Funeral Etiquette: Funeral Memorial Donations and Gifts

The do's and don'ts concerning financial gifts after a death

Pen and bank check
Bank checks probably remain the best way to donate in memory of a loved one. Photo © Khuong Hoang/E+/Getty Images

Many obituaries and death notices today include the words "In lieu of flowers..." and ask surviving family members and friends to make a financial donation or gift in memory of the deceased, often to a specific charity, cause or organization. This article offers the etiquette you should follow when making financial donations or gifts in memory of a deceased loved one for his or her funeral or memorial service.

How Much Should I Donate?

First of all, understand that the immediate family members and those closest to the deceased will appreciate any contribution you make in their loved one's memory. Therefore, you should not feel compelled to donate more than your budget or circumstances allow, regardless of your degree-of-closeness to the deceased. If you desire to make a larger gift and can afford it, then do so; if your situation requires a more modest donation right now, then trust that "it's the thought that counts" and not the actual dollar amount.

Moreover, please keep in mind that you are under no obligation to make a financial contribution or gift whatsoever. The decision to donate to a charity, cause or organization in memory of the deceased should come from the heart and because of your sincere desire to honor and memorialize the deceased, and not due to real or imagined societal pressure or expectation.

(The same holds true even if the immediate family creates a crowdfunding campaign on any of the many funeral-expense crowdfunding sites now available. Do not spend more than you can afford.)

That said, if you decide to make a financial gift/donation, and if you would otherwise have sent flowers to the funeral or memorial service, then you should contribute the equivalent amount to the designated cause, charity or organization.

If you might not have sent flowers but still want to offer a financial gift, then the amount is up to you, based on your budget and/or circumstances.

When Should I Donate?

Ideally, you should make your donation as soon as possible after learning that the family requested financial memorials/gifts. Typically, this information will become available a few days after the death occurred once the obituary or death notice is published, whether in a newspaper, on a funeral-provider's website, via social media, etc.

Making a funeral or memorial service contribution right away allows enough time for your donation to reach the designated recipient if you send a bank check via the post office (see "Check or Credit Card?" below); helps the family receive notification sooner of your gift; and, frankly, ensures you offer your gift while it's still fresh in your mind.

If you cannot offer a financial gift before the funeral or memorial service, then try to do so no later than seven days after the funeral or memorial service.

While not hard and fast, the immediate family should start sending thank-you notes within a few weeks of the service for financial contributions; offering your monetary gift more than a week later means the family might remain unaware of your thoughtful donation.

Check or Credit Card?

Despite the ease and convenience of online-based donations for various charities, causes and other worthy organizations, making a financial contribution by check probably remains the best method for funeral and memorial donations. Bank checks not only offer a physical record of your funeral/memorial gift's receipt and deposit, but also bear the pertinent information the receiving organization needs if it sends donor acknowledgements to the immediate family.

Making a donation online offers speed and convenience, but, unfortunately, funeral or memorial service contributions accepted online might or might not provide the immediate family with acknowledgement of your gift. Too many websites for charities, causes and other worthy organizations use an automated e-commerce process that might inform the immediate family of your donation in a timely fashion; might eventually do so later; or simply withdraw funds from your credit card or bank account with no acknowledgement at all -- including even letting you, the donor, know that you successfully contributed.

When making a memorial gift by bank check, however, you should still include a note indicating the following:

• Your name and complete mailing address

• Specify that your gift is in memory of [the deceased's full name, and mailing address, if known, or at least the city/state]

• Request the recipient send an acknowledgement to [the full name/mailing address of the closest survivor, immediate family member or next-of-kin]

• Request the recipient send you an acknowledgement of your donation

While there is no guarantee that sending a financial contribution via bank check in the mail will result in timely family notification (or any notification), sending a check at least guarantees that someone will physically process your financial gift and, therefore, might acknowledge receipt as you requested in the note you included. That said, if you find yourself pressed for time and desire to make your donation online, then you should do so.

What About Cash Donations?

Many surviving loved ones and funeral-service attendees place cash in sympathy cards and then drop off those cards at the funeral or memorial service. If the immediate family requested donations for a specific charity, cause or organization, you should not make your gift in cash directly to the family. Doing so merely creates a burden for those closest to the deceased, who must then make that donation on your behalf when they already have enough weighing on their hearts and minds.

Obviously, if physical currency is your only option, then making a cash donation directly to the family is acceptable, but you should also include a note mentioning that you cannot offer your gift any other way and apologizing for the inconvenience during this difficult time.

Additional Funeral Etiquette Articles:
5 Expressions that Don't Help Grievers
7 Insensitive Comments You Shouldn't Say
Is it Okay to Use the Deceased's Name?
5 Funeral Visitation Blunders to Avoid
Funeral Etiquette Flashback: Widows Weeds

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