One of the most important and useful pieces of work funeral consumer advocates accomplish is the funeral price survey. No other nonprofit consumer organization compiles this information, and the public often has no idea how much funeral prices and options can vary. A well-done funeral price survey is not only essential education for your members, but a great way to educate the general public and attract publicity and new members.
Funeral Price Surveys – Why they are important and how to do them
Price surveys should gather and compile the range of prices at funeral homes and cremation services in your area, not just the member prices of a cooperating funeral home/contracted provider. A good price survey will also list a full-service funeral, not just immediate burial and direct cremation.
If you focus on only the cheapest, simplest options, people interested in more elaborate services will write you off as a “cremation only” group. People who choose full service funerals need our help to keep costs down more than any other group. Besides, you want them to join as members too, right? Also it offers a contrast with the value to be found in the simple options.
When you’re done, you’ll have a spreadsheet with the names of the funeral businesses in your area, along with their prices and options in each column. This can be done with FCA’s template or you can make your own in Word or in Google Docs. Readers should be able to quickly scan the spreadsheet to compare costs for the same services at different locations. It may be helpful to write a brief introduction to readers unfamiliar with funeral shopping. Noting whether a funeral home’s price list follows the FTC’s Funeral Rule is a bonus.
A note on telephone surveys: don’t bother. While funeral homes are required to give price quotes over the phone, we’ve found there’s often a significant difference between what they tell you on the phone, and what their price list actually says. Phone surveys won’t detect hidden fees or extras, they won’t tell you if the price list gives consumers legally required information and options, and it’s time-consuming, for you and for the funeral home.
1. Decide on a geographic area
If you live in a moderately sized area, it’s often possible to collect the General Price Lists from all funeral homes in your area for a complete survey.
If you live in a large area with, say 100 funeral homes, you can either decide to focus on one region at a time (rotating them as you do more surveys). Or pick a representative sample of Funeral Homes, such as all of the least expensive ones plus a few of the most expensive to show a contrast of the range of prices. That way when someone wants to consider a FH not in your survey they have prices for comparison.
2. Decide how to collect general price lists
There are several ways to gather GPLs.
The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to hand you a printed price list if you show up at the funeral home. There are no exceptions. You don’t have to be planning an imminent funeral. They may not refuse to give it to you for any reason.
Funeral homes are not required to mail, fax, or email price lists to you, but they must give them to you in person, by law. Many FCAs will send a letter or email to funeral homes asking them to voluntarily participate in the group’s price survey. It is courteous to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the funeral home’s convenience. Always offer to share a completed copy of the survey as a thank-you for participating.
Sometimes funeral homes don’t answer, or refuse to participate. What to do then?
- Send a volunteer to collect the price list. You might call the funeral home to let them know you’ll be sending someone. Gently reminding them of their obligation to hand volunteers a price list is often enough to convince them to send you their GPLs.
- Just mark it on the final survey that the FH did not respond to requests to share their prices.
- You can send volunteers “cold” to collect the price lists. One advantage to this approach is your volunteer will get to see how the average consumer is treated.
Any funeral home that refuses an in-person request for a price list should be reminded they’re violating the FTC Funeral Rule and that you will report them to the FTC and the state funeral board. That may get you a price list. If it doesn’t, you need to include that information on your survey – “REFUSED TO GIVE PRICES IN VIOLATION OF FEDERAL RULES” or something like that. Members and the public need to know which funeral homes are unethical.
3. Compiling the data
Once you’ve collected the GPLs, you can enter the numbers into the model spreadsheet we provide or one you have made. FCA has step-by-step instructions on how to do so. We recommend the following documents if you’re a first timer:
This is good reading if you want to be able to easily recognize any FTC violations.
The Funeral Director’s Guide to Consumer-Friendly GPLS — a guide from FCA written for funeral directors to show them how to write informative, clear, and legally compliant price lists. Includes samples that highlight common legal violations and misleading tactics, as well as model price lists. You’ll find this helpful as a consumer advocate.
4. Releasing the survey
If you present the survey well, you’ll garner press coverage of your efforts and community interest in your organization. If possible, schedule a public meeting publicized to your members and the media in advance where you’ll present the survey and hand out copies. The best outcome is to have a reporter cover your organization and its mission before the meeting to generate buzz. This method has led to overflow crowds at meetings of funeral societies that have never had more than 20 die-hard members attend. Be sure to ask attendees to join your organization as volunteers or members, and to donate to help keep this work going. It’s also a great way to find energetic people to serve on your board.
Also, be sure to send a notice to senior agencies, hospices, social workers, police departments, Nursing organizations, Estate Planners, Fire Departments and other sympathetic groups.
IMPORTANT — we urge you not to restrict the price survey to your members. Funeral Consumer Alliances have an ethical obligation to educate and advocate for the entire public, not just those who donate and join as members. Besides, hiding the survey away from public view does nothing to grow your membership or stoke community interest in your organization. You’ll generate far more memberships and donations by asking attendees and interested consumers to support your work.
These brief instructions should get you going. When you have more questions you’re encouraged to call 802-865-8300, or email email@example.com.