Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Updated: Monday, June 15, 2020
Lately, we’ve all had to reassess the way we do things. Talking to people in your community is different now that most of it isn’t done face-to-face. Fortunately, you can still make meaningful connections, just a in a new way. We must now lean more heavily than ever on technology to connect with our communities.
During social distancing, the ways you used to engage and connect with your families don’t always work, but you know grieving families need your support now more than ever. Grief just can’t wait, and families need you as a guide. As a funeral director, you’re already a problem solver, so think about lending support to those grieving in a way you never have before. Think differently, and think digitally.
Here are five strategies to engage your community virtually during social distancing so you can continue to serve your families in an effective and valuable way.
1. Host virtual events
If events were part of your marketing outreach before the pandemic, make them part of your efforts now, too. Just make them digital. When you plan digital events, thinking outside the box goes a long way. We’ve seen a number of firms use digital events to engage with their community and keep their outreach going. For instance, you can use inexpensive apps to engage your community online. You can learn more about how Guam Windward Memorial did just that in this interview using digital scavenger hunts coupled with community bingo sessions.
These fun-focused events engage your community and highlight your brand rather than directly marketing preneed or at-need services. When creating virtual events focused on engagement, spend a little time brainstorming things your community likes to do and how you can create a digital space to come together around those things. It could be a sport, a community landmark, or a recurring community event like a parade.
If you are ready to dive back into preneed events, hosting digital ones provides an opportunity to personalize your education more than you did in the past. When you host an in-person preneed event, most firms need to reach a broad audience for better attendance since in-person events take more resources (cost, set up, time, etc.) than digital ones. However, when hosting a virtual preneed event using a video conference call, like Zoom, less prep is required so you can hyper-focus your event. Consider promoting events specifically catering to the needs of a target audience: veterans, religious groups, recent widows or widowers, or any other specific group in your community.
Personalization like this has been proven more effective because people feel you are speaking directly to them and meeting their specific need. Thus, hosting smaller, highly targeted video events increases your chance of winning these individuals over.
2. New ways for people to connect:
Online donation options and digital grief classes
People need each other when they are grieving. Social distancing doesn’t have to stop the connection your community members make with each other after a loved one passes. Think about creating new opportunities for grieving families to receive support using virtual options. For instance, if you’re seeing fewer flower sales since the pandemic, consider adding other donation options. Several companies offer a donation tool that allows people to donate toward gifts or services (we are one of them) and community members love being able to contribute in a new way.
Donations can be made to help the family defray funeral costs, for a meal at home from a favorite local restaurant, for groceries, toward an at-home cleaning service, or for keepsakes or memorials. Having multiple options allows your community to choose what resonates with them, and you are the perfect facilitator to connect a grieving family with this act of kindness from the community.
Many funeral homes offer grief support as part of their aftercare program. Some offer grief support groups. If you’re used to facilitating in-person grief support, take these groups online during times of social distancing. Experiencing a loss during a time when families already feel isolated can make the pain feel worse. Talking about their grief with others will give people the chance to connect around shared experiences. Video services like Zoom or UberConference can be used for these virtual meetings.
3. What works on social media during a pandemic
Your voice on social media is powerful and important. Your families need your reassurance and guiding words to remind them that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and that you’ll be there every step of the way with them. Your typical educational content-based strategy still works, but think about adjusting the perspective in a few ways.
You want to remain thoughtful, positive, and informative with the content you share online. Make sure you are up-to-date on facts you post and always double-check your sources.
Beyond being educational, you can use your social media to inspire and spread hope. A few topics we’ve seen perform well with people during a crisis are inspirational or religious quotes, stress relief tips, coping mechanisms, and helpful resources around mental health and grieving. You can, and should, post details about your pandemic safety practices, changes to your services, hours, etc. on social media, too. However, that should not be the only thing you post.
4. Incorporate email to deepen the conversation
Although social media is a great place to initiate conversation with your families and stay in touch with them, not every message fits the same media channel. As you make connections through social media and other marketing campaigns and build up your contacts, you need to know when to move that conversation to a more private channel.
Your community is happy to see your inspirational posts on Facebook, and these posts are an important part of a solid top-of-mind strategy or conversation starter. Next, you want to deepen the conversation and build a stronger relationship. To do that, you need to move things to a private channel. Enter: a stronger email marketing plan.
Email marketing can help bridge the gap between connections on social media and an in-person or phone meeting. Using email to draw people in with a more meaningful message allows you to create a more personal conversation. Plus, people feel more comfortable sharing details about themselves or asking questions via email than on a Facebook post.
Ideally, you’re already sending a newsletter to your email list. In addition, segment your audience into different categories so you can send additional emails targeted at their specific interests. Some categories might be: Christians, recently widowed, veterans, losing a parent, losing a loved one to addiction or overdose, etc. Creating segmented email campaigns build connections, because the message resonates with their specific experience.
Pro tip: Include links on other topics in each email and see what people click on. This will give you even more information on what people in your community want to learn about.
5. Offer virtual services and teach people how to attend them
In navigating this strange new world together, we all have to adapt. Putting on a digital funeral service may be new for you; it’s probably new to your community, too. They need guidance on how to participate in digital services. Just as in-person funeral services help your families realize the finality of their loved one and really begin the grieving process, it’s important to share that digital services offer similar value.
Teach your community the importance of digital services. Also offer them tips on how to attend and participate, such as:
- Create a video tutorial showing people how to use Zoom or whatever video or conferencing platform you are using to stream services.
- Encourage people to share tributes online under their loved one’s obituary before the service starts.
- Provide an opportunity for people to share a pre-recorded video tribute to the family if they can’t attend.
- Encourage community members to reach out to the family in attendance with a quick text or phone call beforehand to express condolences; these before-service points of contact are crucial for support.
- Encourage people to reach out to the family after the service, too.
- Explain how friends and family can send flowers, donations, or keepsakes to support those closest to lost loved one.
- Remind friends and family how valuable and appreciated stories and memories of the loved one are. Sharing these can help the grieving heal.
And of course, give digital attendees clear information about when the digital service will begin, and invite them to join 5 minutes before the ceremony starts to get acquainted with the streaming service. Does your stream offer comments? This would be a great place to lead families who want to show their regards for the family during the service. It’s an easy and unobtrusive way to participate while the digital service is taking place.
Technology and change
You have the power to take control of the shift we face and challenges ahead. By using technology to virtually reach your families, you will stand out in your community and connect with new people. The next few months will surely bring new challenges and rapid changes, but keeping an eye on technology solutions – and being willing to adopt and implement them quickly – will help you keep serving your community no matter what happens next.
For inspiration on how to make meaningful, remote services, read celebrated Celebrant and instructor Glenda Stansbury's recent post. Download the free Ceremonies to Celebrate Together From Afar Resource for Challenging Times from Glenda filled with ideas on how to bring your families together.
Last week, CANA hosted a webinar with customer service expert Lacy Robinson You Got This! Practical Ways to Serve Families During COVID-19. You can watch a recording for free, and other recorded webinars, on CANA's website.
Heather McWilliams Mierzejewski brings marketing and additional writing expertise to the Funeral Innovations team. She previously covered breaking news, politics, and religion for print, digital and radio news outlets before slipping journalism’s tentacles and diving into the digital marketing world. She spent the past 3+ years at a digital advertising agency working on marketing and content solutions for adidas, Reebok, and Chipotle among other brands.
When not on the prowl for killer marketing stories, Heather spends time with her active kids and rides her bike on the Colorado byways. She’s always looking for new riding buddies.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Updated: Thursday, March 26, 2020
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I am reaching out to you because you have been a resource and guide for families.
Times are so very strange and challenging and fearful right now and we know that everyone is scrambling to figure out how we honor our dead and support our bereaved from a distance. This is our daily struggle. I know you are dealing with so many questions and unknowns and facing families on their worst day with very few answers to give them. I also know that many churches and clergy are not available to conduct funerals for anyone—even their own church members. Local governments across the world are already telling families they cannot attend funerals. Now we are faced with a world-wide experience that no one could prepare for. We are here, to care for the dead and speak for the bereaved. You are a hero every day, and especially today.
Now is our time to shine. Whether you are a licensed funeral director, a Celebrant, clergy, officiant, chaplain—or one of those myriads of other roles who serve families—we have a bunch of talented and creative people here. Let's think about how to create services that capture the moment and invite people to feel close even when they can't be there.
What I want to offer to each of you is this—if you have families who would like to have a small service now, reach out to a Celebrant in your area, or use my free resource to inspire you, and find a way to connect families at this difficult time. Arrange to meet with them by phone or Facetime or Zoom and gather the stories and put together a service that you can give them now by webcast, or just by print.
Some of you may find yourself needing to do more family meetings by phone, Facetime or Skype. If you are not familiar with how to do those, ask a teenager—they are out of school with nothing to do right now so they can be your tech support.
Phone family meetings are challenging and you will need to work a little harder to connect with the family and to get them to open up. There's just nothing like face-to-face meetings, but that may not be possible right now.
Some of you may find yourself doing services via webcasting or video or for family only. These situations can also be challenging, but just keep focusing on meeting the needs of the family and the best way to tell the unique story of their loved one, no matter who is sitting in front of you. Or not, as the case may be.
For example—virtual candle lighting ceremonies—invite everyone who is watching to go find a candle/flashlight/something that can light up. Play some quiet background music to give people a moment to do that. Then have everyone light their lights at the same time. Even if you are not on a virtual platform where people can see each other, we can talk about the power of thoughts and presence being represented by our lights.
That's just one that popped into my head.
My thought is two-fold—the fear is, if they walk away now they’ll never come back. If they have a service already prepared and ready, they might be more willing to come back and actually have a chapel service. Or, at the least, they will just have the words to read that will hopefully provide some comfort and guidance for them in this very dark and lonely time and they will be grateful to the funeral home for providing this.
Grief does not wait and demands that we embrace it. We all are grieving our losses right now--loss of movement, loss of income, loss of friends and family, loss of security, loss of trust. A death just magnifies those feelings and the sense of isolation. As the people who are trained for this work, we can help families walk this path and give words of solace and comfort and ways to put the stories in a place that will help.
Every life deserves to be celebrated. Even when we are together from afar.
These are difficult times, for the families, for the funeral directors, for the Celebrants, for everyone. So, let's support each other, be kind, be generous, be vigilant—and wash your hands!
Let me know how we can stand with you in this uncertain time. We are all partners in serving families, even on the hardest days.
Take care and be well!!
- Glenda Stansbury and Doug Manning
Celebrant Trainers: Kathy Burns, Matt Bailey, Cathy Nichols, Sara Brown
Suggestions for conducting services
The first thing to consider is how the services will be presented.
Some firms already offer webcasting and are comfortable and positioned for this situation. Others will be figuring out very rapidly how to procure the equipment and software and skills.
There are professional companies that offer streaming services on a per service or a monthly fee. You have probably already been contacted by some of these companies in the past few days.
There are public platforms such as Zoom, Facebook Live, Go to Meeting, WebX, etc. Consult with others who have used any of these platforms or services for advice or tips on what works or pitfalls to avoid. For example, Gordon Welch, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Funeral Directors Association informed us that Facebook routinely mutes music streamed on Facebook Live. Apparently, Facebook’s agreements with song producers require Facebook to mute music broadcast over the platform. Unfortunately, BMI, ASCAP and SESAC are not parties to these agreements so there is no way to solve the muting problems with Facebook. Therefore platforms like Zoom, Vimeo or Skype who are not parties to the same type of music copyright infringements agreements work better but still require a webcasting license.
Live Stream with family present with no participants visible on the screen.
- Give the family a moment to wave and express their thanks to the people who are joining them.
- Ask the participants to type in their wishes or condolences in the chat function and take a few minutes to read some of them during the service.
- Have a video tribute or pictures of the deceased visible on the screen next to the officiant.
- Be sure that flowers or mementos or service folders are shown for everyone to see.
- Have a favorite or familiar song played and put the words on the screen so everyone can sing along.
- Put the words to readings or scripture or prayers on the screen so viewers can read along.
Live Stream with or without family present and participants are visible on the screen
- Ask the participants to write a note that can be held up to the camera for the family to see.
- Have a ceremony (a few are included in this resource book) that everyone can do together.
- Have a video tribute or pictures of the deceased visible on the screen next to the officiant.
- Be sure that flowers or mementos or service folders are shown for everyone to see.
- Have a favorite or familiar song played and put the words on the screen so everyone can sing along.
- Put the words to readings or scripture or prayers on the screen so viewers can read/recite along.
Taping for later broadcast
- This provides a little more opportunity for editing and smoother transitions to video tribute, music, flowers, service folders, etc.
- The opportunity for real time participation and family involvement is sacrificed.
- Have a “drive-in” funeral service with everyone staying in their cars. If you have not yet invested in portable microphone/speakers set up, now would be a good time.
- Borrow a drive-in theater in your community and broadcast the service on the screen
- Drive past the home of the family with the coach.
- Encourage people to drive by the home of the family at a set time, so they can acknowledge their “presence” and wishes.
- Gravesides with family standing by their cars. Again, a strong outdoor microphone/speaker system is very important.
Download the free Ceremonies to Celebrate Together From Afar Resource for Challenging Times as a MS Word doc here.
With everyone seeking information on COVID-19 right now, CANA plans to host a weekly conference call for our members to convene and ask questions of one another, talk best practices, and learn together about COVID-19. Check your inbox for instructions to join, or contact Membership Manager Brie Bingham for more information.
CANA continues to frequently update a blog entry related to COVID-19 as new information becomes available. Be sure to bookmark the blog post and revisit as needed: GoCANA.org/covid19.
Glenda Stansbury is the Marketing and Development Director, InSight Books, and Dean and Training Coordinator for In-Sight Institute. She holds a BS in Special Education from Central State University, as well as a BS in Funeral Service and a MA in Administrative Leadership from the University of Oklahoma. Before joining In-Sight Books, Glenda worked for 12 years for the Oklahoma Education Association as a trainer/facilitator. She has worked as Marketing and Development Director for In-Sight Books for 24 years and has been Dean of the In-Sight Institute for 20 years, co-training over 4000 Funeral Celebrants across North America with Doug Manning. She is a Certified Funeral Celebrant; Licensed Funeral Director/ Embalmer, Oklahoma; Certified Funeral Service Professional; Thanexus, New Jersey Board of Director; and Full Time Instructor- Department of Funeral Service, University of Central Oklahoma..
Download File (DOCX)
tips and tools
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, October 23, 2019
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2019
Today, more and more funeral industry professionals are becoming “accidental” event planners due to the ever-changing nature of funeral practice. Industry professionals are being asked to produce events in venues outside of their facilities and to work closely with suppliers not traditionally associated with their business. This post, derived from a presentation at CANA’s 2017 Cremation Symposium, provides best practices from the event industry, standardized forms used by event planners and suppliers, ideas on how to make your events successful, examples provided by attendees for how they have made their events successful in the past, and tips for avoiding common mistakes.
As a funeral professional, you’re planning events every day – coordinating supplies and products, preparing for attendees, crafting a memorable experience. This is a space you can comfortably own, so there’s really no reason to let it go to an outside planner. With the right tips and tools at hand, you can be a success.
There are two common complaints regarding events, backed up by lots of research, and they’ve been standard for quite a while:
#1 : Why am I here anyway?
#2 : Wow, This is boring.
Why am I here? This should be pretty obvious for a funeral or memorial service, but you don’t want the only connection people have to event being obligation to attend. The best way to change that is to make the experience worth their time. Make sure they receive something they can use – for a funeral, this may be a memory or keepsake – so they leave with a positive outcome.
Wow, this is boring. You may have heard that goldfish have a memory span of 9 seconds, but the average human has an attention span of only 8 seconds. So how do we keep them engaged? Everyone takes in information differently so it’s crucial to understand what families want. Rather than starting with the budget (a limiting question), ask them a foundational question: what would a successful event look like? Then you can reflect what they told you and attempt to deliver exactly what they want.
Ask lots of questions, don’t make assumptions
In every industry, there will be mistakes. But in the event industry, the biggest mistakes made are based on the planner’s assumptions of their client’s needs – what the purpose of the meeting was, how they defined success, what they wanted, how much money they had – and the way to eliminate that is to have an in-depth conversation and then confirm what you’ve heard to make sure you’re on the same page. Maybe you have a preliminary form to get them thinking. Your goal is to avoid an unhappy client who got something they didn’t want or didn’t get something they did.
Most Fundamental Issue of All
How does your client define event success?
Four ways in the traditional event planning industry to define success:
- Achieving certain financial goals.
For conferences with tickets or tradeshows with booths, you budget and plan to profit.
- Meeting certain attendance goals.
For conferences, you want to build attendance every year by providing and experience and takeaways.
- Attendee satisfaction.
This is particularly important for the hospitality industry, but the challenge is how do you measure if they were satisfied. An ideal survey is 5-10 questions.
- Media coverage/social media “likes”.
This is a common way that families are connected and can be a useful tool in the planning process. For a conference, they want to know about the buzz and the online engagement.
For a funeral service, success might be defined by:
- Finding a convenient location to attendees.
Being creative, even leaving the funeral home, can make the experience.
- Focusing on celebrating a life, rather than mourning it.
Remembering loved ones they way they want to be remembered.
- Correctly performing required religious rituals.
When ritual is key in event planning, professionals often bring in consultants to make sure this part goes right.
While your goal for any event is meeting the needs of the family, their concern is their own experience, and that of everyone who came – what was their experience and what did they think? The best way to meet their needs is to know what the family wants.
Personalized experiences require research of the subject matter and, in the case of funeral events, the subject matter is the decedent. You will want to ask questions of your families about the deceased individual. Have them bring photos, mementos - things that mean something – starting with the first meeting. It’s essential that you get to know the person. Be sure to research him/her yourself online – find the photos and stories people are sharing online to get even more information.
You may not have much time to gather everything, so ask your client who you should talk to outside of the arrangement room in order to enhance the experience. Relinquish a bit of the control and partner with the family to get these other people involved.
Consider developing a theme. What was important to the decedent? What made this person happy? You don’t often get a readymade idea from the deceased about what they wanted, and you can’t ask, so get creative. From there, incorporate appealing décor and music, and even a nearby club, team, or group, based on what you learn about this individual.
Use of Technology
Using technology may not always be appropriate or feasible, but most attendees today expect some level of technology for virtually every event. This can include the use of simple AV equipment to play a video retrospective or a slideshow of favorite photos. It can be more elaborate, such as a video “invitation” about the upcoming service shared on social media or your website.
Technology also allows planners to be in contact and interact with the families online throughout the planning process. With a custom, private portal, family members can to communicate budget and vision, and see project status on their schedule. Many families don’t know exactly what they want – they don’t know how much it will cost, the options that are available, or how long it will take – but they have a general sense of what it should look like. Sitting down and committing ideas through their portal, especially with families spread across the country or the world, can keep everyone informed and facilitate these conversations.
Best Practices of Meetings and Events
For most people, the opportunity to celebrate someone’s life is coming at them at the deepest of their grief. The more examples you provide, the easier it may be for them to choose. We go back to “What is the take away from this event?” Wedding planners say to the couple, “What do you want your attendees to leave thinking about?” Some people will say “I want them to remember the food” or “I want them to remember how beautiful the room was.”
Location, location, location.
The venue should mean something to the family and friends. Don’t hesitate to look beyond the funeral home or rely on outside help. If you are facing a limited timespan to organize things, partner with venue managers and planners to make it happen. But be upfront about cost. If you’re talking about doing something original – a barbeque at a gravesite – you may need time to get the permit, the space, but the family will remember how meaningful it was.
Take time to visit local venues to get to know the space. When choosing a venue, you really want to think about the ambiance and its impact on all five senses. Does it smell musty or fresh? Does it look bright or dim? Is the furniture soft or uncomfortable? In Las Vegas, a casino will spend millions to place diffusers in slot machines, cushions on chairs, the right lighting, etc. to make sure that their visitors stay at the machine or table just a little longer.
If you establish relationships with local venues, you’ll know what you can offer and have concrete examples for your families. And cultivate the relationships with the local venues to keep the planning in house. If your space is booked, then you can refer your families to the outside venue and build a local partnership. And if families prefer another space, you won’t have to relinquish your role in planning. You can build on the relationship with the space, caterers, tech, etc. to work together.
Always walk through your event from the attendees’ perspective. What are they thinking about? If you walk through thinking about that, you’ll have a better understanding of exactly what is going to take place. And you’ll see the pitfalls, the challenges.
It’s all in the Timing
A detailed planning timeline is a best practice to keep in mind. The more details you include, the more helpful it will be in helping to organize the family members and your staff.
Traditional funerals give you a three-day timeline, but many CANA Members report that cremation expands the time to plan. A cremation arrangement doesn’t need to be condensed into three days, so you can continue working with the family and get creative. Since Saturday is the most popular day for a service, the timeline might naturally expand up to five weeks until the next available weekend.
If you’re helping a family celebrate, you have to keep them informed of the timeline. Some families wait two weeks while some wait six months until the weather clears. That’s the family’s decision – the more you push, the more uncomfortable they’ll be. Let them know the pitfalls of waiting three months for burial. Communicating to everybody involved in an event frequently and transparently is very important.
The Event Industry Council is an association of hospitality companies that focus on events and they have come together to provide a collection of templates and forms. With these, and your newfound event planning knowledge, go out and start looking at venues that are outside of your normal facility. Look at them, and imagine what an even would look like there. Then, when you hear what the family wants to their service, you can have options and ideas for them ready.
This post is just part 1 of our two-part event planner series excerpted from the 2017 Cremation Symposium presentation “Best Practices for the ‘Accidental’ Event Planners” by Dr. Rhonda Montgomery and Todd Uglow of William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Part 2 will be published soon, so check back.
You can learn more about event planning and access useful resources from the Event Industry Council:
See what CANA has planned for the 2020 Cremation Symposium: goCANA.org/cgt
Todd Uglow is an assistant professor, faculty in residence of event management in the UNLV Harrah Hotel College. He has been a member of the UNLV faculty for over 10 years and focuses on event management & marketing, having expertise in festival design and entertainment management. Former clients of Mr. Uglow include the NFL, Professional Bull Riders and Major League Baseball. He is certified by the courts to testify on matters of celebrity and brand valuation. He holds an undergraduate degree in Business Management, with a marketing emphasis from Cal State San Bernardino and a Juris Doctor degree from Western State University College of Law.
Rhonda Montgomery, Ph.D. is the Department Chair of the Food & Beverage and Event Management Department in the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. She conducts research and has written articles on the social psychology of purchasing decisions and customer loyalty for meetings, conventions and festivals. She has also written numerous books in the areas of meetings and conventions, private club management and the first-year experience.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Updated: Friday, July 19, 2019
The 21st century is changing North American life. There are more of us, and more different kinds of us, than ever before. Our traditions are numerous and varied, and, in many ways, the marketplace shifts to address this new reality. No facet of our culture is immune to this transformation—and certainly not the way we memorialize loved ones who have passed on. In 2015, CANA Second Vice President and Funeral Director Archer Harmon told the cremation symposium audience how Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home responded to changing demographics.
Know Your Data
Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home and Crematory is located in Fairfax County, a suburb just eleven miles from the border of the District of Columbia. Washington, D.C. is a very, very diverse community. Government jobs bring people there, embassies bring people there, a booming economy brings people there. In a very short time, in the ten years between 2000 to 2010, the non-Hispanic white population decreased in Northern Virginia by 10% percent to be replaced by an Asian population of 12.5% and a Hispanic population of 4.8%. In just ten years, that population change is incredibly rapid.
I got these data off of websites from Fairfax County, the federal government, and the media. This information is free, it’s readily available to you, and it’s a road map for you to understand what’s going on and why your business is changing. You can look at these data and see where your business is going to go. At our funeral home the software we use tracks everything. Our directors and apprentices are trained that there are specific things that are entered into our computer program. I can tell you where our deaths come from, the ZIP code, the average age, I can tell you the race—I can tell you all of this with just a few requests through the software program.
If you don’t know your past or your present, your future can be uncertain. Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home opened in 2003, within a couple of miles of well-established funeral homes in Northern Virginia that have been there 60, 70, 80 years. So it was a pretty big risk for the Doherty family to open a funeral home in 2003 when cremation rates were skyrocketing. But their risk paid off, and we served almost 900 families last year.
A lot of you have cremation rates of 60-80%, but there are many populations out there who want ceremonies. If you try to discuss direct cremation with them, they just don’t get it. How do you locate, serve, and track these groups for whom direct cremation is not an option?
The Importance of Outreach
When we first opened, I met with the funeral preparer for a local Buddhist temple. She came to us to inquire about using our funeral home because it’s close to where the population served by her temple lives. She helped me get set up with all of our Buddhist equipment and helped me to tailor a package to accommodate the needs of her families. What all this means for our industry, with our shrinking profits, growing cremation rates, and how diverse we’re becoming as a population in North America, we learned to reach out to specific groups. Now, Fairfax Memorial has created packages tailored to a specific temple that uses our services.
You have to have an outreach program for various groups so you can have a dialogue with them. You need to have a way to tell people what you can do for them. Our website is a great way we reach out to a particular population. The populations we are talking about are very savvy with technology, so we include specific religious and cultural keywords to help people find us. That way, when someone in Northern Virginia Googles “Buddhist funeral,” “Hindu funeral,” whatever the case may be, our information pops up. We are in the number one position with this.
If you look at a map that shows an overview of what your area looks like by the fastest growing religions, you can see where to put your efforts. Looking at the information on the national map, if I owned a funeral home or crematory in Washington State, Nevada, Arizona, and California, I would be knocking on the doors of these temples saying, “I have a funeral home and we’re here to help.”
The Laotian Buddhist Funeral
I think most of the directors at my funeral home agree with me that the Laotian funeral is one of the most interesting funerals we do. When we first opened in August of 2003, I was at the funeral home and we had a Laotian family walk in. They wanted to have a funeral. They liked our chapel because it was big and could accommodate 200 people. It was our first Laotian funeral and we didn’t know anything about a Laotian funeral. They helped us and they were very kind. To this day, we still have Laotian funerals and I still see some of the same people who were there for the original funeral service. We did something right the first time, and it has paid off.
Laos is a Southeast Asian country bordering Thailand and Vietnam. In a traditional service, relatives of the deceased serve in Laotian funerals as novice monks, or “monks for the day,” and this is a great honor – but one they have to shave their heads and their eyebrows for. In addition to the novice monks, full Laotian monks from the local temples are the ones who do the chanting for the deceased during the ceremony. Services are very beautiful. The Laotians bring in their own Buddha. It’s a Thai Buddha and it’s very thin. It doesn’t have the Chinese characteristics to it.
After the funeral has ended, the monks from the temple hold a rope. The rope is tied to the casket, and they lead the casket out our chapel door, through our front door, and throughout our entire funeral home. They make their route to the crematory where they witness the cremation.
As part of the procession, there’s a family member behind the casket with a bowl of money that’s wrapped in foil. The packets are thrown up in the air, and if you are the funeral director or funeral assistant or apprentice on that casket, you will get pelted with money. The family throws the money to distract the attention of the evil spirits away from the deceased so the loved one can be cremated and move on to the next world. The rope signifies the monks pulling, and the indirect route taken to the crematory is meant to confuse the spirits.
There are wreaths carried by family members with money attached to them. The family folds paper money into triangles and affixes it to the wreaths. This is for the temple monks. At the end of the ceremony, there’s a wreath for each monk as alms, or an offering to the monks, thanking them for their participation in the journey of the loved one from this life into the next life. The last Laotian funeral I had, there were ten wreaths. I counted one wreath and it had over a thousand dollars in twenties folded in triangles. Each of the ten wreaths was presented to the monks, so that is their form of payment, thanking the monks for what they have done for the family.
If you ever have the honor to serve a Buddhist family and they give you a tip, take it. If you don’t take the tip, you’ve insulted the deceased and you’ve insulted the family. It’s the same as the alms for the monks. The family is thankful for everything that you do for them.
Learning to Listen
It’s interesting to talk to people about their different cultures and religious traditions. It’s similar to the way people share food recipes. They want to share these things with you, and the more interest you have, the more they will tell you. And that’s how we’ve all become experts in this. Listening to the families we serve and putting it back together for them and giving them everything that they want. When we hire a new director, especially if they’ve come from another area, it can take a while for them to acclimate. I see them sometimes, just standing there wondering, “What’s going on here?” But in six months to a year, they’re fully immersed.
In Northern Virginia, we have a huge Asian population. In many of these cultures, cremation is a practice that’s been done for thousands of years. Sometimes they choose burial, sometimes they choose cremation. We can accommodate them, and anyone else in our community, with whatever their needs are, by being willing to listen to their needs and learn.
The data referenced in this post is based on the most recent US Census in 2010. The 2020 Census will provide even more perspective on how our communities are changing. CANA will continue creating innovative content about how change can work for traditional funeral homes facing new and different clientele.
This post excerpted from Archer Harmon’s presentation at CANA’s 2015 Cremation Symposium titled Meeting the Cremation Needs of a Growing and Diverse Population in North America, as transcribed in The Cremationist magazine Vol. 51, Iss. 2 titled “Know Your Community: Build Your Business” which includes more photos and traditions from services of many different cultures. The Cremationist is an exclusive benefit to CANA members — explore our website to learn about the other resources CANA provides to members.
Archer Harmon is a licensed funeral director and embalmer and the General Manager of Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home. With over 30 years of experience, Archer is well versed in many funeral traditions, including military funerals and state funerals for dignitaries. He has attained a vast amount of invaluable knowledge regarding the funeral customs of highly diverse populations. Archer serves on CANA’s Board of Directors as Second Vice President.