Staffing a CFS

At the heart of the philosophy of a CFS is the belief that the bereaved would rather deal with ‘one of us’ than ‘one of them’ – that death is better handled by ordinary altruistic members of a community than by those whose exclusive professional competence is the care of the dead and the service of the bereaved.

For this reason, a CFS is staffed as far as possible by people for whom the work is part-time, just as it was for the laying-out woman and midwife in times gone by.

Furthermore, while it is the tendency of commercial funeral directors to encourage the bereaved to leave all arrangements with them, promoting dependency, a CFS believes it is beneficial for the bereaved if they are encouraged to play whatever part they feel they can in caring for the body of their dead person and, if they want to have one, creating their funeral. A CFS promotes self-help.

As we say in We Believe:

  • We believe that we must redress customs, practices and attitudes which isolate and marginalise the dead and the bereaved
  • We believe that attitudes towards those who care for the dead must be restored to emotional health
  • We believe that those who care for the dead must be integrated into their communities and not operate at the periphery
  • We believe that most of the tasks funeral directors undertake are not specialist tasks and can be undertaken by ordinary people
  • 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

Four teams

Meeting the immediate needs of a bereaved person calls for three distinct but not mutually exclusive competences and, therefore, three or four distinct teams comprising volunteers and paid staff:

Team 1: those who care for the dead

Team 2: those who make administrative and logistical arrangements for the disposal of the dead and co-ordinate teams 1, 3 and 4.

Team 3: those who create funeral ceremonies — funeral celebrants

Team 4: those who meet the practical and emotional needs of the bereaved.

Note: while teams 2 and 3 are easily and logically combined, there should be no bar on multi-tasking. Note also that conventional funeral directors cover only roles 1 and 2.

People who offer their services for 1 and 2 must be able to make themselves available the moment the call comes and work flexibly for the time they are needed. Some workplaces may proudly count as part of their CSR their willingness to let an employee take a morning or an afternoon off to bring a body back to the mortuary or spend time making funeral arrangements, in the same way that RNLI lifeboat crews are permitted to respond to emergency calls.

Team 1: those who care for the dead

A CFS is unlikely to have any difficulty recruiting people to care for the dead. This work is attractive to more people than might be  supposed. Mostly, the work is not technically difficult, but can be heavy and messy. It is much easier to look after a dead person than a sick person.

Once in a while it is likely that the body of a dead person will present challenges which call for expert intervention. These challenges can be met by employing a trade embalmer or a funeral director on an hourly rate of pay, an arrangement dependent on the willingness of these people to work for a CFS.

Those members of a CFS who opt to help care for the dead will need to be trained and mentored and may be paid.

Teams 2 & 3: those who co-ordinate and those who create the funeral

Enabling the bereaved to make arrangements for the disposal of their dead and, if they wish, create a funeral ceremony for them, is a collaborative exercise which requires of the co-ordinator a knowledge of relevant law, procedures and administrative paperwork, together with a full understanding of the logistics involved in creating a funeral, including sourcing a ceremony consultant or celebrant. The leading personal qualities required of a co-ordinator are common sense and empathy.

CFS co-ordinators, probably on a rota basis, are the logical first point of contact for the bereaved. They then activate and orchestrate team members – those who care for the dead, those who support the bereaved and those who create farewell ceremonies.

The role of co-ordinator may be treated as a stand-alone role, but it is also one which might easily and effectively be combined with that of funeral celebrant.

Those involved in the administrative and logistical arrangements, and those who consult on the makeup of the ceremony (celebrants), will unfailingly make the fulfilment of the wishes and needs of the bereaved their exclusive concern.

CFS co-ordinators will liaise with their local authority, social services, local charities and healthcare bodies. They will share knowledge and best practice, seek to work collaboratively and represent and promote the interests of their CFS on a day-to-day basis.

Funeral co-ordinators must be trained and may be paid.

There already exists a more than adequate pool of freelance secular funeral celebrants and both stipendiary and retired religious ministers – ceremony-makers – for a CFS to draw upon. They may be paid.

Team 4: those who meet the practical and emotional needs of the bereaved

The practical needs of the bereaved are likely to be various and wide-ranging, but they are unlikely to be beyond the competence of ordinary members of the community. The sorts of tasks that volunteers are likely to be called upon to perform are detailed in Case histories. Practical tasks are allocated simply by matching the person to the task according to aptitude.

Where community members can meet the emotional needs of the bereaved by offering comfort (not counselling), the role for volunteers is straightforward. Where emotional needs are complex or acute, volunteers would naturally refer to experts – bereavement charities, social services, etc.

Screening of applicants

One of the hardest tasks for a CFS is likely to be, not the recruitment of the right people, but the rejection of those who are keenest to join but least suited to serve. Those who ‘know best’ and seek to impose their own values on the bereaved are clearly unsuitable, as are the morbid, the neurotic and the emotionally needy.

At the same time, a CFS can only be enriched by the breadth of the range of people it can attract, the broader the better. This must include, of course, people with disabilities, learning difficulties, etc.

A CFS must have an effective screening process for applicants and a process whereby they are eased in under supervision and slotted into roles which best suit them.

Will enough people volunteer?

A CFS must appeal equally to the altruism and the self-interest of its members.

The appeal to altruism is clear. This is attractively worthwhile and important work.

The appeal to self-interest must be on two levels. First, a CFS must provide funerals for its members at lower cost and of higher value than the for-profit sector. Second, it must be clear to CFS volunteers that what goes around comes around; just as they help others today, these same people will help them or their family tomorrow. For younger members, membership of a CFS will ornament a CV.

Who gets paid and who doesn’t?

In order to deliver its commercial, social and environmental objectives, a CFS must strive always to do more with less.

In order to optimise the performance of its team members and operate at the highest level of competence, a CFS needs both to incentivise its team members and also to hold them to account. While those who offer practical and emotional support to the bereaved would never be paid, a CFS will remunerate members of teams 1, 2 and 3 as best seems expedient.

Quality assurance

Whilst a CFS depends for much of its effectiveness on volunteers, it can never offer this as an excuse for operating a service any less professional than that offered by a conventional funeral director. There can be no room for, or tolerance of, either well-meaning bungling or any dilution of individual responsibility. A CFS can be judged only on its outcomes.

A CFS will elect a quality assurance committee to ensure highest standards.

Quality assurance and failsafe working must be achieved by means of all of the following:

  1. A standard operating procedure comprising detailed, written instructions to achieve uniformity of performance incorporating oversight and double-checking procedures for all work in progress
  2. Contracts for all staff and an appraisal procedure
  3. A review process after each funeral
  4. A disciplinary process

Next: read about Structures and Governance