Donations or Flowers? Funeral Donation Etiquette

When a loved one dies or suffers a loss, it’s customary to send flowers as condolence. Flowers can be a beautiful reminder of the love and support behind them in this time of need. Flower arrangements are usually displayed at wakes, viewings, funeral ceremonies, and burial ceremonies. 

Today, it’s more common for obituaries to request that donations be submitted toward a burial fund or charity organization “in lieu of flowers.” “In lieu” is simply an elegant way of saying “instead,” so these requests are indicating that the money you’ll spend on funeral flowers would be preferably spent on a financial donation of some kind. 

So, should you donate money? Or should you send flowers? Or both? Older generations might balk at the idea of sending a check instead of flowers, and workplaces often have a policy of sending flowers when there is a funeral. But what if they say you should donate to your favorite charity? How do we choose—and do we tell them? 

We’re breaking down the common funeral question: Should I send flowers or make a memorial donation?

When to Send Flowers to A Funeral 

Let’s begin by making it clear that the kind gesture of sending flowers to someone in grief is thoughtful, and will likely be received with gratitude. If you’ve ever sent flowers when the obituary requested donations, they won’t hold it against you. There are still times when sending flowers is appropriate. 

Send flowers as a funeral gift when: 

  • The family member has not requested any donations elsewhere
  • You’re sending condolences on behalf of an organization (e.g. a workplace or team)
  • You know the grieving but not the deceased 

You can make a floral funeral gift more meaningful by choosing the favorite flower of the deceased (or the grieving party if it’s going directly to them), adding a heartfelt note or group sympathy card, or choosing a more long-term gift, such as a houseplant. 

Be sure that you are considerate of the grieving friend or family member when you send funeral flowers, as they may prefer to have them delivered to the funeral home instead of an immediate family member's home. That way they won't have to transport flowers to the funeral home for the memorial service.

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When to Send Donations In Lieu of Flowers

As we’ve already noted, older generations might be surprised to find how many funerals are requesting donations—and how few people send flowers these days. It’s not rude or inconsiderate. In fact, if the grieving parties are requesting donations, it’s actually better etiquette to send the requested form of donation. 

Etiquette queen Emily Post says: 

“Take your cue from the request. You may still send flowers in addition, but if you wish to send only one expression of sympathy, follow the family’s wishes and choose the contribution.”

There you have it. If they request donations, that’s what you should try to contribute. But it’s not that simple. How much should you contribute? Should you send it electronically or mail a check? If they want you to choose your own charity, how do you choose? Should you let them know? Here are the answers we’ve found. 

How much should I contribute? 

The family will be truly grateful for any donation. Never donate more than you can afford, and do not feel bad if you are unable to contribute. If you were planning on sending flowers, donate the amount you would have spent on an arrangement at the very least. 

How should I give my donation? 

If the family has requested a donation to a specific group or organization, check for donation instructions on the organization's website. If the family has started a GoFundMe or other group donation for funeral expenses or a college fund for the deceased children, for example, feel free to submit your donation electronically through that channel. It may even be common to use popular peer-to-peer payments, such as Venmo or PayPal, for donations. Don’t worry—while this may be daunting to someone who hasn’t used Venmo before, it’s very common, useful, and safe. 

We highly discourage you from giving the grieving family cash or checks, especially at a funeral service. While the donation is thoughtful, the last thing the grieving family wants to do is handle deposits or donation submissions during this time of mourning. Be considerate that your donation does not become a chore. 

When should I send my donation? 

Ideally, as soon as possible. Your donation should definitely be made within the week. If more time has passed before you were made aware or able to send your contribution, you may still do so—but be sensitive to the family as the window for their ability and desire to handle funeral processes may be closed. 

How do I choose my own charity?

If the family has requested that you donate to your own favorite charity, you can do that a few different ways. If you already have a charity you love and support, make a donation to that charity “In Memory of ______.” If you don’t have a regular charity, you can spend some time thinking about the deceased and the good they represented in the world. Find a charity that might mean something to them, helping their legacy live on. 

Do I tell the family about my donation? 

Yes. It might feel strange to brag about your donation, but it’s not bragging—it’s a comforting tribute. Many charities will allow you to put in the name and address of the grieving family so they can be sent the acknowledgment of donation in their loved one’s name. If the charity doesn’t send thank you notes or acknowledgments, it is appropriate to send a sympathy card or note to show the family that you made a donation in memory of their loved one. 

The Rule for Funeral Gifts

We have an easy rule of thumb for determining how you should contribute when someone passes away, no matter how well you knew them or how close you are to the family. 

Honor their requests, and contribute in a way that will not burden the family in any way. 

For example, if they ask for donations but you send flowers, consider that they will have to transport flowers from their home to the funeral home and then the gravesite, or eventually throw them out. 

The goal of a funeral gift of a donation or of flowers is to indicate your love, support, and sympathy. It’s not about how you look to others, or what you think the common response should be—it’s about those in mourning. Whether you send flowers or a donation, the important thing is that you show up for the grieving, literally or figuratively, in their time of need. 

As with most things in life, it’s the thought that counts. So, think about your loved ones and then give with confidence. 

Danica Holdaway

Danica Holdaway is a 10-year marriage veteran with three little girls. She loves marking each and every holiday and anniversary in the most extra way possible. She’s passionate about making everyday life special and bringing people together. Especially using food.