Tributes and Memorials

 In Foundations, Friends, Fundraising

When someone donates to your library or its fundraising organization, they get a great feeling of satisfaction in return. That great feeling goes a long way toward motivating people to donate to any nonprofit organization. What can give a donor an even better feeling? Making a donation that honors someone while it supports your library. Tribute (or “honorary”) and memorial gifts can do just that, and they can be a wonderful addition to your library’s fundraising activities.

Tributes and memorials are like two sides of a coin. Tributes honor someone who is still living—often to mark a special occasion like a birthday, graduation, retirement, and so forth. Memorials are given to remember someone who is deceased. These kinds of gifts not only provide great opportunities for giving, they are also very easy for your library or its fundraising organization to initiate.


Recognizing and Using Tribute and Memorial Gifts

How can you best use tribute and memorial gifts? Purchasing books is a very effective use of these kinds of gifts because tribute and memorial donors like the idea that their donations translate directly into materials for the library. The very act of remembering and honoring a loved one is often more meaningful and important than the size of the gift itself. The personal touch is essential. You can express your appreciation by the methods you choose for recognizing tribute and memorial gifts. Personalized bookplates are a very easy and popular option. The bookplate should indicate who made the donation and who is being honored. Design or purchase bookplates specifically for your tributes and memorials program. Making the bookplates unique to your library will add to the feeling of personalization, something your donor will greatly appreciate.

Two important things to consider when establishing a tribute and memorial program are (1) establishing a minimum donation level and (2) determining how the gift will be receipted. In addition to the price of the book, there are costs involved in the processing of the gift that must be covered by the donation. Twenty-five dollars is often required as a minimum gift to receive a personalized bookplate.

A receipt in the form of a thank-you letter should be sent informing your donor that the gift is fully tax deductible. For an added personal touch, enclose a photocopy of the bookplate so the donor can see what it looks like and will know how the gift has been recognized. Another great idea is to enclose a fresh tribute and memorial brochure with your thank-you letter so donors will have it on hand when they want to make another tribute or memorial gift.

A second letter should be sent to the honoree (or his/her family). The purpose of this letter is to inform the recipient that a gift in an individual’s honor or memory was made to the library. Include the donor’s name and address (the recipient may wish to send a personal thank-you note to the donor), but do not indicate the dollar amount of the gift. Instead, include a photocopy of the bookplate that bears the name of the honoree.

A word of caution, avoid allowing donors to select specific books for their bookplate. Especially when the donations are a result of an obituary or the request of a family member, the donors will undoubtedly ask to help select the books. This practice will create excessive work for library staff once this program gains popularity. In addition, the library’s collection managers know what materials are needed most, and material selection is best left to them.


Creating a Book Endowment

Give serious consideration to starting a book endowment for tribute and memorial gifts. An endowment is made up of funds, permanently invested in a stock and fixed income portfolio, which typically appreciate in value. Each year, organizations draw down a percentage of these funds to use as needed or as the endowment directs. Typical drawdown is between 4 and 5 percent of the endowment’s market value. Rather than money in and money out for the purchase of books, an endowment can be created with very little effort. Money can be collected as it comes in, deposited in the endowment, and, once a year, a single distribution can be made for the purchase of books. If you think that starting an endowment for tribute and memorial gifts is a good idea, seek advice from an investment professional. Endowments must be established according to specific guidelines and regulations. Many organizations that are new to endowment investments turn to their community foundations for advice. If you must pay someone, do it. Spending a little money to do it correctly at the outset is extremely important.


Working with a Community Foundation

If you decide to start an endowment, you must manage the investment of the money, or you will spend it away with your drawdowns. A community foundation is one option for managing your funds. Like any firm, it is likely to charge you fees for this management. However, be aware that, as a rule, you must give community foundations your funds. You can set restrictions on what the funds are to be used for (i.e. for library projects), but those funds are no longer yours—they belong to the community foundation. Consider all your options carefully before you choose how to steward these funds.


Creating a Tributes and Memorials Brochure

Like any other area of your fundraising plan, you must let your community know you accept these types of gifts. Marketing materials, therefore, are very important. Your first focus should be on developing a brochure (or brochures) explaining the program: when gifts are appropriate, how to make them, how the funds will be used, and how the honorees and donors will be recognized.

When creating a brochure, focus on your message, and keep it simple. Your potential donors love the library and love the person they are honoring. What a perfect fit! Tell your donors how this perfect fit can benefit your library. Tell them how you will use the funds and how will you recognize the honorees and the donors.

Using software your already have, you can create an attractive brochure without the help of a graphic designer. Just follow these simple steps:

  • Create a catchy “tagline.” A tagline is simply a slogan, a phrase that will be easy to remember.
  • Develop a simple brochure design. Use letter-size paper for a one-fold or two-fold brochure. Open a simple brochure template in Word. Don’t just stick to text. Select digital photos or scan existing ones, and insert those too. Use photos and illustrations that suggest occasions for giving and also give your brochures a little visual punch. The pictures help convey the message, while the relatively concise text explains each giving program. Too many words will bore a potential donor, so keep it short and clear. If possible, print your brochures in color.
  • Include a donation form. Your brochure should include a simple tear-off or cut-off donation form. It should be quick to fill out and easy to return via mail or in person. If you make it possible to download your tributes and memorial gifts brochure from your library’s website, be sure you also make it easy for online donors to give. Don’t forget a sentence stating that this gift is tax deductible according to IRS guidelines. The following sentence will work: “(Your library or its fundraising organization’s name) is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Your gift is fully tax-deductible as allowable by law.”

Later on, once your brochures are complete and readily available, you can also mail solicitation letters that explain this meaningful type of giving.

There are times when honoring or remembering a person or commemorating an important life event calls for a special kind of gift, and it is important to make your library a receiving point for such gifts. Establishing a simple tribute and memorial giving program makes it easy for a donor to give to your library, honor someone, and feel great about both. You may also find that once a donor has made his or her first tribute or memorial gift, that person will do so again. Make it as easy as possible for donors to give in this way (through a brochure, a phone call, or your library’s website), and remember that you can never thank your donors too much.


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