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Well wishers often seek tangible ways of expressing condolences and sympathy to the bereaved at funerals or during times of grief over deceased loved ones. Floral bouquets have traditionally been (and continue to be) an appropriate gesture. In addition, an increasing number of individuals offer donations to an unlimited range of charitable organizations to honor the memory of the deceased.
Quite often, printed and posted obituaries will even list particular charities, encouraging friends, family members, professional contacts and other well wishers to make donations instead of (“in lieu of”) flowers. Memorial donations are particularly popular at Judeo-Christian funerals.
How can folks navigate the sometimes complex process of making memorial gifts for a late loved one? Here are ten tips for making funeral donations to honor the deceased.
Consider donating to a charity listed in the deceased’s obituary.
Frequently, an obituary will offer one or more charitable suggestions. Perhaps the deceased suffered from a particular disease, and the family has suggested donations to medical research or treatment in that area. In other cases, the deceased’s academic alma mater or faith-based organizations matching the deceased’s own religion may be indicated.
The most appropriate funeral-related donations are generally made to such designated causes, although other options are available (see below).
Make a charitable donation at the funeral.
It has become customary for funeral homes to display donation boxes during memorial services, visitations, wakes and other funereal gatherings. Most often, a box (usually with a slotted top) is placed by the visitor sign-in near the entry to the gathering room. Pre-addressed charitable donation envelopes may also be offered for donors’ convenience.
Memorial donors should plan to offer checks, rather than cash, for these payments. Checks should be made out directly to a designated charity.
This practice facilitates paperwork for the funeral home, prevents potential bookkeeping errors and ensures donors may receive tax credits for their giving. Printed personal checks are ideal for memorial donations, keeping donors’ names, addresses and gift amounts together in one spot.
Contemplate giving financial support for the deceased’s family, if appropriate.
Occasionally, a donation box may be placed on display at a funeral to collect monetary donations for assistance for the family of the deceased. This is most frequently the case when a parent has died, leaving dependent children or when funeral expenses may be a particular hardship for a family.
In such cases, donations may not be considered tax deductible. These personal gifts, going directly to the loved ones of the deceased, may be made by cash or check.
Include a charitable donation in a sympathy card.
Friends and loved ones often enclose memorial donations within sympathy cards, which they mail or hand directly to family members of the deceased during the funeral or visitation. Although this may be considered a generous gesture, this practice of memorial giving does present the bereaved with an additional assignment, as they must then transmit these donations to the designated charities.
Certainly, such donations should be made in the form of written checks, made out to specific charities, to facilitate accounting.
Offer a memorial donation directly online.
Most reputable charities are equipped to accept online donations for memorial purposes. Donors who are able to transmit funds by electronic check may enable charitable organizations to skip credit card processing fees, maximizing the value of their memorial gifts.
Give flowers and a memorial donation, if desired.
Particularly generous well wishers may choose to send flowers for a funeral, while still making designated donations in memory of the deceased. This option is certainly acceptable and often greatly appreciated by the family and friends of the one who has passed away.
Contact the charity of your own choice to make a memorial donation.
Philanthropic well wishers are not restricted to the charities listed in the deceased obituary, and folks may make memorial donations even if no charities have been designated.
Those desiring to make donations in memory of the deceased may choose to select non-designated charities, as an alternative. These organizations offer helpful instructions and evaluations of charitable options: American Institute of Philanthropy, Better Business Bureau (BBB), Canadian Book of Charities, Charity Navigator, Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability (ECFA), GuideStar, National Christian Foundation and more.
Of course, the appearance of an organization on this list is not intended as a direct endorsement. These links are listed for convenient reference only. Charitable contributors are advised to research recipient organizations independently before giving.
Here’s a word of warning for those desiring to make funeral or memorial donations to non-designated charities.
Certainly, donors do not wish to alienate or hurt the feelings of the deceased person’s grieving loved ones. For this reason, those giving memorial gifts are well advised to steer clear of ideological, political or religious charities, unless they are absolutely sure where the deceased and his or her family’s loyalties rest. In addition, donors are wise to skip charities dealing specifically with alcoholism, drug abuse or suicide, if the possibility exists that the deceased passed away from one of these causes.
If course, donors may appropriately choose such charitable causes, if specific organizations have been designated by the deceased’s family, if these groups are listed in the obituary, or if the deceased person made his or her passion for these issues clear during his or her lifetime (as through volunteering or fund raising).
Be sure to notify the deceased’s family of your memorial donation.
Charitable organizations customarily send donation cards or reports to families of those in whose memory gifts have been offered. Of course, donors must specify this information clearly, including mailing addresses.
Frequently, these notifications do not include dollar amounts of donations, but occasionally this information is listed.
Ponder making memorial donations on important anniversaries.
Thoughtful folks sometimes opt to make memorial gifts for lost loved ones on specific landmark dates. These may include birthdays, wedding anniversaries or even dates of the death or funeral.
Keep careful records of all memorial charitable donations.
Although well-run charitable organizations may make every effort to follow through with donation reports and receipts, smart donors will retain canceled checks (or credit card statements) to ensure tax credit.
Finally, although bereaved family members customarily send thank you notes to those who have made memorial gifts, some may not do so. Others may take considerable time before addressing this task. In some cases (particularly in complex blended families), relatives of the deceased person may not even be aware of all of the memorial donations that have been made to honor their late loved one.
The most charitable of givers will be patient and gracious about memorial gift acknowledgments, particularly with those who are working through the process of grief.