How Forming a Foundation Can Benefit Your Cemetery

Date Published: 
August, 2006
Original Author: 
Marie Neel
Historic Riverside Cemetery Foundation
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, August-September 2006

Organizing and filing for a 501 (c) 3 IRS nonprofit arm of your cemetery gives you the ability to educate, market, promote and build long-term support (endowments) to enable your cemetery to remain viable for many decades to come.

Having a 501 (c) 3 IRS nonprofit status allows the foundation part of the cemetery to:
• apply for grants for restoration and activities to promote the cemetery, such as designing a tour map;
• develop learning opportunities and partnerships with schools (school history classes love to visit and study the history of a cemetery);
• accept donations that are tax deductible to the donor; and
• work with plot-owning families to help endow the cemetery in the future through bequests or today via gifts. People want to make sure their final resting place is protected and maintained long after they are gone. People want future generations to be able to visit their final resting place and find it well cared for.

There are quite a few cemeteries throughout our country that have seen the benefits of having a foundation arm, including Riverside Cemetery, Macon, Georgia; Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio; Elmwood Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan; The Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York; Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio; Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia.

Though these cemeteries may have different needs and different services to offer their communities, they all hoped to achieve the same goal by forming a foundation: remaining financially stable for years to come.

For example, city-owned Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia, sold its last grave sites in 1884, has no perpetual care fund and has a very large need for ongoing repairs due to its incredible old stone work and monuments.

Oakland Cemetery has plenty to offer its community, state and our country, including the third largest green space in downtown Atlanta, a horticultural treasure of trees and antique rose and butterfly gardens and magnificent sculpture.

Visit this Victorian garden cemetery's Web site ( and take special notice of the programs offered by the Historic Oakland Foundation, which was started 30 years ago, in 1976.
It's interesting to note that a local business, a restaurant across the street from the cemetery, plays up its location with its name: 6 Feet Under. People who sign up for some of the guided tours at Oakland receive a coupon for a discount at 6 Feet Under, which I can tell you from personal experience is a pretty good lunch spot.

Most foundations have not been in existence for a very long time, but the cemeteries they are associated with are already reaping the benefits. In the future, I will spotlight various programs other cemetery foundations have carried out that have brought them success financially and exposed more people in their communities to what their cemetery has to offer.