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Dear Analyst: Overwhelmed by Obituaries

Tue, December 05, 2017 10:38 AM | Deleted user

By Elisa Shoenberger, Benchmarking Analyst, Grenzebach Glier and Associates

Dear Analyst,

We have to review the obituaries every work day to check for alumni and donors. Mondays are the worst because I have three days of newspapers to review! Obituary review can take most of the day and it’s really monotonous looking up names. I’m not exactly sure why I do this and what benefit it presents to my organization. Is there another way to make this task less odious or tedious?


Overwhelmed by Obituaries

Dear Overwhelmed,

Reviewing obituaries isn’t an easy task! It takes time to review an obituary, check the names against your database, and then updating the record or create an email. Plus it’s not the most pleasant of topics either. However, it’s an important activity because it’s part of caring for our donors and alumni. Fundraising is about relationships, including the end of life. We should stay abreast of all the people (and their loved ones) who have passed away is to make sure we approach donors and alumni appropriately in their time of grief. We don’t want to keep mailing to someone who has passed; that’s a bit like putting salt in the wound (and not to mention a waste of resources). If we are cultivating a major gift donor, it would be a bit awkward to ask them for a major gift if they’ve had an unfortunate event. More importantly, we may even be able to provide some relief; depending on the organization, an institution may be able to provide pastoral care and/or even hold services for the beloved one.

Finally, there’s also the planned giving aspect of fundraising. It’s important to keep track of donors who have pledged to give part of their estates to your organization. Some planned giving departments will reach out to the estates to reconcile the donor’s pledge.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that obituary review can be extremely time consuming. There are several things that may help to alleviate the practice. First, you should consider reviewing the obituary procedure at your organization. How much time is it taking compared to the rest of prospect research activities? You could even calculate the yearly cost of obituaries by noting how many hours it takes a week. In one situation, a research department realized it was costing over $15K a year to do obituaries so the process needed to be reviewed. In that situation, the researchers reduced the depth of daily review; instead of reviewing every name in an obituary, it was limited to the deceased and their spouse or child and their parents. That reduced the time incredible.

Alerts are also a useful tool as well. You may want to consider setting up alerts for your top prospects and planned giving donors. You may want to do this anyway for any other newsworthy events for your organization. That way, you can get quicker notification of a death in the life of a major donor. But it has to be reviewed fairly regularly, possibly on a weekly or even daily basis.

Finally, it may be a great task for new researchers, interns and student workers.  Reviewing obituaries and cross checking them with the database is a great way to train new hires. It requires attention to detail, follow through and more. Sometimes you have to spend time digging to ensure that the deceased person is the same as the person in your database. Student workers and interns can also be taught to assist with this task. Of course, you’ll need to make sure someone checks their work before anything is finalized in the database.

These are just a few strategies to help with obituary review. How does your organization handle obituary processes?

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