Mortuary Management’s July/August Colleague Wisdom column underscores how difficult it can be to run a trade association. I can empathize with the funeral home operators who took the time to provide their thoughts. As an attorney who specializes in the death care industry, I have to weigh the costs and benefits of membership in trade associations from two industries.

Every so often, the American Bar Association calls to solicit my renewal to the ABA. I was an ABA member back in 1986, the first year out of law school. After that first year membership, I never renewed again. Yet, they continue to call. And I will continue to decline, because the ABA is not a resource that is worth the cost (to me).   


In contrast, I do belong to the Missouri Bar Association.   The MBA provides services and programs that justify its membership costs to me. The MBA is not only a good source for forms and information, it provides some reasonable discounts for continuing education classes. However, I have not found that to be same for the Kansas Bar Association. The KBA seems to be marketing primarily to the trial attorney bar (a reflection of an economic reality).


If comments published in The Colleague Wisdom are representative of the funeral industry, the article reflects that funeral directors also tend to look more to their state association for the services and programs they need. It should come as no surprise but the level of satisfaction among funeral directors varies greatly. It is difficult to compare state associations because each has its own unique set of factors or hurdles. However, there seems to be certain common standards.


The Colleague Wisdom comments provide some insight to what industry members expect from an association, and why some do not participate. The comments also touch upon the revenues that subsidize the association. As Mr. Wigger so succinctly states: membership in a state association is a matter of weighing the costs vs. the benefits. One reality is that an association must impose costs in order to have the funds needed for programs and services that will attract membership. It is also a reality that some industry members will complain no matter what the cost. 


Some of the Colleague Wisdom comments have been highlighted in yellow, green and pink. The yellow comments seem to reflect an association’s perceived values. The green comments make note of a source of revenue, and the pink comments reflect criticisms. Associations need to be sensitive to criticism, and adapt to the membership’s needs. In order to do so, the association must seek input (even if it is done so by a coded survey). 


Now for the obligatory preneed comments:


Funeral directors who are opposed to preneed will need to appreciate that master trusts are an important source of revenue for association programs and organizational expenses. The master trust is an even more important revenue source for associations in states where continuing education is not required. But as one Colleague Wisdom commentator points out, association leadership must be careful with regard to the master trust becoming a competitor to its own members. In a sense, the master trust cannot help but be a competitor to larger independents that have their own preneed administration. The master trust may be the only way for the small operator to effectively compete for the preneed sale. Accordingly, it will become incumbent for association leadership to diffuse these situations through cooperation and attempts to find mutual benefits. 


Association leadership must also be careful that the master trust does not become a source of dissatisfaction when earnings and/or expense expectations are not met. Disclosures, accountability, frequent communications, innovation and leadership will be crucial to retaining membership satisfaction. 


With the NPS failure, associations may have an opportunity to expand their master trusts. But to do so, some state associations need to assess why funeral homes turned to NPS in the first place. Some funeral homes did succumb to the promises of profit, or looked forward to the Rep visit, but many did so out of dissatisfaction with their master trust. For some funeral directors (like those in Illinois), the state association may have a difficult task in regaining the membership’s faith.