Q. My colleague’s wife died, and I can’t decide whether to make a contribution in her memory to my favorite charity or find out what the family’s preference would be. What’s your advice? Also, how much should I contribute?
A. Most bereaved will appreciate your thoughtfulness at a time like this, no matter what you do. But since this is about them, not you, I would always try to get the name of their preferred charity. This makes sense especially if your personal choice is an organization or cause that has no relationship to the person who has died.
If an obituary appears in the newspaper, it will often suggest one or more charities or institutions where contributions can be sent in memory of the deceased. It might say something like, “In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Alabama Public Television (or the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America or The Audubon Society or the Society of the First Infantry Division).” Other suggestions might include the hospital where the person was treated or the school or university the individual attended and/or actively supported. Another possibility is a church or other place of worship designated by the family. Obituary suggestions are the easiest route to follow, too, because they often provide the address you need to send your contribution, saving you a lot of time and trouble.
If there is no obituary, you might ask others at your company or check with the funeral home. When it just isn’t possible to get this information—and you know the cause of death—you can contribute to an organization connected with the disease, such as the American Cancer Society or the American Heart Association.
As to the amount, that is up to you. There is generally no particular standard. Whatever you send is usually tax deductible. Regardless, an acknowledgment of your contribution will be sent to your colleague by the charity or organization without mentioning the amount. Note however, that donations are not customary in the Roman Catholic religion (unless specifically mentioned), among Seventh-day Adventists or Hindus.
A friend of mine recently told me what a comfort it was to receive acknowledgments of the contributions made in memory of her mother. “They made me smile and weep at the same time to know that my mother was being remembered in this way—in some cases by people who didn’t know her, but did know me. In a way it was a tribute to both of us.”
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.
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