Thinking outside the box: Why funeral giving will never be the same again

Kate Jenkinson

Guest Bloggers | 10 September 2019

Kate Jenkinson, Head of In-Memory Consultancy at Legacy Foresight, takes a looks at how charitable giving at funerals has changed over time.

Pacts of friendship run deep. Mourning his best mate Kevin, Black Watch soldier Barry Delaney was determined to honour the solemn promise he’d made before his posting to Afghanistan. Dutifully, he appeared at Kevin’s graveside in a tight, fluorescent lime dress, bright pink leg warmers and hiking boots.

Oh, picture the faces of our forefathers! Desire for highly personalised remembrance is sweeping like a tide through our funerals and memorial events. And rightly so: as a nation, we’re no more a homogeneous mass in the ways we pay tribute than we are in the ways we live and love. The established church funeral, with its tight-lipped deference to convention, is crumbling. If a copybook can be ripped up, this one’s going through an industrial shredder.

An elderly relative once told me that her high-point at funerals was always the ‘big reveal’ of the benefitting charity – the only element of the proceedings that ever varied. And not many years ago, a genuine feeling prevailed among fundraisers that if you offered collection envelopes to supporters, you could effectively tick off funeral fundraising. Never mind inspiring a valued way to support. Envelopes were all about smoothing the facilitation of something we all assumed would happen anyway.

‘Funerals are changing’

You heard it first from us: funerals are changing, and the effect on charitable giving is beginning to show. New research from Legacy Foresight suggests that the proportion of people donating at funerals has been sliding – modestly but significantly – since 2006. We’ve heard anecdotally that for some charities, funeral collection values are falling away. We’ve suggested that families’ reclaiming of memorial services raises a major red flag because the traditional mechanisms of a collection – the plate, the envelopes, bums on pews, the obliging funeral director – are no longer givens. The cookie-cutter approach has had its day.

But fragmentation takes many forms, and we need to up our game. Diversification of remembrance is not just about the pervasive waning of Christianity and the parallel growth of an alternative, personal spirituality. People of minority faiths accounted for more than 8% of the UK population at last count – a figure that the American thinktank Pew Research Center predicts will have doubled by 2050. While the proportion of us claiming to have no religious affiliation continues to rise, so too does the percentage aligned to other faiths.

Legacy Foresight has recently conducted some fascinating research into the different rituals and traditions around bereavement and remembrance observed by these diverse groups. We learnt that Hindu and Sikh funerals, for example, can be huge, with attendance by family, friends and acquaintances considered even more important than it is for weddings. For Jewish people – for whom honouring the dead and comforting the mourner are two important Commandments – funerals and mourning are simple and traditional, making collection envelopes inappropriate. But donations to honour loved ones are commonplace at later dates – including on the anniversary of their death (Yahrzeit), and accompanying memorial prayers on certain Jewish holidays (Yizkor).

‘Don’t take the faith based funeral for granted’

For in-memory fundraisers, this should be another wake-up call about not taking the long-established, broadly Christian, faith-based funeral for granted. While the underlying motivations for giving in-memory may be universal, in reality, practices, awareness and ability to give vary widely by community. For we all belong to many overlapping communities: communities of interest, of geography, of faith, even of fancy-dress preference. We need actively to acknowledge the differences amongst our supporters, taking our time and starting from the point of genuine two-way engagement.

Rather than trying to target everyone at once, this partnership approach is about considering the communities that are most relevant to our particular causes and locations, their circumstances, needs and potential motivations for supporting us. This will help us tailor channels, media, messages and language accordingly. Building relationships with specialist third-party agencies can really help here.

Ultimately, success with in-memory fundraising takes in the entire charity brand experience so relies on integration across the whole organisation. But simply leaving the cookie-cutter at the door will be a great first step.

If you would like to find out more about Legacy Foresight’s research into the different faith groups and their cultures of giving, as presented at this year’s Fundraising Convention, request a copy here.

Kate Jenkinson is Head of In-Memory Consultancy at Legacy Foresight.

To celebrate their 25th anniversary, Legacy Foresight will be launching a new report speculating about our lives in 2045 at the Legacy Fundraising Conference 2019. View the full programme and book your place here.

This week is the 10th Remember A Charity in your Will Week – take a look at the campaign and what is taking place here




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