The Conversation Continues: Cause Marketing and Funeral Homes

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking with Aaron Forgey, manager of Palm Downtown Mortuary and Cemetery in Las Vegas, Nevada, in preparation for writing an article for Mortuary Management which was intended to explore the dynamics and potential of cause marketing for funeral homes. At the time, he was the only person to have responded to a social media “shout out” for interview candidates; and I consider myself really fortunate he took the time to send me an email. We had a delightful conversation, the article got written, and a related blog post published. It was a very good week indeed.

Just days later, another act of good fortune occurred: Syd Waldman, of Waldman Funeral Care, LLC, in Houston, Texas, left an inviting comment on A Casual Conversation about Cause Marketing and Funeral Homes; and you can bet I was quick to contact him. (Like I said in that original post–I’ve got the best job in the world. After all, “every single day has presented me with remarkable opportunities to get better acquainted with funeral directors from around North America…I get to listen, ask questions, and share my best thinking with some really amazing men and women.” Yes, indeed; I am one lucky woman.)

Here’s what I asserted in that earlier post: because this is a compassionate, “other-centered profession” where “giving” is a fundamental part of what is done on behalf of the families and communities you serve cause-related marketing is a “natural fit for funeral professionals.” But while it may be a seemingly natural fit; when it comes to these two examples, what I’ve found is these cause-related efforts fail to meet two specific cause marketing criteria: there is insufficient formalization of the relationship between the funeral home and the non-profit agency (in that their respective roles are undefined, and very few public relations campaigns to promote consumer awareness). There also appears to be insufficient strategic, co-operative planning involved between the agencies. Instead, the relationship between the funeral home and the non-profit is somewhat casual and as such, may be less advantageous to both parties.

Still, I applaud both Aaron and Syd; they are shining examples of funeral professionals who recognize the critical importance of giving back to their community. As I said before, I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by some really amazing men and woman; so many of the funeral directors I’ve come to know are truly a professionals with heart.

Palm Mortuary’s Commitment to Public Safety

As I mentioned in the Mortuary Management article, Aaron’s email of August 13th, 2014 gave me just enough information to pique my interest. “My mortuary recently participated in a marketing/commercial event, related to public safety. It was aired in conjunction with Zero Fatalities, a national safety campaign. We donated our funeral vehicles to drive through the commercial, where a pedestrian needs to cross the road.” (To see this public service announcement, visit Zero Fatalities).

The mortuary’s involvement is acknowledged, in very fine print, at the close of the 30 second PSA. But Aaron was quick to acknowledge that their fleet of funeral coaches is widely-recognized in Las Vegas, so the “fine print” doesn’t really matter. Residents are very much aware of the identity of the vehicles’ owner. He also stated, “It’s important to continue a relationship with public safety and non-profit campaigns. In doing so, the concern of the mortuary for the residents of Las Vegas ties directly to the message of the public service announcement. The two entities become one in a unified message.”

Basically, the cause he puts attention on is public safety, and everything he does ties back to existing billboard campaigns for the funeral firm: “We’d Rather Wait” and “Buckle it, it only takes two seconds”  which also promote safe driving practices. “We’re committed to helping make roads less dangerous for everybody,” said Aaron. The mortuary also participates in other tangential events, such as their annual involvement in the local version of National Night Out with the Downtown Area Command of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. “We parked one of our funeral coaches along East Fremont Street in conjunction with other community oriented businesses, where they remind pedestrians and drivers alike about the importance of always putting safety first–whether when behind the wheel, or walking across busy streets,” he said, “The community came together to support our local neighborhood, safety from at risk crime areas, and unify behind the concept of a safe environment.”

The mortuary is also actively affiliated with the Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) in the area; an organization whose mission is to “provide emotional first aid to survivors of tragedy”, where they host volunteer meetings and “community healing events.” Aaron also works closely with Erin Breen, Director of the Safe Community Partnership at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who has ensured the organization takes an active role in promoting crosswalk safety. At a recent honoree luncheon, Aaron received the 2014 Humanitarian Award for his efforts for the public safety awareness, continued community involvement and commitment to future public awareness events with the Safe Community Partnership.

Aaron argues you should identify a cause which not only fits your business, but is of concern to your demographic as well. Certainly, Aaron’s focus on street safety is one anyone living in community–especially a fast-paced one like Las Vegas–can get behind. Most cause marketing experts agree, like Entrepreneur columnist Kim Gordon; who writes, “Cause marketing works best when you and your employees feel great about the help you’re providing to a nonprofit group. So work with an organization you and your team believe in, whether that means supporting the fight on behalf of a national health issue or rescuing homeless pets. What matters most to you, your team and your customers? You’ll work hard to make a difference when you give from the heart.”

Syd Waldman’s Tale of Cause-Related Volunteerism

As I said earlier, Syd responded to the first cause marketing blog post, sharing that he works closely with a number of local charitable organizations, including BP MS 150, a two-day fundraising bike ride organized by the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society. The firm also supports Ready2Roll Cycling, where participants in the annual event can learn proper riding techniques, safety etiquette, and basic bicycle maintenance. While these affiliations are displayed on the firm’s website (on the About Us page), there is no explanation or additional information easily available to site visitors; anyone interested in learning more about either BP MS150, or Ready2Roll Cycling will need to do their own online research. (Hint, hint, Syd.)

You can well imagine I found the time to call him within the week to learn more. I was curious about what I called the “MS connection”, and before our conversation went too far, I had to ask Syd, “Why MS?” His answer was everything I expected. “My mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of forty-one. She lived ten years with the disease, passing away in 1987.” It seems Syd had been a volunteer or rider with the MS150 ride since the early 1990s, but had to give up riding a number of years ago due to physical issues. Yet his commitment to the cause hasn’t waned.

Syd has another passionate charitable interest: Literacy Advance of Houston.  I had no idea, but it seems (for a complex set of reasons) Houston has a very high adult illiteracy rate; and Syd is committed to changing that–one person at a time. “I’m not comfortable scheduling regular tutoring sessions, as I’ve got to be available for the families our funeral home serves. Instead, I volunteer in the office, assisting with administrative duties.”

As many funeral professionals, Syd is a member of the local Lions Club, and has been for the past four years. He’s very active in their many local, national, and global charitable efforts (related to eyesight, disabilities in general, and child literacy).

When asked about the ROI of his cause-related volunteer efforts, he was quick to mention there was only one case directly attributed to his work with the MS community. And he’s quite clear: “I am not in the body disposition business; I’m in the personal relationship business. Where I can make a connection, where people learn to trust me in relationship…then they’ll come to me.”

So, Again…What’s Missing?

Certainly, both Aaron and Syd impressed me with their commitment to their chosen cause(s). But as I wrote earlier, without additional formalization and strategic co-operative planning between their respective funeral homes and the non-profits they’ve aligned with (in order to define the ways each organization will increase visibility, brand or company awareness for one another); their efforts fall short of strategic cause marketing. (Don’t get me wrong; their charitable efforts are still of value to all concerned.)

Okay; I’m done “talking”. But I did want to add (for those of you who want to adopt cause marketing strategies or want to initiate a long term relationship with a non-profit, but are undecided as to which cause to affiliate with), there are three websites which can help. The first is Communities for Cause Selfish Giving is the second, and the Cause Marketing Forum  is last, but not least; it’s a phenomenal resource for cause marketers.

And as always, I’d love to hear from any of you who are either actively using cause marketing, or considering adding it to your marketing plan in the coming months. I’d be so very delighted to speak with you at length about your intentions (and their results).  Until next time, then; I remain your loyal, and deeply appreciative ally.

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