While gearing up to launch our annual fundraising campaign for the Royal British Legion and Poppyscotland, I read a stark reminder of the vital role our armed forces play right here at home, on our doorstep.
The height of lockdown already seems a long time ago, but when our nation needed to rally together to save lives, we had the benefit of 20,000 troops at readiness to help our NHS.
From setting up entire hospitals in days to running mobile testing sites across the country; helping hard-pressed ambulance services; driving oxygen tankers and PPE to hospitals; and even supporting frontline NHS teams with medics, we have a very recent reason to thank and support our service personnel.
Our nation has made sacrifices throughout history to support one another, and our armed forces are always such important contributors to that process.
The import of individual stories and memories of just how families have made sacrifices for our country need not be explained here. But it is important to remember why we serve our communities, and to be clear on our purpose in doing so.
Funeral directors feel keenly their sense of heritage and the entire profession changed dramatically in the first half of the 20th Century, as war shaped society.
Now, those links to the past are as important as ever. It is a sorry reality that funeral directors play increasingly prominent roles in times of social hardship, and there have been parallels drawn between the heroic Covid-19 response and the testing time that followed the start of World War I.
As representatives of independent funeral directors right across the UK, it is fitting that we, too, have found purpose in supporting those who made sacrifices then, and now.
Our decision to continue our support of the Royal British Legion and Poppyscotland, therefore, made perfect sense. It has two very clear benefits. Firstly, we raise money for two charities close to our hearts; secondly, it provides a platform for funeral directors to share their connections to the past with their communities, inviting more storytelling, more remembrance. We must never forget.
Our 2020 campaign begins in earnest this month, so it is the right time to reflect on why charitable initiatives such as this matter. On a very simple level, we feel it is the right thing to do. There are connections to charities right across corporate Britain and, in many cases, they exist to serve a simple need: to do good.
Let us not underestimate how urgent the fundraising need is for charities now. According to Pro Bono Economics, one in 10 UK charities are facing bankruptcy; and there is a £10bn shortfall in charity finances caused by soaring demand for their services and lost fundraising income due to the coronavirus pandemic.
So doing our bit to help plug that gap is, we feel, an important part of representing socially conscious and community-driven businesses. If our mission is to connect people to their funerals, then our “Why” is to help funeral directors serve communities.
The ‘Why’ is only going to become more important. A regulated, price sensitive funeral sector will put increased pressure on how funeral directors differentiate themselves locally. For many consumers, this will come down to trust. Connections built in communities through generations will matter more because families will have choices and will want reassurance they are making a good one. Articulating why those community roots exist, and how they serve today’s consumer, will be vital.
Purpose and profit need not be mutually exclusive. Occasionally showing consumer that you stand for something is a proven route to longer term commercial success, primarily because it inspires loyalty. In marketing terms, the idea of a ‘purpose driven brand’ has gained momentum in recent years in response to a growing number of consumers who are prepared to turn their back on companies whose values do not match their own.
Consumers are now more informed, and more activist in nature. They are also more connected, with greater choice at their fingertips because of the prevalence of mobile technology. This is even filtering into older, seemingly more traditional demographics, as the ease of use and accessibility of mobile starts to take effect.
Responsible consumers, therefore, are likely to be here to stay. When combined with a shift towards a more transparent marketplace characterised by choice and openness, it is easy to see why trust and responsibility may become important factors.
This is why funeral directors should not ignore the impact of giving back to society.
Let’s end with a story of hope. I recently came across the tale of a 40-year-old gentleman called Abel, who joined the Army Service Corps in 1915. He had eight children. What a moment that must have been, to serve your country but leave behind such a large family.
Abel served in Macedonia and Serbia and survived the War, returning to become a taxi driver. I cannot imagine the joy of his return! Supporting charities is not only about giving money – it is also about giving hope to those who may otherwise have little.