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5 Motivations for Connecting with Your Community

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, November 19, 2019
5 Motivations for Connecting with Your Community

 

When I started in this profession, in 1991—remember there was less use of the internet then—funeral homes and cemeteries relied on loyalty and location to promote their businesses. Funeral directors and cemeterians were all involved in the local rotary clubs and chambers of commerce to connect with their communities. I’ve known a few funeral directors who even attended services at more than one church each week. That’s my memory of community outreach programs of that era.

In 1996 or 1997, I was working for Wilbert Corporate. One of our licensees in Minneapolis called me and said, “Julie, come with me tomorrow night because one of my clients is having their first-ever cremation seminar for consumers.” He and a Batesville representative were planning to talk about burial for cremation. I was so impressed with what I saw. That night, from 6-8pm, McReavy Funeral Home in Minneapolis had about 50 consumers come in, mainly couples, and the Batesville representative talked about cremation in general and the different things that you could do, and the Wilbert representative talked about burial as one of the final placements for cremation. Then, in one of their visitation rooms, they had products set up with coffee and soft drinks, and consumers could roam and talk. I was so impressed, I still talk about it to this day because I’m passionate about education, and to see that back then was wonderful. And that is just one example of effective community outreach.

Now, you all know that we live in a transient society and there are a lot of people who do not currently live in their hometown, so getting your company out there is more important than ever. When CANA asked me to facilitate this presentation, I started doing a little investigating. I was very surprised and happy to see some of the unique, creative community outreach programs that our profession is putting out there. You should all be really proud of yourselves. These events help to educate consumers that never would have known the different things that you do, so they can go, have some fun, learn something, and visit your business in happier times.

I have gathered some examples from CANA members on their successful community outreach activities. We’ll focus on events hosted by companies ranging from smaller firms to larger cemeteries. Our hope is that you don’t sit there and say that you can’t do that because you don’t have the time or the staff, but get sparked by interest and inspiration to do something—even something smaller in scale.

Why is community outreach important for funeral homes, cemeteries, and crematories?

1. Educate the Public

There are so many people who want to be cremated, but they’ve never done it in their family before and they don’t understand. Being able to educate your community—it’s going to help—because when they come in they’re going to be better informed about their options.

Afternoon MoviesA lot of the things we do, because we have so many active senior centers in our neighborhood, is to either visit them or have events at our locations. We have found that, when we get them out of their element, you can have a lot of fun and you can educate them. Afternoon Movies is exactly that. We partner with a senior center, they promote it by email, newsletter and bulletin to their members, and we meet up at the movies about a half hour before the show time. Then, we introduce Mountain View and educate the seniors on the value of preplanning. We keep it fun and they love the chance to see the movie for free, so they’re happy to listen. A lot of the local movie theaters are happy to let groups in on an otherwise slow Tuesday afternoon. We buy the tickets, popcorn, and soda, and they get the movie and information.
     – Elisa Krcilek, Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery: Mesa, Arizona
2. Promote Volunteer Participation

How many of you in your firms have volunteer participation? I would think there would be a lot of you. Individuals all have their own different causes that they want to be involved in, and encouraging volunteerism means giving back to the community that you live in. I’ve read articles which state that many large corporations now are promoting that their staff do volunteer work and even paying for them to do so because they realize the importance of it. It’s also a stress reliever to have staff do something that they’re passionate about, and you know in our profession there is a lot of stress.

Street Festivals and FairsCremation Society of Illinois has 10 different locations in and around the Chicagoland area. We attend health fairs, street festivals, and other expos near each location. We’ve opened it up to all staff so that, if they see something in their town, they are encouraged to sign up for it and attend. We provide information on pre-arranging and show different items for memorialization, and we really have great conversations with people who are looking to do something. It’s great to get staff out in the community and spend a couple hours outside talking to people.
     – Katie Sullivan Frideres, Cremation Society of Illinois: Chicago, Illinois
3. Boost Brand Awareness

This is no surprise.

Wreaths Across AmericaWe’ve been doing Wreaths Across America for several years and it’s a really great opportunity to reach out to the community and get them involved sponsoring wreaths that can be placed in our cemetery. The community member can place the wreaths or a volunteer will do it for them. We have a small service in our chapel where the wreaths for each branch of the military are placed in front of the chapel. It’s very touching service. Everyone processes out as a bagpiper plays and we have someone speak and place the first wreath. Each year it continues to grow.
     – Megan Field, Evergreen Memorial Gardens: Vancouver, Washington
Our staff works very closely with many hospices in our area, so every month we choose both a hospice worker and volunteer of the month, which includes presentation of a cash award and a plaque. At the end of the year, we have an annual banquet for the hospice network we work with and we honor a caregiver of the year. This connects our business and staff with hospice and attracts press.
     – Jerry Roberts, Flanner Buchanan Funeral Centers & Crematory: Indianapolis, Indiana
People see funeral home at an expo and think “ew, I’m not ready for you” or “I’m not going to die, I don’t want to talk about that.” So we needed to figure out how to attract people to our booths at community expos. We hired a massage therapist who gives a 10 minute massage, and while people are waiting in line, we get to talk to them about what we do.
Community Parades Similarly, parades are a big deal for us. We never pass an opportunity to get in front of everybody. So we pass out candy and our information as well. At the end of the parade is usually a luncheon that we help sponsor so that we get 5-10 minutes to talk about our business. Our staff sits in the luncheon and answers questions from the community who attends.
     – Elisa Krcilek, Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery: Mesa, Arizona
4. Provide a Non-Death Experience

A lot of people haven’t been to a funeral home or cemetery in a long time, and they don’t want to go. You’ve experienced this: they consider it to be gloomy and depressing. By providing community outreach events in our profession, what we’re doing is bringing the community in in happier times. That way, when they see you, they’re not only going to think that this is where you go only when there’s been a death. You keep a connection with them throughout the whole year besides just when there’s a death of a loved one.

Some of the establishments are embracing celebration events that are not death related such as weddings or other family gatherings hosted in their venues. These are bringing people in for a non-death situation — it says you can have fun here too.

Doggie WashWhen we opened our pet crematory, we wanted to do something that would get the word out besides advertising and social media. So we decided to do this Doggie Wash at our facility in front of the funeral home and pet crematory. With my staff’s help, we had over 200 people attend and we washed over 75 dogs. I personally got to wash a 180-pound mastiff and learned quickly that there are places you don’t want to touch him. We invited some vets, we had a groomer there, someone micro-chipped the dogs, and it was a really fun event and a way to know more about our business. We served hot dogs (we thought that was appropriate) and ice cream and it was a great time.
     – Rick Snider, Baker Hazel & Snider Funeral Home & Crematory (Snider Pet Crematory)
Of our locations, we have one in an artistic and trendy area, so we choose an artist and let them bring in their works and display them throughout the funeral home. We put the art in our event rooms, the lobby, and throughout the building and then host an evening event, typically a Friday from 6-10pm, with live music, in-house catering and beverages, and the artist present to discuss the art. The art hangs for a month and we will sell the art for the artist. We have new artists several times a year and attract 400 people to these events.
     – Jerry Roberts, Flanner Buchanan Funeral Centers & Crematory: Indianapolis, Indiana
Chocolate in the Chapel Spring Grove Cemetery hosts Chocolate in the Chapel, an event that continues to grow year after year. We open the property and provide chocolate and coffee on a Sunday. Staff go out into the community and ask the local bake shops and confectioners to come and set up their tables with samples. People can taste and buy sweets. The vendors are assigned a famous individual buried at Spring Grove, called a Sweet Connection. It’s primarily women who attend the event, and they receive a handout about the famous person and the location of their grave, all branded with Spring Grove information. We attract about 350 people to a historic chapel which they can also rent for private events like weddings.
Moonlight Tours came about because there were quite a few incidents where security guards had a hard time getting people out of the cemetery at sunset. So we said, “Why not make an event out of this?” Tours are held between 9-11pm on full moon nights in July and we use a lot of volunteers because we organize twelve different tour groups, each with flashlights on different paths.
     – Julie Burn on behalf of Gary Freytag, Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum: Cincinnati, Ohio
5. Enhance the Well-Being of the Community

Almost every facility has some type of remembrance program: Valentine’s Day, Winter Holidays, Thanksgiving, etc.

Boy ScoutsAll of Roberts Funeral Homes locations are small combos, and for Memorial Day we partner with the boy scouts every year. About 15-20 kids come out on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and place flags in the cemetery. We teach them to properly fold and raise the United States flag to provide a lesson on respect and the standards for the flag. They earn a badge and a good experience. Where staff would take days to place the flags, the kids accomplish in a few hours, running through the cemetery and getting hugs from the old ladies laying flowers. Their parents come out and we feed everyone pizza and pop.
Memorial Day Services take a bit more time because we put a program together. We have a pastor, a speaker who’s served in the military, and a couple high school students do a reading. It’s a great program that we’ve kept up for 60 years, which pre-dates the age of our cemetery. It’s a fun event, made more entertaining with families who come back on a celebration day when they’re not grieving. The widows come back to give us hugs and we build stronger relationships between the community and the cemetery. It offers an opportunity to showcase our cremation options – not a sales pitch, but to touch them with a service.
Easter Service We’ve been doing an Easter Service about the same length of time. There are a lot of people who don’t go to church anymore, who don’t want to do church, but they come out to our Easter Sunrise Service because it’s not in a church. We’ll have a different pastor come out every year and do a little program about Easter on Easter morning. We’ve had as many as a couple hundred people, and as few as 75 depending on the weather. We have an inside/outside service. People are very picky about it – some people want to come out and watch the sunrise (and we’re in Cleveland and it’s often cold) so half sit outside and others sit inside the chapel. We have a piano player and singer and it’s over in about 30 minutes with coffee and donuts.
Luminaries Our Luminary display is new. Our local Lions Club started a luminary project, and, when I heard about it, I said that we would co-sponsor and host it at the cemetery. We’d talked about having something like this at the cemetery but it’s difficult to get it started. The Lions Club put together the sales program and promoted it to the community, we included an order form in our Fall letter with options on placement at their loved one’s grave, on the path, or at our discretion. Many people would buy several, some to take home and some to keep at the cemetery. We had about 60 dozen, and it really only took our staff 30 minutes to light. People drove through the cemetery on Christmas Eve to enjoy them. It was difficult to get staff to volunteer because it’s on Christmas Eve so it requires more staff commitment. Some of our staff took ownership of it, bring their families out to make it a new tradition – light the luminaries on behalf of the families together.
     – Alex Roberts, Roberts Funeral Home: Wooster, Ohio
Abraham Lincoln Cemetery The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery is often considered too far to visit by our families, so we decided to host a bus tour to get our families out there to see the beautiful cemetery. We started with a local senior center, and we work with a local veterans group, and we filled the bus. We sponsor the entire event, coordinate with the cemetery to arrange a tour guide, and fill the bus every time we host it. The guide introduces them to the cemetery, explains benefits veterans receive from the government, and it provides an opportunity to get their name out there.
Veterans Day We do a luncheon every year around Veterans Day (not on the holiday – we found we competed with local restaurants offering free meals to veterans). We’ve done it for more than 7 years. We used to hold it at our funeral home, but it’s gotten so large that we have to rent a local church’s hall to hold everyone – around 150 people. We host the event ourselves, but invite local hospice centers and veterans groups to speak and explain their resources. We hire performers to sing and entertain at the event.
     – Katie Sullivan Frideres, Cremation Society of Illinois: Chicago, Illinois

Promoting the Outreach Programs

To many, traditional media means an ad in the local paper or a direct mail piece, but this is not where you’re going to get the most impact. Email newsletters are good, but only reach the people who already know you. I always opt for websites and social media, and you’ll all agree, these are the avenues that we should use to promote our events. Some funeral homes and cemeteries will include “events” or “community” in their main navigation to place these activities front and center.

With social media, you can reach the community and let them know what you’re doing—and it’s less expensive than traditional media. Plus, it offers the opportunity to talk to the community – to thank them for participating in an event, for supporting you, etc.

In closing, a lot of these programs might be intimidating. You may think you don’t have the resources, you’re not big enough, etc. You have to start by thinking that you can try just a piece of it, just a small component at a time. As Tony Robbins says:

Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and start being excited about what could go right.

…with your community outreach program.

 


Looking for tips and trends on planning your next event? Check out our Accidental Event Planner posts for resources to bring your next community outreach event, or your next service, to the next level.

This post is excerpted from Julie A. Burn’s facilitated discussion on Utilizing Community Outreach as a Communication & PR Tool at CANA’s 2017 Cremation Symposium. CANA Members can get even more ideas to inspire their community outreach programs from our Technical Paper Library, compiled from their colleagues at the 2017 Cremation Symposium.

See what we have planned for CANA's 2020 Cremation Symposium and join us in Las Vegas February 26-28, 2020.

 



Julie Burn Julie A. Burn is a cremation specialist with over 28 years of experience in the funeral profession. She has served as the director of cremation services for StoneMor Partners and the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association and as the manager of cremation services for Wilbert Funeral Services. Burn served on the board of directors for the Cremation Association of North America from 2000-2003, and currently serves as a consultant to CANA on their educational online training program. Julie holds the designation of Certified Cremation Executive and Certified Supplier Executive and is a Certified Celebrant.

Tags:  cemetery  consumers  education  events  marketing  public relations 

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