Association Discussion: Opening A Can of Worms

Tough Discussion

Association Discussion; Opening A Can of Worms

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak and present a CEU session to a group of funeral professionals of a state funeral organization at their annual convention. The audience was great with excellent discussions and engagement.  What I found perplexing was there was another funeral organization, from the same state, meeting at the same time a few blocks away.  I’m going to address what appears to be obvious and initiate a conversation that may “open a can of worms.”

Why is there two organizations with common issues and needs meeting at the same time, in the same city, but separately? For that matter, why are there so many organizations that are so similar yet choose to segregate themselves?  In Virginia alone, there are 3 state funeral director organizations that all are autonomous with their own conventions/meetings, staff, memberships and money spent. With all the scrutiny that we face by the news media, consumers, governmental and regulatory agencies; is all the segregation really the best portrait of funeral directing?

It’s 2015 and on the surface, one would think, gasp…that some of the organizations are divided by race.  Okay I said it…so, now refute it.  I am also aware of local “funeral director organizations” that are actually part of state associations that will not allow certain competitive funeral homes to join. Yes, licensed funeral homes are not allowed to participate.  I personally have knowledge of firms that are refused membership. What’s your take?

Not long ago I was a vendor and working the convention schedule in a few different states.  In some cases, the dates overlapped but in all cases the money spent to register, display, stay, eat and entertain was pretty much equal.  The company I worked for began scaling back budgets for state conventions because of escalating costs, lack of ROI and dwindling need to physically display because of new technology for messaging of products or services.  But at each convention, pretty much the same vendors and programs were provided.  The differentiation was the staff running the convention, location, people in attendance and non-essential time activities.  Make sense to you?

As for national organizations, one does not have to conduct in-depth research to surmise that the secondary tier organizations are struggling. It’s all about resources and value to the membership.  If a “one stop shop” organization offers CEU’s (education/training), legislative representation (advocacy), cremation resources (education/training) and a well presented annual convention which has a tremendous expo/trade show, why do the other “second tier” organizations even exist? What’s your take?

Just a few days ago, one second tier organization touted “breaking attendance records” at their recent annual gathering.  A breakdown of the “participants” shows that less than 1/3 are actual funeral directors and the rest of the attendees are comprised of vendors, spouses or kids.  Great spin, but the reality is that this type of “national organization” is drawing less than some state conventions.

What are your thoughts about all the different organizations that for the most part have a common purpose of representing the funeral profession? There are organizations that have excellent positive impact for education and influence, and others that seem to be more fraternity in nature. For sake of discussion, what are your thoughts of how we as an industry best should be represented…collectively with a strong and cohesive voice or segmented?

Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just stating the obvious (as usual) and addressing what seems to be a colossal waste of resources. Cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

  1. I entered funeral service in the summer of 1978. I had an 8-track player in my car and a first generation, tone-only pager so I could be reached 24/7. Two of the three don’t exist any longer. Conventions were where we got most of our information. Today, communication and information is instantaneous and everyone has less money to spend. We don’t have to get gossip from the sales reps as we can read about our colleague’s foibles on FB. Yup, times sure have changed and the pace has not slowed. I recall talking to you on the convention floor in Charlotte a few years ago as you were beginning to form the foundation for this column. Spot on, as usual.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jeff Harbeson said:

    Back in the day Ray, back in the day.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Howard Beckham said:

    Well Jeff, I can only tell you that there is a reason here in Florida that we have multiple associations. To be very brief:
    About 25 years ago, there was a real push by the corporate funeral companies to seize control of the state FD association and to also grab the political influence to get laws passed in their favor to give them enough influence here in what is now the state with the third largest population in the US.

    The independent and family owned funeral home owners decided when they lost all positions of leadership with the state organization that they needed to form their association in order to have a voice. And what a voice it has become!

    If the Independents had not formed their own association then and grown the association into the force that it is today funeral service in Florida would be vastly different today.

    Today, the IFDF has by far the largest number of members and member firms in the state. Our membership is made up of large and small firms, white, black and Latin-American firms. We have been reaching out for the past several years to look at ways to have a joint conferences with the other in state associations. So far no real meeting of the mind has occurred and no meeting of the philosophies is ever likely. The IFDF has opened all of our conferences to ALL independent and family owned firms who would like to attend since day one, 25 years ago.

    One of the biggest concerns I know that the IFDF has is how this multi-state association environment effects all of our valued vendors. We all know that this is more than difficult for the reps and the companies they represent. I can tell you that one of the most important matters the conference committee works on is how to improve the vendors experience at our meetings.

    So Jeff, It is completed. At least here, there is a good reason why the can of worms exist.


  4. I enjoy your blog, Jeff. While I am typically a social media consumer rather than a contributor, this conversation was too important to ignore.

    I have worked in associations for 20+ years, and the cremation industry is the fourth field I have represented. Over those years, I have adopted one truism that guides my association work: associations reflect their profession and industry.

    The pace of change in death care is incredible and the volatility experienced by funeral homes, cemeteries, and suppliers—both new and long-standing businesses—is reflected in the changing role of the associations who serve them.

    The “can of worms” you refer to has been open for two decades or longer, and yet people still come together to learn together and from each other. Specialized or generic, large or small, in-person or online, it is human nature for people to come together somehow. It is the job of the association to support that coming together, to provide the broader visions and voices that define a profession. Please note the multiple in visions and voices, because a single “one-stop-shop” doesn’t cut it in today’s society. Walmart may dominate the retail landscape, but boutiques and specialty stores offering a particular expertise are also thriving. New technologies debut daily, yet rarely replace old technologies. The old dichotomies are dead and any attempt to simplify the complex new reality will kill your business quicker than cremation.

    I didn’t see you in San Diego at the recent CANA convention you refer to in your post, and we are proud of our increased attendance numbers, just not for the reason you assumed. CANA doesn’t strive to be the largest trade show; rather, we are laser-focused on cremation and cutting-edge research, business practices, and networking for cremation leaders. Exhibitors, cemeterians, funeral directors—and, yes, even spouses—are part of a community that comes together to learn, network, and play as hard as it works.

    CANA strives to be relevant to its members, to the profession, and to its meeting participants. By every measure, we succeeded.


  5. Jeff Harbeson said:


    First, greetings. Thank you for responding and sharing your thoughts. Frankly, “opening a can of worms” and having such conversations is of great value. The funeral industry is extremely segmented and my concern is the non-concerted voice to consumers…in that regard we seem to be loosing with our messaging. I have had many emails and responses to this particular post that overwhelmingly agree that our industry fragmentation is increasing.
    No, based on our experience from Minneapolis, we did not attend this year in San Diego. Interestingly I talked to several vendors in attendance that we disappointed with the ratios described, ROI and content with the general consensus of “same old same old.” I have conversations with organization leaders, large corporate companies, vendors and smaller funeral home owners alike from literally all over the planet, and for the most part they have a similar views of the issues I discussed in the post.
    Of course when “opening a can of worms” on subjects like this particular one, the messenger often gets shot at (which I have quite a bit of experience from my days in the military), however it’s useful to step back for us all to take a different view especially when we are very close to the “front.”
    I would like to continue our dialogue and work together to seek what is most important; best approach for the industry, the directors that serve and the consumers that entrust us with their deceased loved one. Please let’s schedule some time to further connect. Kindest regards, Jeff


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