How Do You Find Out that a Donor has Died?

Now I know that this is a bit of a morbid topic, but one that has been coming up pretty regularly for me this year.  During my tenure at International House, I have noticed a bit of a strange trend among the survivors of my organization’s alumni donors — they seem to choose NOT to notify us of the donor’s death until many years later (which is always hard to stay on top of when you have tens of thousands of donors, and a significant percentage of them outside of the United States).

With that introduction out of the way, I must share with you a unique story that recently happened and made me really think about how the families of donors notify our organizations of their passing.  Last week while excitedly opening that day’s responses to our spring appeal, I opened an envelope that I assumed was just a notification that an alumnus had moved and had not left his/her forwarding address.  However, I soon found myself looking at a copy of an alumna’s death certificate — without a note from a survivor or anything.  Now for those of you who don’t know, I have been researching my family history for almost 20 years, so I know death certificates very well.  After getting over the surprise of receiving a death certificate of someone to whom I am not related, my mind immediately went to concerns about identity theft (as the certificate has the alumna’s full name, the names of her parents, birth and death dates, home address, Social Security number, etc.).  Did this well-meaning relative assume that the easiest way to let us know to remove this person from our mailing list was to send a copy of the death certificate, so that we would know it is official?

I know that there are the normal ways to notify organizations: a short note or e-mail asking that the person be removed from the mailing lists (ideally with a date of death for tracking purposes), reading about it in the local newspapers and/or other publications, or receiving notification of an estate or a trust to which your organization is a beneficiary.

What’s the strangest way that you have learned of a donor’s death?

P.S.  My organization has recently purchased one of the various services that will use your donor database to comb through public records and determine who has died; I am looking forward to making this a regular part of our data cleanup strategies.

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