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Kate Jenkinson

The needs of bereaved supporters are quite simple. They want charities to offer them ways of celebrating their loved ones.

We recently have had two prime opportunities to hear first-hand what matters to in-memory donors.

Before Coronavirus, our Understanding in-memory stewardship project took us behind the screen with 17 supporters. All had lost a loved one before their time, some in unimaginably difficult circumstances. Some had gone on to become passionate advocates of their charities; ‘ultra-engagers’ with the in-memory stewardship experience.

Then, for our In-memory through the pandemic survey, fundraisers from 53 different charities shared how things had changed for them across the peak of the crisis during the month of April.

One striking insight was reinforced for us: the needs of bereaved supporters are quite simple.

They want charities to offer them ways of celebrating their loved ones.

How much they can afford to donate and the channels they choose may be changing, but that basic need stands fast. Supporters are connecting with memorial opportunities more than ever before, whether that’s donating, lighting candles or leaving a trail of photos and mementoes. Unable to take themselves to funerals, they’re taking their laptops to their kitchen tables. Over a third of our survey charities had seen a rise in giving through online donation platforms.

In our consumer research conversations, supporters described their in-memory fundraising in terms of a journey, with highs and lows, turning points and transformative moments along the way. The impression of our survey charities was that if anything, supporters were even more likely at this time to engage in conversations about their loved one, despite (or because of?) the backdrop of national mourning. More, not less. Many donors had been some way along their journey well before the pandemic hit. Most charities had, to their immense credit, continued to keep in step with them. Almost a third of those we surveyed reported having had more contact with donors during lockdown, upping their interactions by phone and email.

Both our stewardship research and our survey underscored the unique power of tribute funds. Drawing together families, networks and contributions from all sources – and with their deep symbolic resonance as happy ‘places’ to visit without the need to leave the house – tribute funds have emerged as the hero of the hour. For over a third of our survey charities, tribute donations and interactions had surged.

Tribute funds are a timely reminder that there is more to in-memory fundraising than instant cash income. Inviting the high degree of personalisation now synonymous with a compelling in-memory offer, they can also plant the roots of long-term engagement and (arguably) of legacy propensity.

An ongoing stewardship challenge for charities is that they should never lose sight of the donor’s ‘why’ – their reason for engaging in the first place. Ultimately, this is the one thing donors want most from their in-memory charity, whatever their degree of connection with its wider work and aims may be. It’s the factor that unites all in-memory donors, and it’s unlikely to change, even when everything else around us is changing.

Great in-memory donor care is about more than just offering tribute funds and hiding them away on a landing page. It’s about providing a stewardship journey full of opportunities for the donor to heroise their loved one by telling that person’s story and seeing the good being done in their name.

When we listen, we hear someone into existence. author Laurie Buchanan

As in-memory fundraisers, we already know how these stories end. Where we can make the most difference is by encouraging and enriching their narratives.

At least, this is what we heard when we listened.