The Murky World of Memorial Gifts - Part 1


The Murky World of Memorial Gifts – Part 1

It’s sad but true; people die. (Quick! Cue your iPod to Sir Elton John singing “The Circle of Life” to make you less melancholy.) That’s the bad news (unless you think having “The Circle of Life” stuck in your head all day is annoying).  The good news is that some individuals or their family members have designated your church to receive the “in lieu of flowers” memorial gifts. 

Part 1 of this discussion on memorial gifts starts with the thank you letter.  The thank you letter?  You mean I need to send a thank you letter for memorial gifts?  I know you know the answer.

Memorial gifts often come from people who know nothing about your congregation.  A good thank you letter is a great opportunity to let them know something about who you are and why the church was so important in the life of the person on behalf of whom they gave a gift. 

Here is an example of a memorial letter that may inspire others to do more in their community (and maybe even come to your church):

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Sherman:

Mary Jane Smith was a tireless advocate for the hungry in our community.  At Best Ever United Methodist Church she chaired the church’s first “Hunger Task Force,” leading the group to discover ways in which people of faith could make a difference in the lives of women, men, and children who are going hungry in our area.

Thank you for your generous gift of _______ in Mary Jane’s memory.   Your gift will go toward alleviating hunger in our community and collectively will make a tremendous impact in the lives of those who are in need.  No doubt, Mary Jane would have been thrilled to be remembered in this way. We will be sure to let her family know of your contribution as well.

Once again, thank you for your donation.  We pray that Mary Jane’s legacy will inspire us all to make a difference wherever we are called to serve.


Rev. Tony Jones

This letter works because it:
1.    fondly recalls the person who passed away
2.    gives the reader an idea (even if briefly) about your congregation
3.    accurately documents the gift
4.    lets the reader know where their gift is going
5.    is personally signed by the pastor (hopefully with a handwritten, “thank you” added)

So we begin with the thank you letter first – because it’s that important.  Next week, we’ll consider how memorial gifts can actually assist with some real needs in your church and how you might approach a family to talk about the need. 

Give me a holler if you have other questions about memorial gifts.  Let’s finish that “Circle of Life” in a way that meets the needs of your congregation, the community, and most importantly, the family who is grieving.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing.   Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise nearly $2 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations.  She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012.  Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation.  You can reach her at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com.

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Cesie Delve Scheuermann
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.