By Cecilia Sepp
Publishing member obituaries in magazines, journals, websites, etc. is always a delicate question. When I was a membership director, we would publish obituaries in the monthly magazine. We usually collected the information from family and friends of the member, and would write up a short note based on what we already knew about the person. If we could find an obituary in the newspaper, we would reference that as well for content.
However, I did learn that it is most important to make certain the member is actually dead.
Once, a member of our board of directors insisted that someone was dead, and he said he knew it for a fact. We wrote up the obituary, published it in the next issue of the magazine, and a few days after it hit—you guessed it. I received a call from the "dead" member, assuring me that he was indeed still alive.
He then shared a few choice words about the board member who reported him as deceased. I apologized profusely, and I believe I gave him a one-year membership to make up for our mistake.
So, my suggestion for printing obituaries is:
1. Confirm that the member is actually deceased.
2. Whether you publish online or in print, set guidelines for consistency and fairness. Example: limit to 350 words; decide if you will include charities for in memoriam contributions; decide if you will include links to online notices.
3. Publish in alphabetical order by last name. Do not set one deceased member above another.
4. Rather than "Obituaries,” I suggest calling the section "In Memoriam" or something like that. In my opinion, it is more respectful.
5. If possible, have a staff member (or a writer you work with regularly) write the In Memoriam section. It is more personal than just publishing links to online obituaries.
Cecilia Sepp is senior associate strategy and client leadership for Association Laboratory, Inc.