandemic could affect in-memory giving can be found here.

Kate Jenkinson is Head of In-Memory Consultancy at Legacy Foresight. She is author of the Chapter 'Giving In Memory of Others' in the DSC's popular textbook, 'Legacy and In-Memory Fundraising’, and a regular speaker on in-memory fundraising.Remember A Charity

Remember A Charity run the Institute of Fundraising’s long-term campaign to grow legacy giving. Find out more about the campaign here.