The idea of small groups of people gathering to plan for funeral arrangements began with the Farm Grange organization in some Northwestern states in the 1930s. The Grange members formed burial co-ops to reduce costs by pooling their buying power. The concept spread to cities, often under church leadership. By 2009, there were 44 states with a cooperative funeral group. In some states with large populations there may be more than one local society based on geographic location within the state. Each society may have slightly different names, but they are all variations on the idea of a funeral or memorial society.
The Funeral Consumers Alliance, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization serves as a coordinating agency for local societies.The local societies affiliate with this organization but operate independently. Once a member, there are no real continuing obligations, even to attend an annual meeting. These groups are not the same as pre-paid funeral arrangements, which can have some potential drawbacks and possibly result in financial loss.
Each society may differ slightly in the list of benefits, but a basic service is to negotiate a group contract with one or more local mortuary/funeral homes for discounts on services including cemeteries and monuments. Included in the contract is a promise by the funeral home not to use any kind of high-pressure sales techniques and to provide full disclosure of all costs. Surveys conducted by these societies usually find wide disparity among costs for exactly the same services. For example, in the State of Washington, a 2009 survey found that cremation prices varied by as much as 700 percent and burial prices by more than 400 percent. Direct cremation with no services ranged from $549 to $3,944 depending on the funeral home. The average price for direct burial ranged from $990 to $4233. In this kind of situation, the advantage of group-negotiated prices are obvious.
Typical funeral society contracts with funeral homes include specific plans with preset costs. The plans can be very detailed, including specific options such as direct cremation with or without services, direct burial with or without services, full mortuary services with basic or metal casket, home funerals through a contracted agency as well as other services associated with funerals. Most offer free or low-cost education pamphlets on various subjects connected to end-of-life planning. One of the prime benefits is access to objective advice from knowledgeable volunteers who have no connection to the funeral services industry.
Many of the funeral societies affiliated with the Funeral Consumers Alliance have a single lifetime fee for joining which is minimal. In these cases, typical costs are $25 to $30 for individuals and $40 to $50 for a family membership. A few groups have a low first year fee and a very small annual continuing membership fee, usually under $10. Some of the associations include transferability to another group for a low fee ranging from $10 for an individual or $15 for a family. However, since joining a different group in another state is so reasonable, a transfer probably is not necessary.
Since the costs are so low to join a memorial society, and the potential benefits, not only in the area of cost savings and education but also in having access to knowledgeable advisors at a time of great stress are so high, it seems that joining a group like this if it is available in your state is a wise decision.