The year is 2040: How have death & remembrance changed?

  • by Lucy Tugby
  • 05/12/2018

In the near future, the way we deal with death could be very different. Technology is driving different ways to remember our loved ones and charity donation models must be modernised as part of that process.

That was the premise of a recent event WPNC held in London, in partnership with Legacy Foresight. Charity professionals attended to get a glimpse of what in-memory giving might look like by 2040.

In a joint presentation, WPNC digital strategy director, Dan Martin, and Legacy Foresight’s head of in-memory consultancy, Kate Jenkinson, revealed several aspects of death that they think will evolve during the next two decades.

These included the strong possibility of assisted dying being legalised in the UK; a greater ability to predict and plan for our own death; and even the holographic appearance of a dead person at their funeral, giving them “the last word”.

Kate and Dan predicted society will be much more open about death, with every passing marked on social media. Taboos are already being tackled by the likes of the BBC’s Big C Little Me podcast, which journalist Rachel Bland helped to present until her death from cancer earlier this year. We may even see documentary makers follow dying celebrities taking their last breath on screen. Kate cited a current example exploring the final days of four hospice patients.

Charities must consider these step changes in our attitudes towards death and how they will affect fundraising. For example, as charity engagement with a dying person become more commonplace and accepted, the problem of predicting legacy giving could be negated as those wishes can be discussed when the person is still alive.

Attendees heard how technology could revolutionise how we remember family and friends. One area explored in a post-presentation discussion was online “estate management”. Charities could offer people the chance to collate and curate their own stories online before they die, then give comfort to relatives by sharing it when they are gone. But the question remains, who owns and manages that material ongoing?

The event may have been unusually speculative, but it clearly stirred the imagination of attendees.

Rachel Kingston, head of regional fundraising planning at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “We know there’s a desire among people to give, but funerals no longer seem to be the route [they use]. We are looking at ways to help them donate directly and hassle-free, as they have enough on their plates with grieving. We are looking at adapting our in-mem offer now so this insight was powerful.

“The thing that struck me is the opportunity to get onto people’s radars for in-memory donations and being remembered happens well before somebody passes away. So [we should] think about the supporters we have now, the value they are already giving to the organisation and how that could potentially continue beyond them passing, being handed on to the family to continue what they started.”

In summary, WPNC and Legacy Foresight believe there are five things charities can do now to prepare for fundraising changes the future may well bring:

  1. Nurture decision-makers in life so their valuable support can continue after they die
  2. Re-think how to be the “significant other” in the funeral process
  3. Get to grips with technological changes to in-memory giving e.g. the end of cash and cheques
  4. Become the curator of supporters’ lives, and play a role in safeguarding and sharing their information when they are gone
  5. Rip up the remembrance product copy book by offering more personalised memorials, that also link to a sense of place.

After the event, Kate from Legacy Foresight commented: “It was a great opportunity to meet with in-memory and legacy fundraisers, and stretch their imaginations to get them thinking of futuristic ways in-mem could go. People are starting to think how they can change what they do on a daily basis. We’re seeing lots in the media about death just being another stage of the journey so it’s a really hot topic at the moment.”

Dan from WPNC added: “It was interesting to try to see far into the future, rather than just the next couple of years. It provides a unique context into what charities might do next. We hope charities were inspired and use some of the practical tips we’ve given them to start to make their own journeys into the future.”

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