With a pandemic of grief in the wake of COVID-19, there are many practical steps that Australian charities can take to help supporters.

in-memory fundraisingSince the full scale of COVID-19 began to reveal itself back in March this year, many of us have seen our lives change fundamentally – not least in the way we regard our families, our communities, even our natural environment. But nowhere has change been felt more acutely and painfully than in our ability to say goodbye to the people we love.

According to a report by Co-op Funeral Care, Britain’s leading funeral provider, between March and May this year, around 9.7 million mourners were unable to attend the funeral of someone close to them and 243,000 families were denied the send-off they would have chosen for their special person. As crematoria and churches closed their doors, lovingly orchestrated funeral plans had to be reigned in or cancelled outright, friends and relatives turned away. Nearly three quarters of those who did make it to a funeral found themselves in the select company of 10 mourners at most, contrasting starkly with the normal-times average of nearer 50.

These social distancing restrictions have sent profound shockwaves through the UK charity sector. In-memory giving – by which we mean any type of giving or fundraising commemorating the life of someone special – is worth an estimated £2.2b ($3.9bn) to British charities, according to Legacy Foresight’s latest research. Remembrance is recognised as a key reason for people to support charities of all types. Over a third of charities’ in-memory income comes from funeral collections and a further third from in-memory events (this includes participation in large, organised events popular with in-memory donors like the London Marathon and Cancer Research UK’s flagship Race for Life).

Legacy Foresight’s recent In-Memory through the Pandemic survey of over 50 UK charities found that nearly half had experienced a slump in their overall in-memory income for April, compared with the three months prior. Two thirds had seen a decline in income from funerals and almost half from in-memory events.

“If consumers have new determination that these postponed events should be uplifting and celebratory – more about how their loved one lived rather than how they died – we could also be about to witness an evolution in the type of charities benefitting from in-memory giving.”

Many bereaved people have unfinished business. Memorial deprivation syndrome – where mourners have been left haunted by their inability to pay ‘adequate’ tribute to their loved ones – could well trigger a delay effect. Co-op’s research found that lockdown has rapidly accelerated the trend for more simple funerals, with 1 in 10 families now opting for direct cremation (where the disposal of the loved one’s body is kept separate from any celebration of their life.) This compares to 1 in 25 direct cremations before the pandemic. Following on, we now anticipate a new wave of alternative, highly-personalised memorial events as soon as restrictions allow. But whether these new-style events will feature either a funeral director or a ‘traditional’ charity collection is doubtful, presenting charities with an important challenge but also an opportunity. How can they protect this vital income stream from further damage, convincing families that an in-memory collection is still a relevant, highly-valued option?

If consumers have new determination that these postponed events should be uplifting and celebratory – more about how their loved one lived rather than how they died – we could also be about to witness an evolution in the type of charities benefitting from in-memory giving. Health charities and hospices may find their long-held market share shifts in favour of loved-in-life organisations. No wonder that Australian charities in this category, including World Animal Protection, are also turning their focus onto this rapidly-changing area.

Contrasting with the impact on funerals and events, the Legacy Foresight survey highlighted a rise in the use and value of online forms of in-memory giving, most notably tribute funds. Charities and leading platform providers like JustGiving have identified a pattern of increased memorialisation – more visits paid to more in-memory fundraising pages, more in-memory donations, more engagement with virtual remembrance activities like candle-lighting. Online funeral collection platforms are experiencing a significant boom.

Bereaved supporters appear to be drawing great comfort from digital spaces – especially charity’s own platforms – which remain upbeat and uplifting while so many other remembrance offers have been shut down. As with the live-streaming of funerals, these channels have a vital role in maintaining and creating connections, reducing isolation and galvanising supporters, families and communities. Tribute funds in particular may be resonating exactly because of their deep symbolic value as alternative ‘places’ to visit – in celebration, as well as in grief.

While Co-op Funeral Care are warning of a pandemic of grief in the wake of COVID-19, there are many practical steps that Australian charities – like their British counterparts – can do to help supporters through this:

  • A dynamic, online in-memory presence sends a clear message that you are there for them in these exceptional times.
  • Offering online in-memory products that allow for storytelling answers a deep-seated need in donors to ‘heroise’ their loved ones.
  • Offering information about arranging a funeral collection that has been flexed to the new style of ‘anything goes’ memorial events will be appreciated and help protect vital income.
  • Supportive, non-ask direct communications will be even more gratefully received at this time, when so many other connections have been broken.

Finally, your in-memory supporters can be gently encouraged to share what your charity meant to their loved one. If the person being remembered was a supporter, fundraiser or volunteer, then your charity held the status of a ‘significant other’ in their lifetime. The connections they had to your charity are valuable emotional collateral that you can bring to the table to help the family celebrate their life.

Kate Jenkinson is Head of In-Memory Consultancy at Legacy Foresight, Europe’s foremost analysts of the legacy and in-memory sectors. The In-Memory Insight research program explores the size, shape and scope of in-memory giving, collecting hard evidence to inform in-memory fundraising strategies and convince senior management of the value of in-memory giving. The program involves  a learning circle of leading UK charities who agree to pool their budgets, experiences and data to help build evidence and insight.

Legacy Foresight and FIA are planning a series of Australian webinars about in-memory giving and fundraising later this year – watch out for more details.

Read Kate Jenkinson’s article on the huge potential of in-memory giving in Australia.

Read Kate Jenkinson’s article on what in-memory supporters really want from you, plus three questions fundraisers should ask before starting an in-memory giving program.

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