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Bereavement leave and insights from the legacy team

John Green | 12 January 2024 | Blogs

Two people holding hands in sympathy.
Photo by SHVETS production.

Earlier this year my father passed away. This experience and how the workplaces of myself and my siblings responded showed a variety of practices. It also made me reflect more deeply on how the best legacy fundraising often mirrors the best HR.

The law

Surprisingly there is no legal entitlement to bereavement leave, except for parental bereavement leave when a child dies.

Preparation

As with any event, particularly major ones, a plan and idea of how managers are expected to support
employees is easier thought through in advance rather than on the hoof. Surprisingly few charity HR leads have thought bereavement through ‘because it hasn’t happened’.

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The charity workplace (the clue is in the word! ‘charity’!)

Your bereavement policy. Firstly, make sure you have one! Unlike other policies this one needs some flexibility as the circumstances can vary enormously from person to person, make sure this is clear and that future managers don’t just ‘roll it out’. The policy will need to specify the ‘normal’ number of days leave, the mechanism for extending this should circumstances require it, the usual remuneration and the usual proximity of relation to the deceased for the policy to apply.

The bereaved

How to talk about it, should I talk about it? The policy is just the starting point.

Management needs to think about and perhaps have some training to provide staff with support during bereavement. This will take as many forms as there are people, so it is important to be in touch with bereaved employees to read their needs, some people will want to talk about it, others will want no discussion. Management with empathy will be a charity’s asset in these days and will not be forgotten.

Beyond the right words, gestures are important and will convey the care of the charity and colleagues, a card from the director as well as from colleagues is often right. Flowers too for the bereaved or sent to the funeral if appropriate are often very appreciated. Having this guidance in place for inexperienced managers will be a boon for them, navigating new and emotional territory will be a stress for them too.

I heard of one caregiver, not directly related to the deceased, who ask for time off for the funeral being quizzed by a manager as to their direct relationship, poor and insensitive management, this is not a one size fits all policy.

The funeral

Again, the ability of managers to ‘read’ the circumstances and employee will help determine with attendance at the funeral would be a sign of support or more difficult. If appropriate this can be hugely appreciated. It is also worth noting the dates of the bereavement and funeral as in future years these can be difficult and emotional moments for staff and a kind word is ‘charity’ in its essence.

For colleagues and the bereaved some ‘business as usual’ can help people have some structure, however managers need to be aware that it isn’t really ‘business as usual’ for the bereaved and they’ll need to be given some slack.

What can charity HR learn from the best of legacy fundraising professionals’ interaction with family and supporters following a bereavement?

It’s about the person not the money

The best legacy fundraisers know that It’s about the person not the money. Get this right and the
donation will come but you also engage with supporters with ‘charity’.

When a charity is notified about a legacy, in many cases there will also be a history of engagement by the supporter with the charity over many years and in many ways. It is important to recognise this in correspondence with the bereaved family and takes the relationship from the ‘money to the person’, can you see a theme emerging? Legacy fundraisers also know that it takes time for a gift to be received from the date of notification and where there are lay executors there are funerals to be organised and grieving which takes time.

As with staff, good legacy fundraisers remember future anniversaries and reconnect with the family to thank them for their legacy gift but also with anecdotes of the life of the deceased and their role in the mission of the charity. Together we’ve been on this journey, true not jargon, if done well.

Over the years I’ve gone to many supporters’ funerals or memorial services, sometimes because of a legacy gift, sometimes just because of their strong connection with the charity. Always appreciated by the family and it always gave me a greater appreciation for the wider family of supporters and the fact that their lives, interests as well as their money are a part of the life of the charity.

What doesn’t help is a transactional approach ‘It’s about the person not the money’ this is art not science, but a thought through guidance before hand helps.

For both bereaved staff and family of deceased supporters it is necessary to think through or revisit your charities bereavement support, train managers and ensure a flexible approach so that staff don’t feel put upon to ‘get over it’ quickly but more remember the care of an exceptional and caring employer.

I was fortunate this year to have an employer and colleagues who exemplified this.

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