By Leader Contributor Alexandra Jo, Culture and Content Manager at Parting Stone

A vital aspect of building and maintaining a successful funeral business is cultivating strong connections with your local community. Being present and active in your community builds trust, brand recognition, and gives your business purpose and credibility.

Since funeral professionals have notoriously full schedules and emotionally demanding jobs, the idea of putting in the leg-work to engage with the community outside of the business might seem daunting. However, research supports the fact that when companies go the extra mile to be active and engaged in their local community, they have a more loyal customer base, happier employees, and stronger businesses. It’s time to realize that community matters for funeral businesses and learn how to start building relationships with your local community now. We’ve consulted the experts on how community involvement can grow your funeral businesses, and how funeral home owners can build local relationships.

Why Community Involvement Matters

Research shows that making a concerted effort to engage in community involvement builds a more successful business. This article from Strategy + Business explains that “Community relations, as one chief executive recently put it, ‘is food for the soul of the organization.’ No longer an afterthought or corporate window-dressing, community relations, as more chief executives are acknowledging, is now a serious, strategic aspect of business for American companies, a fundamental ingredient for the health of the enterprise.”

Furthermore, according to this article from All Business, “Companies that are involved in their communities[…] find many benefits to their bottom lines. They notice an increase in the number of loyal customers as well as happier, more engaged employees. […] Relationships with the community keep your company’s message relevant, and help to solidify a positive image for your brand. Members of the community develop a more positive image of the company since they know you are listening to their concerns.”

Along with helping your company’s public image, building strong relationships with the community can help your company’s internal culture and employee job satisfaction. The same article explains that “when employees act as company ambassadors by engaging in community events and addressing community needs, they see themselves making a positive impact, which contributes to a productive, positive company culture.”

From a deathcare perspective, being visible and engaged with the community is important for business. Eric Neuhaus of Green Cremation Texas has built a business model around promoting green cremation services and establishing a strong presence in the community. A recent article on Connecting Directors revealed that Eric has a lean business model that rethinks traditional operations, focusing on eco-friendly options, maximum efficiency, and transparency. On the Deathcare Decoded podcast Eric explained why he thinks community involvement is so important for funeral businesses:

Importance of Localized Presence in Your Community

According to Eric, it’s important for families to know that you are physically in their community. This helps establish trust with your families and puts them at ease when facing the difficult task of planning after life care for their loved ones.

Community Involvement with Special Events

Businesses from other professions have used community involvement to gain visibility, credibility, and status for decades, and funeral businesses could be doing the same. This article from Fora Financial affirms business benefits like increased brand awareness, strengthened brand trust, visibility of positive company culture, and more that come from actively engaging with your community. But true community involvement means positively impacting the community in which you operate. Hosting events that feel sales-y and inauthentic that don’t truly offer your community a benefit won’t reap the right results. In a recent episode of Deathcare Decoded, Jody Jerringtion Jody Herrington, Location Manager at Skylawn Memorial Park in California, revealed that in a previous job, she helped her funeral home build connections with their local community, and within the community itself, by planning and hosting a large-scale Dia De Los Muertos celebration.

“When I was in Idaho at Cloverdale Funeral Home, I started their Dia de Los Muertos Festival. Boise has a very vibrant hispanic community […] it’s an awesome city, but it’s [typically thought of as] very caucasion, and a very white city. It’s very morman and catholic, it’s a very traditional city. So recognizing that there was a very vibrant hispanic community that hadn’t really incorporated itself into Boise made me think “Why not have a Dia de Los Muertos festival?” So while I was there I started a festival that was based on hand crafts and handmade things. We didn’t want a festival full of stuff you could buy at the store, we wanted things that were hand made by people in the community to sell to the people of the community and to share the hispanic culture with this fairly insulated Idahoan community. I’m proud to say that that festival has grown and continued on since I left there. It’s become a really big part of the community there. It became so big that the hispanic Chamber of Commerce took over guiding it. It’s still held on the [funeral home] property. I’m very proud of starting the festival because to me it was a means of bringing two cultures together […] and I’m very proud of the fact that it has continued on because that means that the Boise community has embraced it and the two cultures are now intermingling in ways that they hadn’t before. It was a lot of hard work, but a lot of fun, and a lot of reward came out of it.” 

The key to a successful community event like Jody’s is being perceptive about the whole community that your business is a part of. Understanding who your current customers are, then looking around and noticing who else you could be serving, and planning events and ways to engage with all of the local demographics around you, is a wonderful way to make your business more accessible to a larger market-share with the added bonus of enriching the lives of the community as a whole.

Source Locally to Build Community

Another excellent way to build community is to source one-of-a-kind, handcrafted funeral products from local artists in your area. In the same episode of Deathcare Decoded, Jody talked in detail about how funeral homes can build community by locally sourcing special products for the selection room. When Jody was a funeral director at Berardinelli Funeral Home in Santa Fe, NM, she curated an all locally-sourced environmentally friendly selection room of funeral and cremation products. Inspired by a desire to be more environmentally conscious and support the local Northern New Mexico economy, Jody’s selection room led to building valuable connections with local artists and community members, and better service for local families looking for unique, one-of-a-kind options.

She explained, “When I first went to the Contemporary Clay Fair (Santa Fe), it really hit home that these artists were not just making lovely pieces of art, but were creating pieces that could serve to honor the dead as urns. These art pieces that are so abundant can speak for the dead in a way that mass produced urns cannot. They can show the values and the ideals of their inhabitants in a way that a machine made metal piece from India can’t even touch upon. When we spoke to the artists and discovered that they were excited about the prospect of their pieces taking on a higher significance, the decision was made.”

Jody also expands on the added benefits of sourcing funeral products locally: “It forms a bond between the community that you’re buying from and the funeral home, and the community that you’re providing these pieces to. It’s a huge mutualistic system where you can see that you’re not just part of an industrial complex, you’re part of the community, and the community matters. And what they find important, you find important […] It all comes back to the relationships you’re forming with the community you’re surrounding yourself with. Because, a funeral home is entirely guided by the relationships that it forms with its surrounding community. If the community doesn’t connect with the funeral home and the funeral home doesn’t connect with the community, that funeral home might as well just close its doors because no one is going to trust them. But if you form a connection with them and find common ground, about what has value, then it opens so many doors.”

Hear more about the process of building community through a locally sourced selection room from Jody in an interview with the Deathcare Decoded podcast:

Building Community by Locally Sourcing Funeral Products

One excellent example of a successful partnership between a funeral home and a local artist is the partnership between Don Drumm and Billow Funeral Home in Akron, OH. Drumm first considered turning his pewter sculptures into cremation containers when his own mother passed away and he couldn’t find an urn that he felt a connection with. The partnership with the funeral home was born when Nathaniel M. Billow of Billow Funeral Home wanted a way to offer more unique and personalized options to his families.

In this article about the flourishing partnership, Billow states that “the response has been overwhelming. Not only are families who choose to have their services at Billow picking the Drumm designs, but also Billow is now fielding requests from funeral homes throughout the country whose customers have heard about them[…] ‘This is all about how we can better serve families and celebrate Akron,’ he said. [Billow is] now working with Drumm to create jewelry that can hold a vial of ashes.”

Growing Your Business in the Personalization Era of Deathcare

In today’s world, we are in an era of personalization, and the deathcare space is no exception. This Forbes article explains that “We are no longer inclined to hide our identity or feel pressured to fit into the standardized version of mainstream. We are aware of and proud of our individuality[…] In the age of personalization, the individual defines the business. Our individual capacities should be elevated and activated, so we can influence the business. Progress toward individual impact and legacy should be what matters and is measured.

Families today want opportunities to make grieving and death planning personal and unique to their loved one. This desire for a personal experience with death and mourning has brought about a plethora of new technologies, options, and services for the families that funeral professionals serve. Along with locally sourced options, there is a plethora of new technologies, services, and products that can personalize the death planning experience. Click below to download a free ebook of personalization-focused death planning options for your families:

Making connections with local artists who are able to create urns, hand-made wooden, woven, or macrame caskets, or customized cremation art and jewelry, will build relationships between those artists, the funeral home, and the local families that the funeral home serves. Sourcing locally makes the death planning process more personal and unique for your families, which is exactly what most of today’s death planners are looking for.

Where to Start When Hosting Events and Sourcing Locally

For many funeral directors, sponsoring events and sourcing locally for urns and cremation products might feel like foreign concepts, but there are some simple and easy ways to get to know your local community in order to authentically engage with them. Observe what common interests community members have (sports, fine arts, cultural celebrations, etc.) then cater to those interests when sponsoring or planning events. Additionally, attending art fairs and festivals, visiting local craft or farmers markets, or making connections with local art galleries is an excellent place to start locally sourcing unique funeral products. It also helps to have an idea of what products and services your specific families might be most interested in. If green burial is popular in your area, start looking specifically for weavers or woodworkers who could create beautiful, one-of-a-kind green burial caskets. If you have a high cremation rate at your funeral home, looking for ceramic artists to create beautiful urns, or glass and metal artists to make cremation jewelry and keepsakes is an excellent idea.

To learn about more strategies for engaging with the community and working with local artists to make unique, personalized funeral products and accessories for your families, click below to download our free ebook, “A Guide to Engaging with Your Community”

Author Bio: Alexandra is the Culture and Content Manager at Parting Stone where she cultivates a positive company culture for a fast-growing team of first-gen death care professionals. Alexandra is passionately death curious, and co-hosts the Deathcare Decoded podcast.

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