In response to the post, Is The Funeral Consumer’s Alliance More “Predatory” Than the Funeral Industry Itself?, Executive Director of the Funeral Consumer’s Alliance, Joshua Slocum, commented like this:

You may not like FCA’s message of consumer education and empowerment, but that does not give you the right to make untrue statements about how we operate.

You wrote:

“Maybe that’s because his organization’s 2006 tax return shows a $28,000+ loss and almost $120,000 in salaries/benefits paid to employees and officers.”

Please return to our Form 990 for 2006 (the IRS’ equivalent of a tax return for nonprofit organizations) and you’ll see:

A. We paid $111,896.54 in wages and benefits to three employees (including me), not $120,000. I don’t see how anyone could say such wages are excessive.

B. There was no – zero – money paid to “officers.” Our Board of Directors serves without pay. It’s hard to see how you could have missed that, considering that on page 4 of our return, we note “officers and directors are
not paid.”

Funeral Consumers Alliance has existed for decades before I joined them, and will exist long after I’m gone. Formed in 1963, we are a federation of 100 nonprofit groups, run largely by volunteers, with a membership approaching 400,000. Our goals have always been to educate the public on their legal rights and options in
the funeral transaction and to ensure they know how to find ethical, reasonably priced funeral providers.

Of course the entire funeral industry isn’t corrupt. Our affiliated groups have found hundreds of upstanding funeral homes local to them who are willing to serve our members and the public at fair prices for quality service. By the same token, there are deep problems in the funeral industry that come together to make
the funeral transaction more difficult, more mysterious, and more costly than it needs to be for families. Accusing FCA of scaremongering isn’t going to change that reality, and it doesn’t make the problem any better.

We’d much rather work together with ethical, concerned members of funeral service who agree with us that ethical business practices should prevail in the industry, and who wish to rout the bad guys that give everyone else a bad name. If the worst elements of funeral service don’t reflect your business practices, why are you personally offended? Don’t you agree those elements should be exposed so honest businesspeople can separate themselves from scoundrels? You could do a lot more to help that cause by working with us than by snarking
at a consumer charity.

Joshua Slocum
Executive Director
Funeral Consumers Alliance

Here’s my response:

To calculate the total salaries and benefits paid to employees and officers, I simply added the line items from their 2006 tax return.  Mr. Slocum claims that I overstated the amount by roughly $8000.  But then he reminds us that he only pays three employees, adding credence to my assertion that his group exists, at least partly, to collect enough money to pay his own salary.

Of course, you are correct, Mr. Slocum, that I missed the line that officers and directors are not paid.  Of course, as your title is “Executive Director,” how do you explain your own salary?  Maybe I just don’t understand what constitutes a “director.”

I could continue with the semantics (the first half of your response is just that) but my major problem with your organization contains two serious and substantive arguments:

1.  You seem to link “ethical” with “reasonably-priced” in your response (twice, in fact) and in the materials on your website, as if the two concepts must always go hand-in-hand.

However, the respected magazine Ethisphere ranked groups like BMW, American Express, Google, GE and Nike in their list of most ethical companies in the world.  How is it that a company that makes $80,000 luxury vehicles can be considered the most ethical car company in the world, if your thesis is to be accepted?  That’s not to mention $150 sneakers, Super Platinum Exclusive credit cards, the latest in jet engine technology or the high salaries paid television stars (G.E. owns NBC).

We live in a free society that embraces capitalism.  A funeral professional is welcome to charge any amount she chooses, so long as her community accepts it.  If the community disagrees, they choose a competitor or another disposition option, like cremation.

You’d like to see funeral directors offer lower prices (at their own financial peril) but do you also warn consumers not to pay too little?  Will you provide a guarantee to funeral directors that if they offer a lower price, you’ll discourage their clients from choosing a lower cost disposition option or going to a lower-priced competitor?

At what point is a businessperson (the funeral director) allowed to make a profit?

I get very defensive when anyone suggests that anyone “owes” them something, like lower prices for services rendered.  What if your members decide that your own price is too high?  Are you willing to give back a large portion of your salary, Mr. Slocum?

2.  Your own salary is paid by scare tactics.  You claim a membership of 400,000 but yet you pay the majority of your income to three people.  Then you work really hard to get scary, fear-filled headlines into the press. 

Newsweek’s online story could have been a positive discussion of the benefits of home funerals, but their discussion with you turned the article into another “big, bad funeral industry” expose, complete a few horror stories.  Even in your response to my comments, you mention only a “few hundred” funeral homes that your members have found that you consider ethical.  Then you claim that there are “deep problems” in the funeral industry without providing real examples.

Sir, nearly 2 million Americans die every year.  There are 20,000+ funeral homes serving those families.  If the problem is so widespread and people are being so mistreated, why are there not more news stories?  The local and national press loves a good sob story, hence the premise behind the Newsweek article.  If even 10% of all funerals were badly handled or the families horribly mistreated, there would be 200,000 stories each year and the FCA wouldn’t need to pay you to drum up fear.

Simply put, your claims ignore that consumers already control the industry.  When they choose a firm to handle their arrangements, they “vote” for that firm to exist.  Companies that abuse the public or charge outrageous prices don’t usually last.  The same is true for small-town funeral homes, which make up 90% of the industry.

Personally, I think it’s important for honest, trustworthy funeral directors (the vast, vast majority) to stand up for themselves and make sure the true story of funeral service is heard.