How Do You Acknowledge Your Memorial Gifts?


I’ve been to several memorial services over the last few years. I guess that’s what happens as you get older.  In most cases, the families designated charities to donate to, often in lieu of flowers.  I’ve always liked this.  You get to honor someone and support a charity, as well.

I gave five memorial gifts over the last two years. Unfortunately, the responses from the nonprofits were pretty marginal.   Four organizations sent generic thank you letters.  Three of them acknowledged it was a memorial gift. One sent a very generic email with no acknowledgement this was a memorial gift.

If your organization is a recipient of a memorial gift, don’t miss this opportunity to connect and build relationships with these donors. Just think, out of the multitude of nonprofits and charities out there, the family chose yours (they may have chosen one or two others, too).

How do acknowledge your memorial gifts?   Do you send the same old boring thank you letter, or do you give some thought to creating a personal and heartfelt thank you.  Here’s how you can do a better job of acknowledging your memorial gifts.

Work with the family

Most likely the family will contact you about being a recipient of a memorial gift.  Talk to them and ask why your organization was important to this person.  Perhaps he was a volunteer, donor, or patient.  Use this information in your thank letter.

Give the family the names and addresses (not amounts) of any donors in case they want to write their own thank you letters.

Thank your donors right away

This is basic Thank You Letter 101.  I received one letter four months after my donation and another came three months later.  In both cases the organizations weren’t spending the extra time writing a great thank you letter.  Instead, I received this – “We are sincerely grateful for your support. Our goals are ambitious ones and the charitable contributions we receive from supporters like you make our mission achievable.”  The other two letters arrived about a week after the donation.

Acknowledge that it’s a memorial gift

Segmenting your thank you letters is always a good idea, whether it’s a new donation, upgrade, or a gift in memory of someone.  You want to recognize each donor.

Be sure to add a field on your donation page and pledge form for memorial gifts.

Make the thank you personal

This donor just lost someone they knew, perhaps someone close to them.   Don’t send them an impersonal form letter, like the example above.

This is a great time to send a handwritten note.  You may not have that many memorial gifts and they’re going to come at different times of the year, not necessarily during a fundraising campaign.  Take time to create something personal.

As with all thank you notes/letters, let the donor know how her gift is helping you make a difference.

Here’s a sample.

Thank you so much for your donation in memory of John Smith. John was a longtime donor and was very committed to fighting homelessness.  Because of your generous gift, we can help more families find a place to call home.

Build relationships

Never miss an opportunity to build relationships.  Invite these donors to sign up for your newsletter, follow you on social media, or volunteer. Only one of the letters I received listed ways to get involved with the organization.

Don’t take your memorial donors for granted. They may not have donated to your organization if they didn’t have some interest what you do.  Keep them interested and engaged.

Read on for information and sample letters.

In lieu of flowers: how to write lively memorial donation thank-you letters


9 thoughts on “How Do You Acknowledge Your Memorial Gifts?

  1. Im sorry – but I disagree on this. If you are getting worked up on a non-profit not personalizing a thank you then you should not be donating. Most non-profits are ran by voluteers that may not even know the person that chose that charity.
    The family should accepts the checks, and forward them on to the charity. The family can send the thank you’s to the people they have the relationships with and the “generic” thank you can go to the family from the charity.


  2. From a non-profit development person – should we include the address of the donor in the letter to the deceased’s family? We are struggling figuring out what the best practice is. We want to help the familiy, but we also want to honor donor privacy.


    • Hi Becca,

      I would ask the donor first. Some online donation forms have an option for memorial gifts which includes a field asking donors if it’s okay for the organization to let the family know they made a donation. Otherwise, I would contact the donor to get permission.

      I hope that’s helpful.



  3. As an ex. director I do try to follow the suggestions mentioned above, but they may not be within the time-frame suggested mainly because of staffing issues. I have a volunteer who now is “demanding” that I also recognize these donations in our quarterly newsletter. I have not done so for a couple of reasons: I think that memorials are private donations and sometimes the newsletter might come out 4 months after the person has passed. It would be so easy to forget someone (for example if one donation came in for a someone who wasn’t involved within the organization). Any protocol for this?


  4. Hi Brenda,

    I wouldn’t necessarily recommend acknowledging these donors in a newsletter for the reasons you give. If you did, you would want to get permission from the family. The only exception might be if you set up a memorial fund in someone’s name.

    I think it’s best to send a heartfelt thank you as soon as you can, acknowledging the donation was made in memory of a certain person. Also, find other ways to build relationships with these donors, because they certainly have the potential to give again.



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