Charitable donations in memory of a deceased person are increasingly replacing funeral flowers as gestures of sympathy. Often the family will request contributions to a specific charity. When mailing a donation, include a letter to the charity to ensure the deceased is properly honored.
Cover the Basics
A memorial contribution letter is a type of business letter, although often treated less formally. Unless the charity specifies a person to whom to address the letter, use "Dear Sir or Madam" or "To Whom It May Concern" as the salutation. Note that the donation is being made in memory of the deceased, and write "In memory of" and the deceased's name on the memo line of your check. If possible, contribute at least the amount you would have spent on flowers.
Make It Personal
Include a sentence or two about what this particular charity, or the cause it supports, did for or meant to the deceased. A contribution to an animal shelter, for example, might include a statement that, "Shirley used to volunteer to walk the dogs when she was able, and continued to support the shelter financially when her health deteriorated." Or a note that "Joe received excellent care from your staff, especially Nurse Styles" to accompany a donation to a hospice. If the organization has a special fund or project toward which you'd like to direct the funds, mention that in the letter.
Include your own name and address in the letter to the organization, so that you will receive an acknowledgment of your contribution. Most charities will also notify the deceased's family when they receive a memorial contribution, so include the name and address of a family member in your letter. You can notify the family personally that you've remembered their loved one, if you prefer, or add a note in the sympathy card.
Choosing a Charity
If the family has not made a particular request, you can choose a charity that you know the deceased supported, or an organization related to the disease that led to the death, if applicable. Otherwise, select a charity that is important to you, or one that you feel is going to make the best use of the funds. Research before you give; not all charities are as philanthropic as they may seem, and often the bulk of your donation goes to fundraising, salaries and pension plans rather than to the actual cause (see Resources).