Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Updated: Thursday, January 2, 2020
“How long will my burial business last?”
As I was writing this article, our eight-year-old grandson shed some light on the responses from – well an eight-year-old point of view. My wife, a former teacher, was helping him with his homework – a fair amount of math work and then onto the dreaded reading. Our grandson, who was about at his concentration limit for the moment, started playing a video game.
When his grandmother mentioned reading a bit, his reply was surprising and unexpected. His delivery was neither harsh nor snippy. He merely said, “Maybe after this game or when I am dead.” In other words, my wife asked the question he did not want to hear and we got the answer that grandparents don’t want in return. Still, we found it quite funny, exactly framing his “not now” attitude. Discussions on changing consumer attitudes and funeral home finances today often elicit a similar response – not now.
If not now, when?
Earlier this year, a funeral home owner asked me, “How long will my burial business last?” On the surface some might scoff at such a question – too simplistic, too old school. I beg to differ. Looking at this question offers us an insight into the core revenue of a funeral home. The issue also allows me to re-address a topic I first covered several years ago.
Ten years ago, a funeral home owner asking a question on “how long a burial business will last” would have delighted me! To hear it today is a bit disheartening yet shows that owners are finally thinking about the impact of cremation. After all the forewarnings from myself and others, funeral home owners finally now feel the revenue effects. Neither I nor others take delight in the ‘sudden realization’, but we fully understand the dilemma that you face.
What to do?
If you are a funeral home owner close to retirement, maybe the answer is to find a willing buyer. In our valuation work, we find that top-performing firms obtain the highest values. Top performers attract skilled staff and maintain their facilities meticulously. If your firm is not a top performer, you may want to change your management style.
Many funeral home owners are not ready to retire. Funeral service may still be calling - kudos to you. What is the best course of action for those closely held to funeral service? There are a number of points to consider.
To be clear, I am not referring to remodeling the facilities (although that could be an issue too). In this case remodeling refers to remodeling the core business - a new business model, a business model based on the financial realities of a different revenue stream, probably with less revenue per call than in the past.
Much has been written about the current high employment rate and the difficulty in finding employees. Funeral service has its own challenges, which I hear about weekly – “There are no quality, qualified licensed funeral directors to be found.” Outside analysts agree that we are experiencing a shortage of trained personnel in funeral service and will for a number of years.
Outside of raiding other funeral homes, attracting top-notch people to funeral service is one solution. Regulations need to change by accommodating quality personnel who may not want an embalmer’s license.
A recent rush in acquisitions foretells the shift in funeral home ownership. Sixty-year-old-plus owners now face their own exit. Some are well prepared, but some are not. The consolidation of competitors began a few years ago and will continue for several years. This consolidation of owners, and perhaps rooftops, bodes well for the younger generation of owners. My 2015 estimate of 25% too many funeral homes in the U.S. needs to be updated, but I suspect that number has grown. Taking calls from declining firms or making prudent acquisitions ensures their success. However, successful owners must capture consumer needs today.
Easier said than done, understanding consumers takes on critical importance. Without relying on casket and vault sales as the main revenue-driver, new-age owners will allow consumers to express their grief in new ways – ways driven more by consumers right now, than orchestrated solely by what was done in the past.
Owners refusing to embrace the new consumer-driven business model can count their days by how many caskets they sell. If you did not watch the August 14, 2019 HBO special, Alternate Endings, find a way to view the show. The story of six endings contained several emotional departures from funeral service, but the biggest takeaway? While there may have been licensed funeral directors in the back stories, no funeral director took a vital role in these non-”traditional” funerals.
The 2019 NFDA Consumer Survey found that 53% of those surveyed indicated that they could do their own funeral or memorial service, without a funeral director. Thankfully many client-families still want or need a funeral director but the HBO special and the NFDA survey point to what could be a rising number of people who don’t see a need to use you. How can we attract more interest in ceremonies recognizing a life lived?
Imagination Gone Wild
For nearly a century, funeral service hid behind the casket and vault sale. The loss of casket and outer burial container sales clearly reduces revenue. We must focus more on the personal side, making solid connections with consumers – no more just glad-handing family members as they come in the door – because, they may not come in the door. We must give them a reason that “remembering a loved one” is important.
The move from merchandise-oriented to a service-oriented funeral business began many years ago in higher cremation areas. Now, the cremation upturn is hitting even the rural and largely unaffected areas.
In a recent AARP magazine interview, musician Carlos Santana commented, “You stay relevant by trusting you have something people need.” Funeral business needs to specialize in service now or risk irrelevance.
As the HBO special revealed, some consumers want a personal hand in a memorial (or living funeral). We have to help them truly capture the essence of their loved one. Making each funeral/memorial service special is the future of funeral service in my opinion.
Success in the 2020s
Themed good-byes represent one logical solution. Yes, they may take a lot more work than the old burial model, but they usually contain the “wow” factor for many consumers. Celebrants or celebrant-like ceremonies seem to make more connections as well. Look for off-menu choices that resonate with client-families. Let your imagination run wild and something magical may just happen. Success in the 2020s will be measured by story-telling, creating a compelling story about a loved one, a story even an eight-year-old can appreciate. Master-storytellers will excel.
Our eight-year-old grandson was finally persuaded to read that book he discarded. He actually found it thought-provoking. It was a small history book from nearly 100 years ago. Things have changed dramatically since then — many advancements but many old beliefs dispelled.
Losing 1.65 burial calls per 100 cases annually to cremation or $66,000+ over the next 10 years is not welcome news. Our 500-call funeral home owner exhibited the courage to ask the tough question. I hope he is ready for the answers. Are you?
This post is excerpted from the full article “How Long Will My Burial Business Last?” originally published In Volume 16, Issue 3 of Directions by Nixon Consulting, Inc. This newsletter content and information is sent to clients and associates of Nixon Consulting, Inc. Published quarterly. Subscription is by Invitation only from NCi. Reproduced with permission of the author.
David Nixon began working with funeral home owners in 1979. David is a Certified Management Consultant™ (CMC®), accredited by the Institute of Management Consultants, USA. David is noted for his ‘Listening to Cremation’ annual cremation study, which was first published in 1995. In addition to his work on funeral home financial analysis, he also concentrates on strategic planning, FTC Funeral Rule Compliance, funeral home budgeting and pricing, as well as funeral business valuations. David also focuses on exit planning and the transition of funeral home owners with all the complexities involved in selling or buying a funeral home.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, January 8, 2020
Updated: Thursday, January 2, 2020
After the celebrations are over, the beginning of each new year reminds us to refresh and improve our habits. It is not too late to resolve to accomplish the following items this year and establish a new routine for years to come.
- Update and review current governing laws and regulations.
Regardless of your role in the industry, it is important to understand the current laws and regulations that govern your work. Put aside the necessary time to review the federal, state, and local laws and regulations which affect your day to day operations. Right to control final disposition and cremation authorization issues dominate legal complaints against people and businesses in this industry. If you have difficulty finding the statutes and regulations, try searching the web sites for your state association or licensing board – they often have links available.
CANA Members: If you need further assistance, use your legal consultation benefit and give me a call.
- Educate and train staff on any new laws or regulations affecting your business.
Keeping yourself updated on new laws or regulations is just a first step. The next is to educate and train your staff and co-workers on what you have learned. Hold a “lunch and learn” with your team and give everyone the tools to succeed.
- Update your forms to bring them into compliance with any law changes.
Out of date, non-compliant forms are an easy target for regulators and plaintiffs’ attorneys alike. Confirm that your form documents include all the required notices, consents, and disclosures. Consult with an attorney if you have any questions regarding current legal requirements.
- Educate and train staff on the changes in your forms.
Compliant forms are important, but the persons who use them every day must understand how to utilize them to the fullest. Avoid the problems caused by improperly filled out forms. If done and utilized correctly, forms often provide the best documentation in defense of legal complaints.
- Review and update your operational policies and procedures.
OSHA compliance is critical to a successful operation. So, too, are human resource policies, and so much more. If you need assistance in your review, CANA has partnered with Cremation Strategies & Consulting to offer a program which will help you compile operational policies and procedures customized for your business. Learn more here.
- Review and update your employee handbook (including social media policy).
Employment issues are a prevalent headache across all industries and business models. Address common concerns in your employee handbook, so that everyone is on notice of the standards to which they will be held accountable. Implement clear, unambiguous policies on work hours, time off, sick leave, vacation time, and dress codes. Have appropriate sexual harassment policies in place. Communicate your expectations regarding social media use and restrictions on employee posts on business matters. Make sure employees are aware that social media is not for airing of workplace grievances or complaints.
CANA Members: Read up on what my office suggests for these policies as part of the Crematory Management Program.
- Educate and train staff on your policies and procedures.
Periodic training and review of operational and employment policies and procedures are critical. There cannot be compliance without your employees first understanding your expectations and standards to which they will be held accountable.
CANA Members: You can keep your standard operating procedures current and your staff informed with the Crematory Management Program and support from Cremation Strategies & Consulting.
- Meet with your insurance agent or broker.
Make sure your insurance agent or broker understands your business. Too often there are gaps in coverage discovered when you need insurance assistance or defense to a legal claim, when is too late to put the protections you need in place. Many gaps in coverage result from your agent or broker not understanding your daily work and operations sufficiently to make sure that what you actually do is covered. Just because you have “professional liability” insurance, you have no guarantee that all of your professional services are covered. Proactive insurance strategies will serve you best.
CANA Members: Have you looked over CANA’s newest benefit, a professional liability insurance program for crematories? Read what makes this policy different and how it covers businesses like yours.
- Meet with your tax planning professional.
Do not leave money on the table. A tax professional’s advice can add value to your business and improve its bottom line. Mitigate your tax risks and exposures prudently.
- Budget for and plan to attend meaningful continuing education opportunities.
Take some time to think about the education and assistance which will benefit you and your business most in the upcoming year. Then, search for continuing education opportunities that will assist in meeting your goals. There are in person and online resources available to address almost any concern as an industry professional or business owner. Some jurisdictions even allow you to get your crematory operator certification online. If you attend CANA’s convention in Seattle this year, please say hello. I look forward to seeing you!
CANA Members: Not sure how to get started developing a defined professional development plan for your employees? CANA Education Director Jennifer Werthman is here to help you achieve your goals – reach out any time.
Getting your new year off to a good start can jumpstart accomplishing your business’s New Year’s Resolutions. Best wishes for your success in 2020!
CANA Members: Your association is here to help! If you ever need these resources or anything else offered by CANA, reach out.
Excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 53, Issue 1: “First Quarter 2019 Top Ten Legal Checklist” by Lara M. Price. Members can read this article and any other advice in The Cremationist archive. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access this and all archives of The Cremationist plus the many resources referenced here to help you find solutions for all aspects of your business – only $495
Lara M. Price is a shareholder at Sheehy, Ware & Pappas, PC, in Houston, in the products liability and professional liability sections of the firm. She has extensive experience in a number of substantive areas of trial practice, including products liability, professional liability, administrative law, commercial litigation, health care law, premises liability, and personal injury and wrongful death. She regularly represents corporations, other business entities, and individuals in complex litigation against claims for personal injuries, wrongful death, and economic loss in state courts throughout Texas and in federal courts in Texas and elsewhere. Ms. Price is General Counsel for CANA and Texas Funeral Directors Association.
processes and procedures
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Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, December 18, 2019
Updated: Monday, December 16, 2019
While we rarely know them personally, we often feel profound sadness when a celebrity dies. Grief experts say this sorrow is often tied to the influence these famous people can have on us, a connection to our memories of the past, or pervasive media coverage. These are people whose activities, opinions, and actions often spilled into our own lives, and we feel the loss when they are gone.
Celebrities also exert an influence through death. Many in the industry believe that David Bowie changed the course of U.K. funeral tradition by choosing direct cremation, demonstrating that it can be a challenge for death care professionals to encourage families to memorialize when their favorite stars don’t. And yet, people seem to know instinctively that memorials are important. Although many celebrities insist they want “no fuss” when they die, post-cremation memorial services in their honor are common. The fans themselves refuse to let the famous person’s death pass unmarked, often sharing meaningful tributes online or spontaneously leaving a mass of flowers in a location that has a particular connection to the person who died.
For this end-of-year post, we decided to look at a few notable celebrities who died this year and chose cremation for their disposition.
January 31, 1921 – January 15, 2019
As a performer, Carol Channing is difficult to classify. She experienced 70-plus years of celebrity, and the description “entertainer” comes the closest to encompassing her decades of work as an actress on stage and screen, a singer, a book subject, a comedienne, and more. Carol had many ideas for her final resting place and envisioned a service as large as the life she lived. She wanted to be buried between the Curran and Geary theaters in San Francisco, with a “full-scale parade down Geary Street.” She was cremated and returned to her loved ones, perhaps to be scattered from the Golden Gate Bridge (another idea of hers).
photo source HuffPost: "Carol Channing's Colorful Life"
September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019
Mary Oliver was named “this country's best-selling poet” by The New York Times. Winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, many people marked her death earlier this year by sharing Mary’s poetry on life, love, grief, and nature. While we are unable to provide details on her exact form of disposition, in 2005 Mary herself scattered the cremated remains of her longtime partner, Molly Malone Cook, mixed with leaves and petals. Her poem “Prayer” suggests she would prefer a similar experience for herself:
May I never not be frisky,
May I never not be risque.
May my ashes, when you have them, friend,
and give them to the ocean
leap in the froth of the waves,
still loving movement,
still ready, beyond all else,
to dance for the world.
Evidence: Poems by Mary Oliver
photo source TIME: "The Captivating World of Mary Oliver"
September 10, 1933 – February 19, 2019
Karl Lagerfeld held the creative reins of the French luxury fashion houses Chanel and Fendi, as well as his own clothing label. Revered for his style and vision, one might assume that the pomp of the fashion world would permeate his funeral service. On the contrary, he told an interviewer that he’d “rather die than be buried,” and asked for no public funeral. However, his stores were given instructions on how he wanted to be remembered: white roses with 120 cm stems in a transparent or white vase.
His cremation took place as a private ceremony among his nearest loved ones, and his cremated remains are believed to have been combined and scattered with those of his mother, Elisabeth, his cat, Choupette, and his longtime partner, Jacques de Bascher. The fashion world honored his life and career with a memorial event titled "Karl For Ever” as part of Paris Men’s Fashion Week in summer 2019 with an invite-only guest list of 2,500.
photo source People Magazine: "Karl Lagerfeld Cremation Ceremony"
April 3, 1922 – May 13, 2019
Doris Day was a beloved popular singer and the star of many films in the 1950s and 60s. She had her own television variety show and spent her decades-long retirement active in the Doris Day Animal Foundation. She performed with the likes of Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, and David Niven, which might lead one to think that she would choose a place of rest among the stars in some of the most famous California cemeteries. Instead, when she died this year at the age of 97, she left instructions to be buried with no funeral, no memorial, and no grave marker. To honor her wishes, her cremated remains were scattered in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, her home for many years. Her estate was announced to be auctioned off in support of her foundation in April 2020.
photo source: The Doris Day Animal Foundation
(aka Grumpy Cat)
April 4, 2012 – May 14, 2019
Tardar Sauce was a cat who took the world by storm under the name “Grumpy Cat.” A sweet family cat, it was her trademark frown that made her famous. May 14 was a day considered “grumpier than others” when she died at the age of seven. In August, the Cat Video Festival hosted her family for a “special tribute to Grumpy Cat, who meant SO much to cat video fans."
photo source @RealGrumpyCat
October 29, 1967 - June 26, 2019
Beth Chapman co-starred alongside her husband in the popular "Dog The Bounty Hunter" reality television series. After a long battle with cancer, Beth died with her family at her bedside. She was cremated and her remains divided to facilitate two separate memorials, both of which were open to the public per her wishes.
During the Hawaiian paddle out in June, some of her remains were scattered in the Pacific Ocean. The Aurora, Colorado service was packed with family and fans alike, but Beth’s husband wasn’t able bring himself to scatter the rest: "I looked at it and I thought, 'I'm not gonna throw you, like, away... and start over... I can't do that."
Her daughter has addressed fans: “Please don't ask me for my mother's ashes. Ashes are for family, no one else. No exceptions.”
photo source Taste of Country: "'Dog the Bounty Hunter' Star Beth Chapman Laid to Rest in Colorado Funeral"
May 28, 1999 - July 6, 2019
Cameron Boyce was already an established Disney star before his death at the young age of twenty from complications from epilepsy. He was cremated and his remains returned to his family. No funeral or memorial information was made public, his parents calling the process agonizing. Instead, his father entreated: “Let’s not talk about it, let’s BE about it! Let’s do good as Cameron would. Let’s keep his legacy alive!” They formed a charity in Cameron’s honor and celebrated the public service he performed during his life. When his final film, Disney's Descendants 3, was released, it included a special tribute in his memory.
photo source @theVictorBoyce
February 23, 1940 – August 16, 2019
Working on Broadway by the age of 21, Peter Fonda continued his acting career until his death this year. Perhaps best known as the producer, co-writer, and star of Easy Rider, Fonda was a member of Hollywood royalty. He followed his family’s tradition “to be cremated without fuss or funeral.” His father, Henry Fonda, died in 1982 and also acted until his death (his final film earned him his first Academy Award, but he was too ill to attend the ceremony). Henry Fonda was cremated “within hours of his death” and had specified that he wanted his “ashes thrown out with the trash.” Fortunately, his family hated that idea and scattered his cremated remains in a meaningful place. Presumably, they will do the same with Peter Fonda.
photo source People Magazine "Peter Fonda on the Pain of Losing His Mom to Suicide — and How He Reconciled with His Dad Henry"
December 27, 1943 – September 17, 2019
A trailblazer for women in broadcast journalism, Cokie Roberts was considered a “Founding Mother” of National Public Radio. During her forty years in the profession, she anchored television programs, wrote news articles and bestselling books, and earned countless awards. Her cremation was followed by a series of memorials held for her colleagues, family, and the public. Her funeral Mass was held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C. and live-streamed on several networks. Her cremated remains are interred in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
photo source C-SPAN: "Funeral Mass for Cokie Roberts"
January 13, 1935 - October 6, 2019
Rip Taylor was famous for his larger-than-life personality as a comedian, actor, and television host. His memorial service in November was not short of confetti as he himself, dubbed the King of Confetti, would have wanted it. His longtime partner, Robert Fortney, and other loved ones plan to scatter his remains off the coast of Hawaii in January 2020.
photo source @greginhollywood
Celebrity funerals in 2019 reflect the personalization trends we see across society. The funerals of Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and U.S. Senator John McCain followed a more traditional model – and certainly a funeral director played a more obvious role – but the celebrities in this blog reflect an important finding in CANA's recent research regarding memorialization: People are interested in focusing on the person and the life they lived versus the body.
This post only captures a few of the many people we've loved and lost this year. For a list of celebrities and notable peoples' deaths and dispositions, we suggest FindAGrave.com.
Posted By Barbara Kemmis,
Wednesday, December 4, 2019
The pace of change driven by consumers is the greatest challenge facing funeral service. No option has fallen off the menu, and yet more options pop up each year. How is it possible to create or reposition a business to fulfill these diverse requests? The 70 practitioners, suppliers and explorers who convened in Albuquerque in October 2019 for the First Ever Green Funeral Conference were up for the challenge. Their interactive and engaging experience is challenging to reproduce in a blog post, but there is too much great content not to share.
Passages International was the obvious sponsor for this Conference. However, some potential speakers and participants and social media commenters—and even members of the media—weren’t so sure why CANA was hosting. Cremation is widely considered to be more environmentally friendly than traditional burial, but where does it fit on the continuum of green funeral practices? That is the kind of conversation I like to start. CANA doesn't shy away from hard questions, or from asking those questions of itself. We're proud to provide the space to have these frank discussions and attract the right voices to contribute.
Set the Stage
Since this was the first conference of its kind created for funeral directors and cemeterians, it was important to establish context and the intention to be inclusive in our definition of green practices. I will attempt to follow the flow of the conference in this post. Glenda Stansbury served as our emcee and she set the stage from the beginning, establishing that this conference was an exploration of green practices along a continuum. In that spirit, I invite you, dear reader, to identify where you are on that continuum. Are you a light spring green with plenty of traditional burial and cremation offerings? Or maybe you offer eco-friendly products, but want to promote more family participation and natural burial? Are you a deep forest green and all in? This post is an opportunity to learn more about the Conference content and how it may apply to your business and community.
Ed Bixby, owner of Steelmantown Green Burial Preserve and President of the Green Burial Council, kicked off the Conference with a presentation describing the wide range of green burial practices he employs in his cemeteries and has seen around the world. He challenged the audience to recognize that the spectrum includes traditional burial as well as established businesses seeking greener practices—including cremation. Yes, the attraction of green burial is related to environmental concerns, but it also appeals because it is simpler, involves less fanfare, and facilitates enhanced participation from mourners. Ed said, “Participation changes everything. You have the right to care for the dead the way you feel they should be cared for.” He challenged us—and I extend the challenge to you—to shift the mindset. You can work within regulations and laws, but you can reconceive the services you offer to families. In CANA language, "find a way to get to yes for your families."
During Ed's presentation, the topic of embalming came up. Why are embalmed bodies excluded from green cemeteries? Is this based on science or policy? Embalmers in the room shared why embalming remains an important tool for some families, but others expressed the belief that preserved bodies had no place in a green cemetery. While no consensus was reached, it was refreshing to hear so many opinions and suggestions respectfully discussed. However, many questions remained unresolved:
- People are buried with medicines in their systems and implants in place—so why is embalming prohibited?
- Should formaldehyde-free fluids influence policies?
- If embalming is required in order to transport a deceased person from the place of death to the natural burial cemetery, what happens then?
- If green practices aren’t defined by law, but rather by policies and preferences, where do you land?
Next, Darren Crouch and Kilian Rempen of Passages International joined the conversation by discussing green products and marketing tactics to help businesses remain relevant and profitable. In the 20 years since Darren founded Passages International, he has learned many lessons. His customers are serving families that value green, but also unique and beautiful options. Darren asserted that the challenge of incorporating green options into businesses should feel familiar. It is similar to the challenge of embracing cremation 30 years ago. It was once controversial to add cremation to the sign in front of your funeral home and commonplace for funeral directors to send the rare cremation customer down the street to the cremation society. Ignoring cremation didn’t turn out well for funeral service, so Darren challenges funeral practitioners to not repeat past mistakes.
Darren offered practical advice, such as offering scatter-friendly urns for the 50% of your cremation customers who intend to scatter. He argues that scattering does not equal low-end, but rather that an urn that contains cremated remains for a time can be used as art or to hold keepsakes after scattering. Darren echoed Ed’s message of changing your mindset to envision new offerings.
Put It Into Practice
Once attendees considered the various aspects of green funeral practices and started to plot their positions along the continuum, they heard from cemeterians and a funeral director who have added them to their operations.
Jody Herrington described her success in converting funeral home selection rooms to include green merchandise. She acknowledged how overwhelming it seems to offer yet more options in an already crowded space. Jody shared that her success was directly linked to the communities she has served and their green values. Incorporating local artists along with eco-friendly products and more familiar caskets can be appealing, but every community is unique. You know the communities you serve and should reflect that knowledge.
Jody posed a challenging question for me to hear – Is cremation a fall back? At this point some of you are probably nodding your heads in recognition, but I didn’t get it at first. Jody asserted that when faced with traditional burial caskets and merchandise, some consumers know they don’t want that so they fall back to cremation. Her experience showed that offering more eco-friendly merchandise and caskets resulted in more personalization and more sales to a satisfied customer. This leads me to wonder if green burial will slow the cremation rate increases we have seen. Only time will tell.
Our practitioner panel featured Donal Key and Linda Canyon of La Puerta Natural Burial Ground, Gracie Griffin of Bellefontaine Cemetery, Salvador Perches of Grupo Perches and Recinto de la Oracion, Ed Bixby, and Jody Herrington—continuing the conversation around green burial practices and tips for creating and offering green options in existing cemeteries. It is impossible to summarize the rich content generated by the discussion between panelists as well as with participants. Each panelist shared specific examples of practices they employ to promote participation and innovate new traditions. The questions from participants did touch on business models, pricing, training and incenting employees to dig graves and assist families to dress their loved ones. The key takeaway is that you can get to yes with families. It may take more time and creativity, but you can and should do it.
Next up was Tanya Marsh, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law, who examined the legal trends surrounding green burials and green cemeteries. Tanya presented a framework for understanding green funeral trends. She started by sharing the macro trend of consumers looking for more control and input while also seeking authenticity and a meaningful experience. This is a trend influencing all aspects of our lives. And it poses a challenge for funeral directors and cemeterians who are typically risk-adverse.
Tanya outlined considerations to take into account when considering something new – i.e., natural burial or a new disposition.
Does the law prohibit it? The dead have rights, so that must always be considered, but there is very little cemetery law on the books.
- Are you in a gray area where there is no particular law prohibiting or allowing? If the law doesn’t say you can’t, then you can, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for moving ahead without permission from the funeral or cemetery board or coverage from a court order.
The example she gave was natural organic reduction, commonly referred to as human composting. Washington state law explicitly stated that burial, cremation and removal from the state were the legal forms of disposition. This meant they needed to change the law in order to pave the way for a new form of disposition. In states that don’t affirmatively identify the forms of disposition, a court order or opinion from the board or attorney general may pave the way.
Tanya led a free-wheeling Q&A session that touched on grave reusage, family participation, disinterments, indigent cremations, and what happens when cemeteries are abandoned.
The last sessions focused on consumers’ experiences and insights. Gail Rubin shared her perspective on consumer views of death and mourning and emphasized the ongoing theme of promoting participation and education.
I moderated two manufacturer panels—Luis Llorens of US Cremation Equipment and Paul Seyler of Matthews Environmental discussed the environmental impact of cremation and made presentations on the macro and micro impacts of cremation on the environment. This warrants its own blog post and one is in the works for publication in 2020. Stay tuned!
A second panel, with Sam Sieber of Bio-Response Solutions and Nicki Mikolai of Resomation America, discussed the science and practical application of alkaline hydrolysis. There was significant interest in alkaline hydrolysis among the participants, with some current and future practitioners represented. The questions from participants ranged from inquiries about the fundamental science, presence of radiation and mercury, to viewings and zoning challenges.
Legally, alkaline hydrolysis is considered to be cremation, but the process that occurs in the machine is completely different than flame-based cremation. Does that make it greener? That depends on the formula that is used. Is there a lower carbon footprint? Yes—or probably. Fewer fossil fuels are used to heat the water or dry the remains, but water and chemicals are used—so how does one account for that in the green calculation?
While more questions were raised than answered on the overall environmental impact of all dispositions, Sam did point participants to an important a recent study conducted in the Netherlands by Elisabeth Keijzer, who attempted to calculate the true costs of different types of disposition. Sam presents a useful framework for understanding the various environmental impacts and “shadow costs” discussed in the study.
Consumers are significantly ahead of funeral directors and cemeterians in seeking, performing and creating greener end-of-life options, so this conference represented an opportunity to engage in facilitated conversation, query panel presenters, and learn from leading experts. All walked away with practical ideas to implement now, and probably some ideas they considered but discarded for their own businesses. Here are three of my takeaways.
Takeaway #1: Definitions Matter
Language matters and it was important from the beginning to tackle some tough topics in order to facilitate open conversation and advance our collective understanding. We named this meeting the Green Funeral Conference to encompass a variety of green practices, and people came with many different ideas and opinions on what “green” truly means. However, everyone left seeing the full continuum of green funeral practices.
So, what shade of green are you or do you aspire to be? Have this conversation with your staff and seek to understand what your community wants or will respond positively to. And then have this conversation with your vendors to educate yourself on more eco-friendly options. Figure out your carbon footprint and how you can offset or reduce it.
Are your own policies and procedures standing in the way?
Takeaway #2: Everything Old is New Again
For cremation, it took a few evangelists (and 100 years) to make cremation a tradition. Green funerals are completely different. For some, the practice is cultural tradition and anything else is desecration. For others, it's an attempt to mitigate their carbon footprint on the world by removing external interference (letting nature take its course). So, whether it's to save money, to save the planet, or to honor tradition, it means every option, every time. And providing that is hard work.
You know your communities and have served them for the length of your career or possibly generations of your family. Incorporating green funeral practices does not mean starting over from scratch, but it does mean shifting mindsets. You may consider following the path you took to embrace cremation.
Takeaway #3: Start now!
It took nearly 150 years, but cremation in the West evolved from a European fad to the dominant form of disposition in the US with the help from multiple types of leaders. First came the evangelists—those spreading the good news of the hygienic and aesthetic virtues of cremation. Then came the practitioners who formed CANA as a forum to share best practices and promote the practice of cremation. Those practitioners innovated products, technology and services to support cremation practice. Many of these practitioners ultimately formed companies that supplied practitioners nationwide. As those companies matured and merged and competitors formed, cremation products and services further developed to support the industry.
Will green funeral practices follow a similar pattern? Probably. Likely following a significantly shorter timeline, but it certainly will happen, thanks to a similar mix of contributors. Yet again, consumers are leading the way by demanding greener funeral practices. The participants and speakers in the Green Funeral Conference represented a mix of champions of funeral practices along the continuum, both current and future practitioners.
This conference was a true meeting of minds and collaboration in exploring green funeral practices. I'm proud of the conversations that happened at this meeting and have attempted to capture some of the content and the spirit of the event.
Consumers will continue to require and expect a wide range of options from you and your businesses. These expectations will evolve and advance as the media reports the unfolding story. CANA and Passages are planning the second Green Funeral Conference to provide an ongoing forum for practitioners to explore their responses to consumer demands. In the meantime, you can access the Green Funeral Conference content online. Most importantly, you can share this post with your employees and hold your own conversations about how you can incorporate green funeral practices in your business.
Want to learn more from the presenters and participants in the Green Funeral Conference? This is the shameless plug to buy the recordings and join in the conversation from the comfort of your office. Learn more: goCANA.org/GFC2019
Recent CANA research shows that cremation customers are less interested in body-centric products and services, and instead seeking experiences to honor a life lived. The presenters hadn’t seen this research at the time of the Conference, but their experiences and advice supported these findings. If the consumer wants to focus on the person and not the body, are you prepared to support with your services and merchandise? This research on "The Cremation Experience" took the cover story of the most recent issue of The Cremationist and will be featured in issues and blog posts throughout 2020. Join CANA to read the magazine, consistently voted the most popular benefit of membership, or follow The Cremation Logs blog to get the reports as they come out!
Barbara Kemmis is Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, November 19, 2019
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.
A 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.
Cremation 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.
We’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.
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.
When 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
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.
All 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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.