Last year our In-Memory Insight members tasked us with shining a light on in-memory products. What sort of products are charities using and how? What does this tell us about the supporter journeys people experience when they donate in-memory? Are there any clear gaps in the offering?

We took a sample of sixty British charities and looked in detail at the in-memory products they were using. We included our forty In-Memory Insight members plus another twenty hand-picked for interest, such as Cancer Research UK and Macmillan. We drew on information from our member charities and their websites plus anecdotal evidence from sector experts.

We defined an in-memory product as ‘anything a charity can offer someone – as part of a transaction – to satisfy their desire, or need, to remember a loved one’. This ‘anything’ might be a physical item (e.g. a commemorative bench or plaque); a real or virtual experience (e.g. participating in a remembrance event or lighting an online candle); or a service offered by the charity, such as the provision of pew envelopes to help the smooth running of a funeral collection. The product is offered to the donor as an acknowledgement that they have given – or done – something to help the charity in their loved one’s name.

The products we found were categorised into four groups according to the charities’ objectives behind each offer. These were
1. Products to encourage an initial in-memory gift – i.e. ‘would you consider giving in memory?’
2. Products to recognise an initial in-memory gift – i.e. ‘thank- you for giving’
3. Products to encourage people to give more or give again, and
4. Products to encourage people to keep giving, building a long-term relationship with the charity

A cursory look online at commercial memorial products and ‘DIY’ memorial activities shows that people are remembering loved ones in a remarkable variety of ways – from quilting and scrapbooking to sky-diving and firework displays. By contrast, we uncovered a striking lack of diversity in the remembrance products offered by charities. For example, while over 70% offered a pew envelope service, there were very few products encouraging a first in-memory gift through sheer inspiration – and very little product representation at all in the area of thanking and recognition.

We also found that, despite widespread signposting to third party memorial sites like JustGiving, less than half the charities we studied used products to encourage people to stay directly in touch or to give a second time. And while most offered Tribute Funds as a way to remember a loved one on an ongoing basis, often the suggestion to set up a Fund came at the beginning of the donor’s bereavement journey and was not repeated; equally there was little effort concentrated around offering donors further, one-off remembrance opportunities after their initial gift, like memorial events or commemorative gifts.

Our findings inspired some important open questions that we then took into detailed consumer research. We asked, what should the role of the charity be when supporting a bereaved donor? As facilitator, maintaining a low profile and minimising the donor’s burden at a time of high stress? Or as inspirer, stepping forward to make the donor feel brilliant about their loved one, perhaps even remembering them in a new light? Or both?

Should the act of recognition, as well as thanking, acknowledge that an initial in-memory gift might indicate an appetite for further contact? Sensitively executed, should in-memory recognition also be about making donors aware of other appropriate, ongoing opportunities, e.g. invites to events or inclusion in in-memory appeals, with motivating benefits?

Is there an opportunity for charities to develop appropriate offers that better fit the space between one-off in-memory gifts and ongoing Tribute Funds? With perhaps a second Tribute giving ask coming after an interim gift/action has been secured and the gap between donor and charity has narrowed?

Perhaps the significant number of people who aren’t ready for long-term engagement with the charity straight after bereavement – but are open to other ways of remembering their loved one – might appreciate more one-off opportunities such as remembrance events? Particularly if these were more diverse and accessible, not always sporty/ outdoorsy?

And is there an important cohort of in-memory supporters who might appreciate more direct contact and support from the charity itself when they enter an in-memory relationship, above and beyond being signposted to a third party site, with its implied commitment to energetic, public-facing fundraising?

Through research such as this, charities of all sizes can clarify the strengths and weaknesses of their current in-memory offer, gain real first-hand insight into what interests their bereaved donors, and continually update and improve the range of products for this audience. But while fundraising objectives always need to be front of mind, perhaps it’s time for a complete rethink of the in-memory products being offered, and why.

This year’s In-Memory Insight research will focus on the role of social media and digital platforms in in-memory fundraising. For more information, contact Meg Abdy on m.abdy@legacyforesight.co.uk.