The Top Qualities of the Modern Funeral Professional

Posted October 26, 2016

5 min read

We sat down with Ann Marie St. George, CPC, the New York Regional Manager for Cooperative Funeral Fund, a preneed and perpetual care fund management company, to talk about the successful traits of the modern funeral director. As someone who has worked in the funeral profession for more than 30 years, we spoke about important leadership traits of today’s funeral professionals and how directors can balance being empathetic and supporting preneed sales.

“What We Do Is a Calling”

“What we do is a calling,” says St. George. “I say this because not ‘everyone’ can—nor want—to do what we do. A successful funeral director almost cares too much. We put people and families first in all that we do, and sometimes we forget that it is okay to sometimes put our own families first.”

St. George says that besides a devotion to caring for people, the ability to better oneself and having a sense of humor are invaluable qualities as a funeral director.

But a funeral director also has to be open-minded and willing to take chances, including thinking outside the box. “As funeral directors, we are tasked with educating and familiarizing ourselves with everything and anything that relates to this industry…We will, so to speak, ‘dig our own grave’ if we don’t get out of our own way and learn to be creative,” says St. George.

“This brings me to always remember to have a sense of humor, and how that is one of our best assets; just don’t laugh at a suggestion a family may make while making arrangements—you can laugh with them, please just don’t laugh at them,” she explains.

Most funeral directors take pride in being hard-working, but being humble is important, too. “We can be confident in what we do, and steadfast in the way we help our families, however we need to remember how easily we could be in their shoes.”

“Open mindedness is important for funeral directors, as people are looking for more of a unique final tribute. We have to be willing to help these families say goodbye in a way they will appreciate,” adds St. George. “We have to care enough about our profession to always be willing to do what we can to help our families through their grieving process.”

Last, being an exceptional listener is a critical quality—something that lays the foundation to knowing a family’s wants and desires. Having the ability to listen to families involves catching the verbal and nonverbal cues which can help families through their grief, says St. George. “A caring, compassionate person makes an ideal funeral director: they always find a way to empathize when dealing with grieving families, she says.

“The best way to care for these families is to always remember everyone’s grief is different and we are there for them. It is always about them.”

This kind of empathy doesn’t always come naturally to everyone on your team. A few ways to work on developing this include:

  • Join a like-minded group or relevant peer group.
  • Take continuing education classes.
  • Attend conferences such as the ICCFA or NFDA National Conventions—and be sure to network and engage with other professionals.
  • Offer open houses to your community to showcase your funeral home in a non-stressful environment.
  • Get engaged with involved with local charities or other causes that are meaningful to you.
  • Listen or surround yourself with leaders that embody these traits.

“Don’t spread yourself too thin, because inevitably you can’t make all your commitments, so pick a few that are close to your heart and go from there. Even offering to be a guest speaker for death and dying classes that are offered either at the high school, college or as continuing education classes can go a long way with your community.”

Helping Educate Families

How then, can a director balance being compassionate, caring, and empathetic with supporting preneed sales?

“Based on my experience one of the best ways to increase preneed sales is by creating an aftercare program that introduces prearranging one’s funeral as part of the program,” explains St. George. “This is especially effective in incidences where the deceased had not prearranged.” Funeral directors should recognize that part of the conversation is about fully educating families, and the community, about what is available to them. It’s part of planning for the future.

“It can also be effective to share experiences of funerals and memorialization’s that were prearranged, versus those that were not,” adds St. George. Each funeral director can find their own way of educating families and sharing these stories with the community. “Doing community events that talk about one’s funeral is another great way to increase your preneed sales simply by educating. Be comfortable with discussing one’s funeral arrangements no matter where you may be.” When information and education leads one to recognize a need and they see value in your solution, you are doing them a service

And, says St. George, more people are becoming open-minded about the idea of planning their funeral. “I have noticed over the years that more and more people want to talk about their funerals—and this trend has crossed many different generations.”

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About Ann Marie St. George

Ann Marie St. George, CPC, is the New York Regional Manager for Cooperative Funeral Fund, a preneed and perpetual care fund management company. She has worked in the funeral industry for the past 30 years. She is also a Mortuary Officer for both DMORT Region II and Kenyon International Emergency Services. Visit to learn more.

Categories: Industry

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