The ICCFA survey

Todd Van Beck's picture

As usual the powers to be within the leadership of ICCFA have done it again as far as being on the cutting edge of what is going on out in the real world of funeral and cemetery vocations.  A new survey (available only to those who attended the recent convention in San Antonio) popped up on my computer and I have to say that I was, for what this is worth, mighty impressed, and indeed fascinated with the results and information. It was like reading a moral treatise which has the outcome of making the comfortable uncomfortable and making the uncomfortable comfortable.

I have always been suspicious of surveys of most any kind.  I had a sociology professor in college who convinced me that when I looked at all surveys I should first and foremost see who paid to have the survey done in the first place.  I have actually found this pretty good advice over the years.  For instance, from what I can detect, every survey that law enforcement departments commission almost always concludes that crime is on the increase.  

Most every survey taken concerning the status of education concludes that we are not doing enough, not enough money is being spent, and that the system is in deplorable condition.  I mean my professor was of the thinking that if the education surveys reported that we were doing more than enough for students, that we had all the money we needed, and that representatives from other developed countries were scrambling to see how we did it – the obvious questions would be asked by somebody “Why does the school system need all this money?”  

Because of the influence of my professor I have become cautious and cynical about surveys, and in the past I have rolled my eyes and shook my head in disbelief with some of the surveys I have read and digested concerning this profession.  No need to elaborate on those historic events, but I need to say that of all the surveys I have read concerning funeral service, in the end and up to now, only the Wirthlin studies, of which there have been several editions, have captivated my attention and altered the materials that I have included in my seminars. Some of the Wirthlin conclusions were not pleasant – for instance the survey’s conclusion that the average American person does not see a distinct difference between a cemeterian and a funeral director – Lord knows that one stung when I read it.

To this day I know friends who will not believe or accept that conclusion from the Wirthlin study.  Who knows the final truth, but I concluded that this one particular piece of information was indeed accurate about cemeterians and funeral directors, even though I had to endure and process some mighty significant ego bruising along the way, but that is another story.

Now ICCFA has stepped up in a big way and commissioned a study, the results of which were shared this week to people who had attended the recent convention in San Antonio.

Before I get into some observations I need to again say that this survey is not final word concerning funeral service and cemetery work, I don’t believe such a source of final information even exits.  However what struck me as attractive was that while this survey was indeed sponsored by a funeral, cremation, and cemetery association it did not candy coat some glaring realities about how Edith and Archie Bunker are looking at our world.  I believe it would have been might easy for the powers to be at the ICCFA headquarters to censor some of the results, it would have probably been much easier politically for them to be sure, for I have seen that done before and because of the censorship was deluded into thinking here and there that some privately selected funeral “fact” which was published in a survey ended up not being a fact at all which messed up my thinking and truth awareness about how things were truly in the real world.  No examples of this are necessary; we, or most of us, have been there and experienced the consequences of being out of step with what the community knows, expects, and wants from a funeral home and/or cemetery.  Being out of step is no fun.

I applaud the courage of ICCFA to publish this survey as the results came in to them.  Some of the results were good news, and other results indicated that some trends that you and I have accepted as gospel truth, as to being where the future lies, and has taken on a life of their own is not necessarily true, and in some instances far, far, far off the mark.

For thirty years I have known that funeral service and cemetery work has been and is changing.  However I also knew and experienced that the banking world went from human tellers to robots tellers in parking lots, to men and women of integrity to men and women in the penitentiary.  I also know that Hospice work went from all volunteer people, fulfilling a calling, to today professional marketers wining and dining people in the medical profession in order to get their business of dying people.  Yes indeedy I don’t need a survey to tell me things have changed.

Any survey that concludes and states that things are changing is to me humdrum, but this survey added some tidbits which I found changed my attitudes and also affirmed some long held beliefs about my beloved profession.  Here is an example.

This blog is not intended to let the cat out of the bag concerning the contents of the entire survey results, but a few carrots I believe is in order and will be approved of.  The first carrot concerning the survey is the verifiable truth that the environmental stuff has power, it has substance and it is what much of the public is looking for.  Never mind that when I was a college student in 196_ the famed ecologist Dr. Paul Ehrlich came to town and said that for our environment to return to what we had just 50 years earlier (which at that time would have been 1919) it would take us 500 years to accomplish, never mind that.  The good ecologist might be wrong, he was wrong about other things, but what matters today is that Archie and Edith Bunker are interested in the environment and if they have lived with this interest and conviction for their lifetime they are going to march right into the funeral home or cemetery office with such an attitude.  I don’t know if “green burials” will be the answer, but certainly it seems to me that wicker coffins are something to look at seriously.  The survey is packed with golden nuggets like this one.

The survey covers many important issues such as the power of word of mouth (does that really still matter?), the attitudes of people towards the death of a pet, the presence of religious activities at the time of funerals/cremations/dispositions, is preneed really as important a movement as we think it is or is it not? And a bunch of other eye openers.  It was a good read.

I can say this, the content of my writings and seminars will be altered because of my acceptance and belief in the integrity of this survey.  It seems to this old undertaker that the author of this work and ICCFA are telling it like it is.  Good stuff.