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How to Make a Memorial Donation

Shutterstock / Suzanne Tucker

Giving to charity is a meaningful way to honor someone who has died.

Flowers have traditionally been the most common sympathy gift. But today, more and more people are choosing to make a memorial donation instead of or in addition to sending flowers to grieving friends.

A memorial donation is a charitable gift made in honor of a person who has died. It's easy to make a memorial donation — all you have to do it choose the organization and the amount you want to give. You can then give that money to the organization via their website, by sending a check in the mail, or by putting it in an envelope provided by the funeral home at the funeral or visitation.

Here's an in-depth look at how to make a memorial donation.

When is a memorial donation appropriate?

It is almost always appropriate to make a donation in memory of someone who has died. It's a positive contribution to the world in their honor, and that's likely to be appreciated by their loved ones.

If the obituary requests memorial donations in lieu of flowers, that means the family actively wants people to contribute in their loved one's memory rather than sending flowers. Making a memorial donation is the perfect choice here.

If the obituary requests flowers, that doesn't mean you can't also make a memorial donation. It's a good idea to follow the family's wishes, so if they have specified that flowers can be sent to a certain location, you might consider sending a small floral arrangement as well as making a memorial donation.

If the obituary doesn't specify either way, you can still make a memorial donation. The family might not have thought of the idea, or they might just have chosen not to include it in the obituary.

Some obituaries suggest a monetary donation to the family to help with funeral costs. This still counts as a memorial donation, and it may be a much-needed one if the death was unexpected and/or the family has financial struggles.

How much should you give?

A memorial donation can be as small or as large as you want it to be. If your budget is tight but you still want to remember someone special with a contribution, $5 is absolutely an appropriate amount. There's no shame in giving just a few dollars if it's all you can afford.

On the other hand, if you have the means and would like to make a more substantial memorial donation, it will certainly be appreciated by the recipient. A memorial donation of any amount is a generous gesture.

What organization should you choose?

If the family has specified an organization for memorial donations, or requested donations to the family to help cover funeral expenses, then you should follow their lead. It's not a good idea to choose an organization other than what they've specified — it can come off as disrespectful to their wishes. 

Organizations for memorial donations are often chosen because of a special love the deceased had for that cause, or to fund research into a disease they had, or even because they expressed a wish before their death for friends and family to support the organization. Even if it's an organization you wouldn't otherwise support, it's most respectful to honor the deceased with a donation there rather than finding your own cause to support in their honor.

If the family hasn't specified an organization for memorial donations, then you can choose one you think is appropriate. Here are a few suggestions:

Medical research organization

The American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and American Diabetes Association are a few of the most commonly chosen organizations for memorial donations. If you know of an illness or condition the deceased had, you can probably find a foundation that funds research and/or support for sufferers. You can browse more than 200 health and medical research charities in our directory.

Alma mater or place of worship

If the deceased was a devoted churchgoer or never failed to cheer for their college team, you might make a memorial contribution to their place of worship or their college. If you're not sure what that is, check the obituary, which might mention it, or ask the funeral home.

Cause-based organization

If you know of a cause the deceased cared about, you can choose an organization that supports it. Did they love children? Big Brothers Big Sisters or another children's charity would be a great choice. Did they have a tender heart for animals? You might choose the Humane Society or another animal welfare organization. You can honor a nature lover with a memorial donation to the Sierra Club, or you can remember someone who cared for the less fortunate by giving to Habitat for Humanity. For more ideas, search online or browse our directory of charities.

If you just can't decide what organization to make a memorial donation to, try asking the funeral home. They may know what the family prefers even if they didn't include it in the obituary. You can also search a database like Charity Navigator or Charity Watch, which provide links to charities that will use your donation wisely.

Be sure to keep a record of your memorial donation to any non-profit organization, because it might be tax deductible.

If you're thinking you should donate directly to the family even if they didn't request it, it might be okay — but tread carefully. It could be seen as insulting if you give money to the family when they didn't indicate a financial need, or you might not choose the family member who's best suited to get the money where it needs to be. If you're determined to give money to the family when no request has been made for it, it's probably best to give it anonymously through the funeral home or the family's spiritual leader.

How do you get the money to the right place?

If you're planning on attending the funeral or visitation, it's an appropriate and convenient place to make a memorial donation. There will very likely be donation envelopes available, provided by the funeral home and with a spot for you to add your name and address. You can put cash or a check into this envelope and drop it in a basket or box provided for this purpose. If there are multiple options of organizations to give to, you can write on the envelope which one you prefer your donation to go to.

If you can't be at any of the services, you can still make a memorial donation. One easy option is to donate online. There might be a link to the organization's donation page from the online obituary. If not, you can find the charity's website via a search. 

Go to the website of almost any charitable organization and you're likely to see a prominent link reading "Donate" or "How to help" or something similar. Click this link and you'll get information on how to donate, and online donation is usually an option. Some online donation forms will have a box you can check indicating you're making a memorial donation. Then you'll be able to add the deceased's name. You might also want to include an address for the family, so the organization can send them a note informing them of your donation.

If you prefer not to make online payments, you can send a check in the mail. The obituary may list the organization's mailing address. If not, you can get it online or check to see if the funeral home has it. As with an online donation, it's a great idea to specify that you're making a memorial donation, give the deceased's name, and add the family's address if possible so they can be informed of your donation.

If you prefer to make your memorial donation anonymously, that's okay — the family doesn't have to be informed of your identity. But it's still comforting for them to know a donation was made in their loved one's memory, so do still provide their address if possible when you're donating any time other than at the funeral.

If possible, try to make your donation within a week or two of the funeral. That way, the family will be able to write you a thank-you note while they are working on this task after the funeral.

If you didn't know about the death at the time of the funeral, or your budget was too tight right after the death, it's still okay to make your donation later. It will always be appreciated and put to good use.


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