The practice of including flower arrangements in funerals could date back as far as 62,000 years. They’re considered a very important part of a traditional funeral. However, the market for traditional funerals is in decline, as more people are looking into eco-friendly and affordable burial options.
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The percentage of people opting for cremation as a way to save on funeral costs is rising. Religious funeral services are in decline and secular ones are on the rise. And finally, people are opting to ask mourners to make donations in honor of the deceased in lieu of sending flowers.
Part of the symbolism behind sending flowers to funerals served as a reminder that life goes on even after death. However well-intentioned, some people now find that sending flowers to be somewhat wasteful. They feel like the money spent on flowers could be put to better use elsewhere.
As a result, some families ask people to make charitable donations in the name of the deceased. Charitable donations provide positivity and a spirit of giving during a time of real grief in the name of a loved one.
COVID-19 tip: If you're planning or attending a virtual or live streamed memorial service using a service like GatheringUs, you can still request and send funds without a physical box. Consult with your funeral or event planner to figure out the best way to collect digital donations and make sure they put the link to donate on the announcement and program.
Quick Tips for Asking for a Donation
When a loved one dies, it may feel presumptuous to ask people to make a memorial donation. With the changes to funeral ceremonies and memorials in recent years, the practice has become widely accepted.
As long as you phrase your request in the right way, it’s not impolite to seek. Read on for some tips on the best ways to phrase a donation request.
- Specify people can make donations in lieu of sending flowers: It's sometimes considered impolite to ask for donations. However, you may solicit them in place of an expected act. Donations seem to be replacing flowers as a go-to method of expressing condolences.
- Pick a cause that is personal to the deceased: When you ask people to make a donation in honor of a loved one, pick an organization with personal resonance. If the deceased volunteered at a particular charity, ask for donations to be directed there. If they died from a disease, ask people to donate to the appropriate medical research organization.
- Ensure people are informed of what organization you choose: There are many ways to communicate to mourners that you’d prefer donations in lieu of flowers. The best way to spread the word is to include it in any print and online obituaries. If you’re having a service at a funeral home, you can also let the funeral director know ahead of time if people ask.
- Inform a few close family friends of donation plans: Many people may expect that you would welcome a memorial donation. However, they may feel it imprudent to reach out to you directly around the time of the funeral. Let a few close family friends know the logistics, especially ones that may become de facto spokespeople for the family. People will likely know to contact them for more information.
How to Word a Memorial Donation in Place of Flowers
If you’re still not sure how to phrase a call for donations in lieu of flowers, here are some examples. You can use these as inspiration.
In an obituary
An obituary serves a notice of death. It can be found online or in print and provides biographical information about the deceased and details of funeral services. It can include a line about where to send donations. It’s often the best and most widely circulated source of information regarding someone’s death.
1. “A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursday, February 4 at St. Ives Church on Main Street. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to the American Heart Association in honor of the deceased.”
This works because it lets people know that they are invited to attend the funeral. It also specifies a reputable medical organization to send their donations. If your loved one passed away from complications due to heart disease, an organization like this is an excellent charity.
2. Mark was an alumnus of the University of Florida. He personally contributed to the 1990 Student Memorial Scholarship Fund each year. His family asks that if you are so moved, you make a donation to this fund in his memory.
Even years after graduation, many people remain strongly invested in university life. If your loved one was a devoted supporter of their alma mater, urge people to donate to scholarship funds in their honor.
3. Sarah was a dedicated cat rescuer, who fostered over one hundred cats before finding them their forever homes. Her family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Cat Depot rescue organization.
If your loved one was dedicated to providing acts of service, keep their volunteerism alive.
Ask that people donate to charity near and dear to the heart of the deceased. You can also encourage people to donate time by volunteering at a favored organization.
4. Lucas is survived by his wife and three young children. While no funeral service is currently scheduled, a celebration of life ceremony will be announced at a future date. In lieu of flowers, donations to help cover medical bills and living expenses are appreciated.
Sometimes the family of the deceased is in more immediate financial need than a nonprofit or charity. In this case, it is acceptable to make a soft request for financial assistance in the obituary.
In a letter or email
If you haven’t already discussed memorial donations with your loved ones as part of the end-of-life planning process, it may not occur to you to designate a charity in the obituary. If you decide you want to encourage memorial donations, you can do so after the funeral has passed.
You can even tie it into the anniversary of someone’s death. Emails or letters can even be used to organize a full-blown fundraiser.
5. Richard was always passionate about physical fitness. In his memory, we’ve organized a 5K to raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. We hope this will be the first of many successful fundraising ventures in Richard’s honor.
A fundraiser like this incorporates a personal passion of the deceased. It also raises funds for a medical foundation. This adds multiple levels of personalization.
6. It has been a year since we lost Angela to domestic violence. In this time, we’ve channeled our grief into helping other young women escape from terrible situations. We’re reaching out to our network to urge you to make donations to local women’s shelters. Your donations can save lives.
This is a good example of a family taking a tragic event and turning their sadness into something positive.
7. Losing Sam earlier this year showed us that the opioid epidemic does not discriminate. No matter how successful or happy someone seems, they may be hiding their struggles. We’re organizing a silent auction with some amazing community partners. 100 percent of the money raised will go to the local nonprofit rehab center.
Addiction does not discriminate based on age, gender, or skin color. Many nonprofit rehab facilities are overburdened. In this letter, both funds and awareness are being raised.
8. Even though we always accepted and loved Matt for who he was, he experienced the pain of rejection by his peers. Not protecting him better from the cruelty of the world is our biggest regret. We urge everyone who knew and loved our son to donate to The Trevor Project. LGBTQ teens all over the country are hurting and dying. We must do everything we can to protect these kids and their families from the heartache we’re experiencing.
This is another example of how raw emotion can be transformative. Sharing your pain can make a difference in the world.
On a funeral or memorial service program
The people who make the time and effort to show up to a funeral are often the people who will go above and beyond to help in other ways.
You can always print donation requests in the funeral or memorial service program. That way all attendees will know about any special requests.
9. We thank you for joining us at Harry’s funeral. We ask that if anyone is so inclined, they donate time, money, or food to a local food bank in his memory.
You don’t always have to have a specific organization in mind. Just recommend something more general that was important to the deceased. You can also remind people they can donate time and not just money.
10. Annie worked at the library for over forty years. In her memory, we urge you to support the library financially, by donating books or funds. You can also offer to wipe out late fees for low-income patrons.
This is another approach that is personalized and gives mourners several different ways to make a contribution.
11. Today, we opted to hold a celebration of life ceremony instead of a traditional funeral. Rebecca was a joyful person, who would want to be remembered as the uplifting, positive girl she was. She would also challenge you to do good recklessly.
A nontraditional funeral calls for a nontraditional donation. Challenge mourners to perform random acts of kindness instead of a simple cash donation.
12. Eleanor wasn’t expected to live past high school. But she defied the odds and lived into her forties. She married, had children, and led a life many said would be impossible. We encourage people to consider donating to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, to give other patients an even better chance of defying the odds.
This is another example of how a personal connection can really resonate.
Memorial Donation Request Etiquette
Death is a highly individualized experience, but when your loved one dies, it can also provide a unique perspective.
Use those personal experiences as a way to bring positivity to pain. When people make donations in the name of someone who has passed, it helps them live on in their own way.
- Kiger, Patrick “Funeral Homes Face New Financial Pressures.” Aarp.org, AARP, 25 July 2018, www.aarp.org/home-family/friends-family/info-2018/funeral-homes-financial-pressure.html.