Research shows what matters most to people when they look back at their life is how they will be remembered and their impact. In mission-driven work, there is every reason to help those that support your purpose to explore their own purpose. When you have a clearer picture of what legacy someone wants to leave, you can help them draw the lines of connection to what you do every day. Once you have honored their purpose and their spirit, they will honor yours… for a lifetime.
But first, the Obvious : Name Something
When people think of honoring someone’s legacy through a charity, the default is naming a building, space, object, program, or scholarship in their name. This can be a perfect opportunity for many donors and supporters and I encourage you to always consider these options option when you are working with someone to plan a tribute. However, I did not include these in my list, because they are often complicated and expensive.
Instead, here are some creative, simple and low-cost ways to honor purpose and celebrate legacy which you can start today!
1. Designate Founding Members
Founding members can either be designated for the organization as a whole or a for a specific program or event. For supporters, staff and community partners having a designation as a founding member can provide just the right token of recognition that reminds them that they were a part of starting something meaningful. You’ll be surprised how often they revisit this accomplishment in their lifetime.
2. Add Books to Your Library
Those who strongly support our causes are often connected to our work in a variety of ways, including engaging in additional research related to our programs, mission, and vision. Work with them to discover some of their favorite, ‘go-to’ books on the subjects that connect to your organization. Present the books to them asking them to write an inscription in the book, sign and date it. Then add the books to your organizational reference library for future volunteers, staff, board members and clients to read and learn.
3. Handwrite a Personalized Letter
Personalized letters are a simple tactic too easily forgotten in busy nonprofit offices. E-mails are quick, but they rarely stick around. Signing form letters with the same message are impersonal and it quickly becomes obvious to the reader that you are not as invested in them as they are in you. In comparison, the impact of a sincere, handwritten letter that connects someone’s core values to the difference they made in your organization is a keepsake. Look in your own drawer or files, who’s cards did you save and why? Now find the time and space to write that letter to someone else with a goal that it will stay in the drawer and become a lifetime keepsake.
4. Offer an Invitation to Speak at a Board Meeting or Event
While some people are not comfortable speaking in front of large groups, everyone is flattered to be asked. For those that jump at the chance and for those that are hesitant, be sure to take the time to set them up for success. Provide a clear introduction, go over their talking points ahead of time and always provide a time limit so that they can connect best with the audience without losing them. One nearly failsafe method of support is to offer an interview or question and answer format. This allows a moderator to lead the individual through a conversation, rather than have them worry or overprepare a formal speech. It also enables the moderator to take-over if the speaker needs a break to organize their thoughts or compose themselves. To reinforce celebrating their legacy, don’t forget to arrange for a photo or video of them during the event. Share it with other stakeholders through social media or newsletters. Always send your supporter a copy to remind them of the incredible impact they made happen.
5. Invite a Guest Blog or Social Media Takeover
This is not only a fabulous way to honor a supporter or client, but also an efficient way to support your organization’s communication goals. If this is the right fit for the person you are honoring, their reaction will be one of gushing and gratitude to be selected. Everyone wants to be heard and you have provided them a public forum to share their voice. Provide some parameters for posting and subject matter, but allow flexibility so their authentic self comes through. On Facebook and other social media sites, reminders in the years to come of this important post will help them stay connected to your cause.
6. Start an Audio Gallery
This takes a bit of work and investment but can offer a great legacy piece and a heartfelt endorsement of your mission. Ask the person you are honoring to sit down with you and tell you about why they care about your mission. Let them talk for as long as they like, knowing your goal is to find a piece of the interview (between 60 seconds and 2.5 minutes) that highlights their involvement. Link that audio file to their name on a donor wall (longest lasting), on your website, to a video or another public forum. This will permit family members to listen and revisit their loved one’s voices and other stakeholders to have a window into the passion your organization ignites.
7. Organize a Meal
For donors passionate about the team of people that make your mission happen every day, invite them to a meal with a select group of staff, volunteers and/or clients. Food is an incredible way to learn about people and passions. If you happen to know their favorite meal, serve some of those foods family styles. I have yet to meet someone whose favorite meal does not have a story to it, usually one steeped in family and legacy. Use this opportunity to connect further to their history. Food also provides a relaxed atmosphere and “breaking bread” brings everyone together.
8. Involve the Next Generation
While supporters may not fully articulate it, many have a desire to give back as a way to illustrate gratitude and responsibility to the next generations of children and grandchildren. Providing intentional opportunities for families to volunteer together, kids to learn about what the organization does and why or just to observe programs in action encourages families to add your cause to their history. Some of my proudest moments have been when a parent called me to ‘gush’ about how their child’s essay, college application or conversation with friends featured our mission and the impact it had on their lives. I was once told, “Your organization taught my son empathy.” There was no question our mission will always have a place in that family’s heart and minds.
9. Create Legacy Focused Centerpieces
At any upcoming event, design the centerpieces as a way to honor individuals and their legacy. Perhaps they have been a dedicated volunteer for 30 years and you can include an item or photo that speaks to their particular style or service. Something as simple as choosing their favorite flowers in an etched vase can work well or it can be a complex reflection of their time at your organization through symbols and stories. If they welcome public recognition, include a write-up on the table of the individual’s life and legacy and/or provide a tribute during the event program. Most importantly, save a sample of centerpieces for the person you are honoring and close family and friends that attended to have as a keepsake.
10. Nominate for Awards Outside of your Organization
We regularly default to honoring someone by giving them an award we designate through our organization. This can be a great fit, especially if an annual award or event already exists. However, it can quickly become costly and even political to maintain over time. Just as meaningful, and often much more cost-effective, is nominating someone for an award outside your organization. Keep an eye out for city and state awards, rotary, volunteer organizations, awards featured on local media and even various for-profit business awards. Taking the time to nominate someone shows your care for them goes beyond your organization while highlighting their contributions to your cause. Be sure to save a copy of the nomination letter or form you submitted and send it on to them (preferably on nice paper, mailed with a handwritten note). Even if they are not selected, they will enjoy learning how you see them and they will be grateful for the recognition of their contributions.