Making the most of a memory

Setting up a successful memorial fund can be fraught with problems if it is not scrupulously planned, warns Francesca Quint. Francesca Quint is a barrister 11 Old Square. She specialises in charity law.

Memorials can take many forms: from a simple headstone to a park bench in the deceased's favourite spot. But the essence of a memorial is to remember a particular human being, whose life, loves and interests will inevitably have encompassed many people and activities outside the scope of charity.

Memorial funds in this country are always set up as charities, although there is no legal necessity to do this. To help a memorial fund succeed it is important to have trustees who have the following qualities:

knowledge and understanding of the deceased;

knowledge and appreciation of the limits of charity in law;


judgement; and

a genuine wish to serve.

Similar characteristics are required in the chief executive and other senior staff who may be employed to advise on and carry out the policies determined by the trustees.

But a high-profile memorial fund like that of Diana, Princess of Wales has to be more efficiently run than might be acceptable for the average charity, since any suggestion of extravagance or waste will be pounced upon.

Transparency is also necessary, since suspicion may easily attach to anything which is not clear and obvious. In fact it is better to risk appearing naive by explaining too much to the public than to give any ground for supposing the fund is not run on purely altruistic lines.

So good communications are vital within the fund and between the fund and the outside world. Advice will be required on the best way of presenting the fund to the public, both when asking people for donations and when informing them of the way in which their contributions have been used.

There is no room for arrogance (or the appearance of arrogance) when your organisation is getting and spending other people's money, especially when it is in memory of someone who was respected or loved by the contributors.

Fund raising is not a charitable purpose in itself and it would be wrong to regard it as one of the objects of a charitable fund. Nevertheless, unless the fund has been established from the private funds of an individual or a company, fund raising is necessary.

A well thought-out strategy is needed in which the aim of gathering the maximum amount of money for charity must be balanced against the equally relevant objectives of protecting and preserving both good memories of the deceased and – at the same time – the fund's own reputation and credibility.

The trustees will inevitably attract criticism if the methods of fund raising, whether carried out directly or indirectly (such as where the scale of activity requires the establishment of a separate trading company) do not match the image of the deceased which the public wishes to remember.

In life, the deceased may not, for example, have been scrupulously fair or honest in their dealings, but the fund cannot afford to reflect those negative characteristics: its fund-raising methods ought ideally to reflect the deceased's personality, but not the flaws.

In the case of a memorial fund dedicated to an exceptionally famous person, there is another aspect to fund raising which has to be taken into account: the opportunity for those not within the control of the trustees to exploit public sentiment to make money for commercial purposes.

The trustees of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund have been obliged to take steps to protect the name and the image of the Princess by registering trade marks. They have adopted a policy of licensing their use only in cases where they feel that the association between the Princess and the product or service in question will enhance the fund in an appropriate way.

Inevitably, this is a highly subjective matter and not everyone agrees with the decisions taken or the balance struck between commercial and sentimental considerations. But it is important to stress the need for vigilance and an appreciation of commercial reality – qualities which are not particularly common in the voluntary sector generally, and another aspect of running a memorial fund about which prudent trustees will have to seek professional advice.

In most cases the fund-raising phase does not last long – the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund fund is an exception. The real work of the trustees is in deciding how to use the funds that have been raised. The trustees' approach to this will determine whether the memorial justifies the donors' faith in the trustees by producing a fitting memorial to the deceased while at the same time achieving a worthwhile charitable objective.

The memory of an individual can be perpetuated in many ways and it may be wise to consider a combination. If a physical memorial is desired, be it a plaque, a statue, a garden or a building, the trustees must take account of planning considerations, the effect on neighbouring property owners and questions of public accessibility.

In addition, there is the question of future maintenance: it is fortunate for the memory of Prince Albert that public funds have been made available for the restoration of his widow's extravagantly Victorian demonstration of grief and appreciation, the Albert Memorial.

But public funds are by no means always available, and there is nothing sadder than a neglected monument to a once respected, but now forgotten, hero.

And it would be no use giving an expensive piece of equipment to a hospital in memory of a deceased person if there were no funds to employ or train staff to use it or to keep it working.

It is one of the tasks of the trustees to make provision for a respectable future when circumstances may be quite different and genuine public interest may be lacking. The fact that a charitable fund can be established in perpetuity can be useful in this connection.

Of course, there is also the question of useful works: where funds permit, the trustees may want to set up an institution which will be a more practical memorial and benefit the living in a way that touches their lives rather than simply emotions. The choice will depend on many things, including the breadth of the deceased's interests, the founders' and donors' predilections and the trustees' preferences.

If a new institution that will celebrate the person's life in a more practical way is to be set up it is vital to ensure that it will be needed, that the project is structured in the best possible way, and that it will be run professionally and become a future example of good practice.

Expert advice should therefore be sought from the outset and certainly before any irrevocable steps are taken.

One of the most public spirited memorials in its day was the establishment of a fund in memory of King George V to provide playing fields and recreation grounds all over the country. The scheme is now administered by the National Playing Fields Association, and each ground is a charity in its own right with a local body of managers.

The scheme has ensured that many communities retain at least one area of land which has not been built on and which benefits the young as well as the middle-aged and elderly.

It is also possible to promote charitable objects through the support of existing charities (including charities which the deceased supported or approved of in life).

But having to choose one charity over another can be difficult – even controversial – and trustees may have to use their diplomatic skills to the full.

It is wise for trustees in these circumstances to be certain about their priorities when setting policy.

Policies should be published to assist charities in deciding whether to apply to the trustees for help. Potential applicants should be offered guidance about how and when to apply, and if possible every application should receive a reply.

Guidance about grant making is available from the Association of Charitable Foundations, membership of which would be a wise investment for a memorial fund which plans to operate through grants and loans to other charities.

With the passage of time the personality of the memorial fund itself takes over from the personality of the deceased. The fund “represents” the deceased in a sort of earthly afterlife.

Gradually the public may come to view the deceased through the achievements of the fund, and if the fund is not well run the deceased's reputation can be tarnished in retrospect. The deceased's foibles become the subject of affectionate anecdotes for internal consumption only, while the fund's public face indelibly colours their official and public image.

Reputations tend to be fragile in a generally disrespectful age, and the trustees of a memorial fund owe it to their successors as well as to the deceased (and the deceased's family) to ensure that the fund acquires and develops a reputation for all the good qualities in the deceased that encouraged the donors' generosity in the first place.