Celebrant Views

The Problem with Celebrants…

There are celebrants and then there are celebrants, and not all celebrants are equal, and that’s the problem.  It’s not that one type of celebrant is worse than another (necessarily) there are just different levels of service.  And the title, civil/independent/alternative doesn’t really tell you what that is.

CELEBRANT GATEKEEPERS

And because the ‘gatekeepers’ of the celebrant industry eg: venues and funeral directors, don’t know or understand the difference, the pricing  verses value for money verses service provided is not appreciated.  And because it’s not understood, those of us who do offer a truly unique, truly bespoke , starting with a blank piece of paper, lots of meetings, no time limited , contact limited service cannot charge their worth.

What seems to be happening is, that instead of us as an industry, explaining the different types/levels of celebrant service, those of us who offer this intensive, very personalised service, do not earn enough to even sustain ourselves on minimum wage.

Two things happen, either we have other jobs and careers and celebrant services are a bit of a vocation (thats me) or we compromise our quality and services to fit into the pay structure the FDs/venues expect from us. This is because our gatekeepers, sell us largely on our rates and not on our services

Now maybe, in fact possibly, that’s because we, as celebrants, have not been clear on the differences.

I think it’s time that changed.  I think its time that our trade associations clarified it but also that we as individuals learn to market our differences better.

This is true both for weddings and funerals (and everything in-between to be fair) but in this instance I want to focus on funeral celebrants.

Funeral directors expect us to charge between £200 and £250 for a celebrant led crematorium or cemetery services, so we do, actually, I charge a little more than that, but not nearly enough to compensate for my time investment in the family and the deceased.

Let me explain.  I don’t think I’m some unique genius who deserves above market rate.  I do believe I offer a different tier of service that should warrant a higher fee.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF CELEBRANT SERVICE

Why is this?

Well, there are probably (for ease of explanation), 3 tiers of service

INSERT NAME HERE CELEBRANTS

There are the “Insert name here” celebrants, these will liaise with 1 member of the family, their point of contact (usually the next of kin) and provide them with a questionnaire asking for names and dates, maybe a bit of a personal story or a eulogy, written by them, to be read by the celebrant.  Maybe an hour or two of work plus travelling to the location of the service and delivering it

BESPOKE  TEMPLATED CELEBRANT SERVICES

Then there are those who start with a template, meet with the family, help write the eulogies, help find readings, music, listen to the stories at a meeting of a set time , write the service, maybe offer the client and overview , allow a number of amendments as included and deliver the service

TOTALLY PERSONALISED: CONNECTING WITH THE FAMILY: THEY BECOME RIPPLES IN OUR STORY CELEBRANTS

And then there’s celebrants like me.   This is what I offer and why it cant be a full time job at the current pricing structure.

1. Call the family after being recommended by the FD, for an initial meeting, tell them how I work, explain its not about me and if they don’t gel with me promise to help them find a more suitable celebrant

2. Meet with the next of kin either in person or by video along with any other members of the family/friendship group they want involved in providing information

3. spend a good 2 hours with them, first asking to see a picture of who we are talking about and then ask them to talk as I write pages and pages of notes (I could record it but note taking helps me remember the intonation and the unspoken bits)

4. Set up a group WhatsApp  – I keep on silent and give them permission to send me thoughts as they pop into their heads day and night, in the knowledge they will not disturb me

5. If there are others who they may want to contribute, I give them permission to pass my contact details to them to to save them the pressure of having to relay information

6. Offer to write a detailed outline so they can assess that I have understood the tone of the service and really heard what they had to say.  Ensure they feel empowered to amend or reject anything I have provided.  again, its not about me

7.  help them find poems and readings if they don’t know and write a committal that works for them

8.  Send them the amended detailed script IN FULL so they know exactly what will be said about their deceased and their relationship

9. Make further amendments if necessary.

10. Have another meeting if necessary

11. Read the script and time it so they know if they can add more if they want to

12. Either travel in the hearse with their loved one on their final journey, or arrive at the crematorium (say) a good

13. 30-45 minutes early so I am there to support them or any early arrivals14. Offer hugs, check everyone is OK, check the order with the attendant, remain outside to guide and support

14. Lead the coffin in, and deliver the service which may include dressing to suit the family or a unique addition to the service that is meaningful to the family

15. Wait outside alongside the FD until everyone has left in order to offer hugs, be present, hear more stories, share their relief

16. If asked to attend I will always try to pop into the wake and raise a glass to their loved one.

17. I also offer to continue the service , in the role of toastmaster at the wake venue if they feel pressured by the time constraints of the Crem/cemetery

18.  Provide a presentation copy of the full script alongside support group info and by card for their memory book or whatever it is they might need after

19.  About 3 months later, I touch base, sending a hand written letter, making a small donation to the National Trust, plant a tree scheme and send them the certificate

VALUE FOR MONEY

This is on average 10-12 hours of my time per family

I think you can see the difference.  The problem is, if I were to charge for the level of service I provide, or even ( as I do now , a tiny bit more my fees are £260-£295) I’d never be offered to families and they wouldn’t understand why I charged more.  I know I already lose out.

And its a shame.

Because I’m bloody good at what I do.

And I genuinely believe that many families have no idea how much extra they could get for very little more in the scheme of the total costs of saying goodbye.

AND THERE’S OTHER DIFFERENCE S

Yes, it’s not just the tier of service offered, it’s the level of training , insurance, qualifications, CPD, additional support.

There is no regulation within the celebrant industry.  Anyone can decide they are a celebrant and start delivering service.

However there are very reputable and (dare I say it) less reputable training companies, and there are celebrant associations that some celebrants are members of.  It’s worth families and FDs etc, knowing the differences.  It’s worth checking, and I highly recommend, that celebrants FDs use should be a member of a trade associate.

The Association of Independent Celebrants is the one I am a member of.  I recommend it.  It gives the clients and FDs security and backup.  As members we have insurance, will have been trained by a reputable trainer, whose training will have been assessed and have access to ongoing CPD for free and help and support.  As clients, our families and FDs have access to additional support and a complaints process should anything unfortunate happen.  They have access to all sorts of other support too  and the knowledge that if, as an independent, their celebrant is ill suddenly and cannot attend, there is a network of equally professional celebrants able to step in and cover

SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO?

I hate talking money.  But I really think there are some things within a funeral that should be better valued and some that really are taking liberties at the expense of people’s vulnerability and grief.

I was prompted to write this after a fellow celebrant suggested we should reduce our services to fit the fee, and I thought HELL NO!  We should educate the industry to understand there are different services available so families can chose and then be able to set our fees based on our value and let the client decide.

I will ALWAYS offer more services than I’m paid for, it’s just what I do and who I am, BUT if I could charge a rate a little more reflective of the work I do, I would be able to do it more, and help more families.

After all, a florist charges c£50 per letter for flowers in a word.  The buffet at the wake is more expensive than the celebrant.  Even if that celebrant has invested emotionally in that family.  An extra 10 minutes at a crem is more than the cost of a celebrant!   Registering the death, costs more than the celebrant!
We are the best value (in my opinion) within the the process.  Especially if you offer the type of service I do.  I am truly and totally and emotionally invested in my families.

I cannot do this job in a lesser way.  Its not me.

I have nothing against celebrants who offer the other tiers of service.  I just need to find a way to get the industry to understand and appreciate the differences.  I’d love FDs to be less of a gatekeeper and more of a facilitator and advisor to both their client and their celebrants.

In some way, I hope this blog, moves the conversation forward.  I would love feedback on this from families I’ve supported and FDs I’ve worked with.  Lets get this conversation going.

 

(1) Comment

  1. Dinah Liversidge says:

    Thank you Berni, this post is so important. Like you, I deliver truly unique ceremonies, starting with a blank page for everyone. And, as you know, I train Funeral Celebrants and I am proud to teach them the same way.
    The moment we start to accept the minimum as the standard, we are letting families down. And, sadly, across much of the UK, this is now the case. I hear too often from Celebrants who understand the only caring and compassionate way to do this is the way you describe, being told ‘other Celebrants are much cheaper than you.’ Well, of course they are -they’re not writing a unique script, spending more than 60 minutes with a family or even – in some cases- letting the family see the script beforehand.
    And I agree with you, this is down to us to communicate. We need to let people know they have a choice and that their local Funeral Director is often keeping the choice from them simply based on fee.

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