Four models of a CFS

There are presently no community funeral enterprises in the UK, but in other parts of the world, most relevantly the USA and Canada, there are thriving not-for-profit community-owned co-operatives which enable their members to arrange, typically, ‘simple, affordable and dignified’ funerals without sales pressure. Their principal and often exclusive activity is to offer their members cheaper funerals than they would be able to buy in the for-profit sector.

A CFS aims to achieve far more.

A CFS is a membership-owned co-op, but it’s important to point out that the models we propose have little in common with the UK’s much larger-scale regional and national membership-owned co-operative societies (Co-operative Funeralcare, for example) whose funeral operations offer, with some exceptions, little to emulate.

We offer here three models of a CFS – plus a fourth, a not-for-profit social enterprise model owned not by a community but by a funeral director.

A key consideration for any community when choosing a particular model will be the projected workload of the CFS – the number of funerals it expects to handle annually. This can be determined by the size of the population it serves. With the current death rate at just under 1 per cent of the population annually, it is easy enough for the members of a CFS to calculate, taking competitors into account, how busy it is likely to be.
We anticipate that most CFSs will seek to serve areas with populations of around 25,000 or under. Such a scale of operations would serve to make a CFS truly local. What’s more, it would only ever be a part-time operation. Small, we suggest, is beautiful, as is a CFS which comes alive only when someone dies. A CFS of this sort aspires never to expand, only to be emulated, and is well adapted to handle just a few funerals a year. For this reason, a CFS serving a population of just 1,000 would be perfectly viable.

Canadian and US funeral co-ops typically adopt one of two models, either of which might be adopted and adapted by a UK CFS.

Let us call these models

  • CFS1: a full-service, in-house CFS
  • CFS2: an outsourcing CFS.

In addition to these two models, we outline the unique British option, the

  • CFS3: a membership-owned CFS which cares for the dead of its community when the need arises, deploying volunteers and employing paid specialists as it sees fit.
  • We also examine the model of a
  • CFS4: a funeral director-led not-for-profit, social enterprise company.

CFS1: A full-service, in-house CFS

A membership-owned operation with its own premises, vehicles and salaried staff operating full time.

An operation of this sort is exemplified by the model of the Prince Edward Island Co-operative Funeral Homes in Canada.

The start-up capital required for such an operation would be significant and, to be commercially viable, a CFS1 would need to carry out at least 100 funerals a year. A CFS1 would need either to create its own funeral home or buy out a conventional funeral director.

CFS2: An outsourcing CFS

A membership-owned operation which negotiates a fixed price with a commercial funeral director and wholly outsources deathcare and, optionally, funeral planning.

An operation of this sort is exemplified by the model of the Memorial Society of British Columbia.

A CFS2 offers flexibility to a community unwilling or unable to invest in a mortuary.
For example, a community which has within it a funeral director who is highly regarded, socially well integrated and well disposed towards the ethos of the CFS might choose to adopt the model, or variant thereof, of a CFS2 by outsourcing deathcare at a negotiated rate to that funeral director with the option of retaining responsibility for making funeral arrangements.

CFS3: The radical all-British model

A membership-owned community enterprise staffed by volunteers and, as it sees fit, professionals, who between them undertake all the tasks of a conventional funeral director.

A CFS cares for the dead of its community. It does so because it is practicable for it to do so. Just as important, it does so because it embraces the symbolic importance of its role as custodian of its dead. A core purpose of a CFS3 is the normalising of death by bringing it back into the community.

A CFS3 is best able to meet the commercial and social objectives set out in What is a CFS? and to meet the aspirations set out in We Believe, in particular:

  • We believe that attitudes to ageing, dying and death must be restored to emotional health in such a way as to reflect their normality and naturalness
  • We believe that we must redress customs, practices and attitudes which isolate the old, the ill, those who care for them, the dead and the bereaved
  • We believe that most of the tasks funeral directors undertake are not specialist tasks and can be undertaken by ordinary people
  • We believe that many bereaved people need access to a range of practical and emotional support services which are presently unavailable to them
  • We believe that communities are brought together when impelled by duty, altruism and self-interest. It is in our interest to help others because, in time, we shall need them to help us. It is also very satisfying

Why has no US or Canadian funeral co-operative developed such a radical model? Briefly, because their laws don’t let them. In the US and Canada the funeral industry is regulated and funeral directors are professionalised. Though immediate family members may care for their own dead, anyone else who cares for them must be trained and licensed.

Here in the UK, however, our funeral industry is unregulated. British funeral directors do not have to be trained and licensed. Anyone can care for the dead.

Because so few tasks undertaken by funeral directors are specialist tasks, any community that has the resources to go all the way in reclaiming its dead may do so.

This also offers a community the opportunity to operate significantly more cost-efficiently than either the prevailing commercial model or a CFS1 or a CFS2 for this simple reason: it only comes alive when someone dies. Unlike conventional funeral directors, it doesn’t pay itself while it sits by the phone waiting for the next person to die.

The challenges facing any community wanting to start up its own funeral service are considerable but not insuperable. The two biggest challenges are these:

1. Investing in a mortuary if necessary or desirable
2. Staffing – who does what, and who gets paid.

You can consider these matters further by going to Fixed Assets and Staffing a CFS

CFS4 – a funeral director-led social enterprise

A Community Interest Company (CIC) – a limited company with special additional features created to enable the funeral director to conduct a business for community benefit and not purely for private advantage.

This is not a community-owned business model, but we offer it for consideration because, though it falls short of our ideals, it offers a significant improvement on the status quo.

A CIC model enables the funeral director to retain control of the business and be remunerated in proportion to the success of the business, at the same time re-investing any profit into support services for the bereaved (and any other charitable enterprises).

As a not-for-profit social enterprise company, a CSF4, is in a position to recruit volunteers to offer enhanced support for the bereaved and to form an advisory council and engage in educational and awareness-raising activities.

The downside for the owner is that a CIC must operate an asset cap, meaning that the business cannot be sold. The upside is that a not-for-profit CIC is likely to attract more business than a for-profit funeral director.

Funeral directors seek to be at the heart of their communities but, by the nature of their work, are socially marginalised. A not-for-profit business would be far more loveable.

A not-for-profit funeral home would meet key objectives of the aspirations we set out in We Believe:

  • We believe that, because a funeral must be arranged at what for most people is a time of emotional and cognitive vulnerability, there is a prevailing uneasiness with a for-profit commercial model.
  • We believe that those who care for the dead must be integrated into their communities and not operate at the periphery
  • We believe that many bereaved people need access to a range of practical and emotional support services which are presently unavailable to them
  • We believe that these needs can be met only if the work of specialist support agencies is augmented by collaborative, compassionate community engagement in the form of volunteering

For more information about Community Interest Companies, visit the website of the CIC Regulator.

Next: read about Fixed Assets

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  • cassandrayonder

    Be wary that some of the memorial societies and funeral co-operatives are nothing more than a marketing strategy for the funeral industry.  The Funeral Consumers Alliance is a good, strait up source for information.
    Also, building awareness regarding the rights of families to provide their own community centred, home-based post death care is crucial.
    The way I see it; hiring a funeral director is like hiring a wedding planner – they do offer fantastic service for those who want or need it … but dying doesn’t necessitate professional intervention!

    Cassandra Yonder 
    BEyond Yonder Death Midwifery

  • Couldn’t agree more, Cassandra. We think funeral directors should be considered more like wedding planners, given the process that goes into not only the day itself, but also the days preceding and following.