Q: The world and our organization recently lost a legend. This woman played an important role in our organization’s history. In life she was designated an Honorary Lifetime Board Member for her service. Now that she’s gone, we’re wondering if there is a way to remember her into the future.

Someone suggested we remove her name from the board list, but put up a memorial on our website. Others fear that a website memorial might disappear all too soon and would prefer something a little more permanent. Some specifically want to keep her name on the board list but don’t know how to do it. Have you ever seen a memorial membership designation? If so, what might that look like?

 

A: You actually have a number of options, and none is mutually exclusive. First, I would absolutely put a memorial blurb up on the website – preferably on the home page. It’s not only the “right” thing to do for an organizational legend, it’s the most appropriate place to honor her commitment to your organization. At the point that it makes sense to move the memorial from the home page, you can put it anywhere on the site – even hide it. The great thing (and not so great thing!) about the web is that nothing ever disappears for good. Someone searching for this woman’s name will come across that memorial blurb and she will be recognized anew.

A number of organizations take out a page in the local newspaper to memorialize someone of great stature that worked with them to help ensure their success. While this can be costly, it may make sense for you. Perhaps one of your donors will underwrite the expense. Or, perhaps one of your sponsors already has a commitment to buy ad space and would be willing to give you the space for a day in return for the opportunity to add its own message of condolence.

Board directors, other volunteers and staff can band together and make a nice contribution to your organization in her name, which could then be recognized with a plaque. That not only would be a beautiful and appropriate tribute, it would help further the cause this woman believed in.

To directly answer your question about a memorial membership designation, organizations in a similar situation will often leave the name on the board list, with her Honorary Lifetime Board Member designation, preceded by an asterisk. The footnote would merely say, “Deceased.” 

Yet another option, if you don’t already have both of these, is to use her name for either an annual or planned giving society. I’m sure you are familiar with annual giving societies, with their multiple giving and benefit levels. The different levels serve to encourage people to “move up,” regularly increasing their contributions in return for increased benefits. With planned giving, society membership would be reserved for those who have signed a letter of intent or who tell you that they have put, or are putting, your organization in their will. You can design a unique pin that recognizes these individuals, hold a luncheon once a year where you share the latest information about your clients and the impact your organization is having on them, send regular updates, etc. This has a two potential benefits: these individuals will want to keep you in their will because you are keeping them close; and, others will want to put you in their will so that they can become a member of the society, too.

I hope one or more of these ideas reflect the essence of the great woman that you lost. My condolences.