Dying Matters week, dedicated to raising our awareness of death, dying and bereavement, took place earlier this month. ‘Let’s talk about it’ invites the strapline. But as in-memory fundraisers, do we? On the frontline with our audience of recently bereaved supporters, why does this annual celebration of openness and expression still feel both liberating and nerve-racking?

At our In-Memory Insight Workshop last week, we discussed why so few charities promote gifts in wills as a way of supporting in memory. One of our members suggested that perhaps we should communicate the benefits of in-memory legacies differently – not as a way of supporting a charity, but of remembering a loved one. The collective assent and relief in the room was palpable.

It seems we’re at ease with the idea of remembrance being beneficial to our supporters. We can see how people can derive comfort from in-memory products and services that keep their loved ones close, physically and spiritually. Spaces for recording stories and details of loved ones are seized upon. When a charity can provide tangible memorials, supporters respond eagerly to having somewhere physical to visit. Tribute funds are popular for drawing people together at a difficult time, galvanizing friends and family and providing a positive focus for grief.

However, let’s be honest – haven’t we all secretly wished we could offer supporters these things without a financial ask? Wouldn’t they love us more if we could give without taking?

The answer is no!

Legacy Foresight’s research has clearly shown how much bereavement changes people. Often it generates an overwhelming desire for good to come from bad. Although not an end in itself, supporting a charity is one way of channelling this altruistic impulse. Many of us don’t merely want to remember a special person. We want to do something lasting and amazing in their name. This goes beyond simply keeping their presence felt and their memory alive – it’s about creating a better world, where our actions and deeds shine glory on the person we loved.

This impulse is embodied by in-memory legacies, which our research has identified as having one foot firmly rooted in the past and the other in a (better) future. But, it’s not only legacy giving where we see this compelling urge to give.

Particularly when a life has been cut short, we’re driven to help others so they won’t suffer in the same way; This might mean helping other families through a similar situation, or raising funds to provide treatment for people going through similar illness. Or, it could just mean supporting others who’ve been left behind. We know we can no longer help the people we’ve lost, but we can help others in their place.

As in-memory fundraisers, we still have strides to make. From brief conversations with the charities in our Learning Circle, we know there are times when in-memory success stories are withheld from supporter newsletters that already feature legacy giving, ‘because we can only include one article about death’. Hospice fundraisers clash horns with clinical staff about the level of fundraising content on their websites. Resources for dying with dignity often fail to mention in-memory fundraising options, due to well-meaning protectiveness towards the families affected.

In reality, in-memory decisions are driven by what’s appropriate for the loved one and the emotional needs of the person left behind. We shouldn’t be afraid to open up dialogue, invite conversations, listen and ask questions. We should feel proud and confident about the achievement of our charities and how much these signify when supported in a loved one’s memory.

If we do hold back, perhaps we need to sense-check who it is we’re really protecting? As Vanessa Billy put it in her recent Guardian article, We need to talk about Death, ‘No-one can entirely relate to the sadness and the ache caused by the loss of a loved one. They are lonely experiences. But the pain should not be compounded by society’s inability to deal with someone’s mourning.’

If Dying Matters reminds us of one thing, it’s that it’s up to every individual to celebrate their loved one in their own way. To deny them options is to limit their choices  – on our terms, not on theirs.

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In-Memory Insight is a rolling research programme; we work closely with a learning circle of leading charities – over seventy of them in the past eight years – who pool their budgets, experiences and data. We collect hard evidence to inform in-memory fundraising strategies and convince senior management of the value of in-memory giving. Our report, looking at the links between legacy and in-memory giving, will be released in June. If you’re interested in finding out more about In-Memory Insight 2019/20, please get in touch with Meg Abdy.