Although disparate and undervalued in Australia, the potential for in-memory giving is huge says Kate Jenkinson.
In-memory giving refers to any type of charitable support commemorating the life of someone special. In the UK, it is a vital component of charitable income. Legacy Foresight, which tracks, researches and promotes understanding of the British market – estimates its current value at £2.2 billion (AU$3.94 billion), excluding gifts in wills.
The rise of in-memory giving in the UK
With its incredible power to draw people together with a shared, positive focus, remembrance is recognised as an important motivation for all UK charities, underpinning support of every type. Gifts made at funerals, one-off, regular and tribute fund donations are all counted, as are purchases of commemorative items like plaques and benches, and participation in events. Volunteering, advocacy, even gifts in kind, can be alternative ways of paying tribute. In all, we estimate that up to 30% of fundraised income (excluding bequest income) is motivated by an in-memory connection.
And, of course, it’s not just about lifetime giving. In our 2019 research into the connections between in-memory and bequest giving, Legacy Foresight found 40% of bequest donors had pledged at least one in-memory gift in their will. In-memory donors were three times more likely to pledge and their bequests were significantly larger. For Australian charities that depend on gifts in wills for up to a quarter of their total income, these findings resonate powerfully.
Having emerged from its hundred-year slumber, in-memory giving has become a dynamic, rapidly evolving territory, propelled by social and technological change.
The dissolution of the traditional church funeral, the increase of religious and ethnic diversity and our phenomenal appetite for highly personalised remembrance have all been drivers. In the UK, it’s as easy to get a memorial tattoo done these days as it is to find a high street florist.
Covid-19 and the social distancing measures have accelerated the gradual decline of funeral giving and all but devastated in-memory participation in organised, public events. Donors have turned increasingly to online remembrance channels such as tribute pages. But the basic human need to memorialise the people we love – and to do something amazing in their name – has come out fighting hard.
Memorable UK campaigns
Most UK charities now ask their supporters to donate or fundraise in memory as a standard, although product ranges and inspiration levels do vary dramatically.
Leading from the front is Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI), the UK’s second biggest charity for gifts in wills. In return for a small donation, RNLI’s Launch a Memory campaign inscribes the name of a supporter’s loved one onto the side of a working lifeboat. The British Heart Foundation’s Heart of Steel is an iconic, tangible memorial, steeped in local symbolism, and can be permanently engraved with dedications. WWF UK’s rallying tribute fund campaign calls on supporters to: Give in Memory. Fight for your World. And the UK Hospice movement draws together thousands of in-memory donors each Christmas through its Light up a Life events.
Very different in size, cause and mission, all of these organisations are united in their commitment to in-memory donors. All have invested – financially and culturally – in a program of strategic in-memory development and stewardship, and a supporter journey that deliberately draws and keeps donors close.
The Australian experience
In the Australian sector, stand-out examples are harder to find. If offered, in-memory tends to have a quiet voice on charity websites where relevant information can be buried deep. Cancer Council NSW, perhaps the most recognised Australian charity in this area, is one exception, with its designated in-memory landing area and prominent ‘daffodils’ tribute pages.
Branded tribute funds – like the Heart Foundation’s Forever in our Hearts Funds – are thin on the ground.
What’s holding Australian charities back in this area? Some fundraisers point to low awareness of the benefits of in-memory giving for both the donor and charity.Without industry benchmarks, case studies or examples of best practice, understanding of what makes an effective in-memory program is limited. In-memory fundraising can be regarded as the poor brother of bequest fundraising, often sharing resources and finding itself squeezed for time and attention.
“As we talk more about ‘donor centricity’ then we need to understand people’s motivation – and remembrance is one of the most powerful motivators of action.”
Helen Merrick, Executive Manager at Include a Charity, agrees that the Australian in-memory market feels disparate and undervalued. For her, the potential of this untapped market is huge. But growth will depend on how successful charities can get at integrating in-memory across the whole organisation, seeding it through every possible channel: “We often think of in-memory fundraising as just collecting money at funerals,” says Merrick. “How we then engage further with these families and those who are not part of this program are often side thoughts. We don’t actively pursue in-memory as an acquisition channel or lead people into other areas based on this motivation. We need to understand what in-memory fundraising is on a broader scale, how it can sit across our programs and how we can engage donors.”
Nicki Grant of MS Research Australia is one fundraiser who’s keen to make in-memory a core part of her charity’s portfolio of offers. Grant’s excitement about the potential has helped trigger a new program of investment and development that promises a wider range of opportunities for in-memory donors to show their support. A new tribute page platform is in the pipeline that will deliver an essential digital presence for her charity and improve in-memory donors’ ability to give.
At the heart of Grant’s strategy is the idea of building a community by encouraging donors to share their stories of loved ones. This is a charity that recognises and values in-memory giving as a genuine act of celebration. As Grant puts it, “I think we have a great opportunity to shine a light on that, and make giving joyous too, rather than solely about bereavement.”
Importantly, this is also about respecting and acknowledging in-memory donors’ ‘why’: their loved one, their reason for engaging in the first place.
“Investing in in-memory giving will allow us to foster stronger relationships with these supporters, because we are acknowledging how they want to interact with us and providing a solution to their need. In essence, we are giving them a way to make their mark, make an impact and take action in a way that suits them,” explains Grant.
At Cancer Council NSW, in-memory offers are being adapted in response to giving trends. Jasmine Hooper has noticed a “fairly dramatic decline” in donations from funeral homes, which she believes can be a clunky and less intuitive way to give, particularly for a younger generation of donors. At the same time, she says many participants in the charity’s flagship Relay for Life events are honouring someone they’ve lost. Online giving through tribute pages is growing at a healthy rate – highlighting the importance of a strong brand and an accessible, inspiring website. One tribute fund alone has recently raised over $16,000 for the Cancer Council.
“Tribute funds can be beneficial,” Hooper suggests, “because often people are fundraising for the person they are remembering, not for the organisation. With a tribute fund, their loved one is always connected to the fundraising.”
Hooper is excited by the upcoming launch of a regular giving offer within tribute funds, which she believes will be really effective in cementing in-memory donors’ engagement over the longer term.
In-memory giving is not just for health causes
In the UK market, health charities receive just under half of all in-memory income. However, research by Legacy Foresight shows that in-memory fundraising can also be highly relevant to ‘loved-in-life’ causes, providing they can develop sensitive, imaginative products and messages that are tailored to their audience’s needs.
With loved-in-life, the motivation is to do something that fits the passions and values of the person who has died, and these decisions are usually personal and heart-warming.
World Animal Protection Australia’s Joanne Meredith is looking forward to the launch of her in-memory product later this year and sees her supporters’ deep connection as a reason to be confident.
“We are fortunate to have some of the most passionate supporters in the world, so their loved ones will be aware of how important it was for them to support animal welfare. If they are looking for a way to honour their loved one, connecting to a cause is one way to show support for what was important to them,” says Meredith.
There is every reason to be positive. As Merrick sees it, an inspiring in-memory program is a must-have for Australian charities, if only because good fundraising is all about acknowledging and building on a donor’s personal motivation.
“As we talk more about ‘donor centricity’ then we need to understand people’s motivation – and remembrance is one of the most powerful motivators of action,” she explains.
Kate Jenkinson is the Head of In-Memory Consultancy at Legacy Foresight in the UK. Legacy Foresight and FIA are planning an Australian webinar series about in-memory giving and fundraising later this year.