UTN is a Nonprofit 501(c)(3)

How Body Donation Programs Support Funeral Homes and Families

There is an urgent need for human tissue and body donations, and a long list of medical breakthroughs have occurred because of body donation programs. For example, conducting research using human samples has led to discoveries and training in the treatment of cancer and diabetes. Human tissue is used to train doctors and surgeons and helps researchers test new protocols and medication safety.

Body donation programs can reduce the number of animals used in scientific or medical research, which is of growing concern for many people, including a consortium of scientists and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

United Tissue Network (UTN) coordinates body donation programs in Arizona and Florida and works directly with funeral homes to make the process seamless. In this article, we discuss how funeral homes need to handle bodies for science donation, the financial and ethical benefits of body donation for funeral homes and clients, and answer common questions about the process, which is information funeral directors need to counsel and explain body donation programs to family members.

Learning About Body Donation

There’s nothing quite like human tissue when studying the body. Medical professionals rely on generous donors to improve patient outcomes. A whole-body donation could lead to longevity, recovery, and other benefits related to illnesses and injuries. Human tissue is especially important for students and researchers for training and education. Using cadavers allows surgical students and medical professionals to train more realistically and test new medical techniques and devices to ensure they can be used safely on living patients.

Benefits of Body Donation Programs for Funeral Homes

Funeral homes can realize benefits from body donation while also offering additional options for clients that can provide additional comfort or ease financial burdens.

Greater Efficiency

Body donation can relieve some of the funeral home’s administrative burden. For example, UTN body donation programs in Arizona handle the paperwork and filing of death certificates. This helps funeral homes reduce processing time and enables them to spend more time with families.

Broadening Your Client Base

Whole body donation programs reduce the overall cost of services, allowing funeral homes to provide packages that appeal to budget-minded families with competitive pricing.

Others may be looking for a minimal solution, such as those without a next of kin or loved ones nearby.

At the same time, you can meet the needs of families with specific religious preferences through expanded offerings.  For example, some religions and cultures have strict prohibitions against embalming. Other families are concerned about the environmental impact of traditional burial. Body donations provide an eco-friendly option without embalming or burial waste.

Helping Families in Financial Need

UTN pays the cost of cremation, which can be a challenge for families in need. By reducing the cost of cremation, you are providing an important service to those who are uninsured or underinsured or do not have the financial means to pay for funeral expenses.

At the same time, you can focus on memorial services or burials to generate revenue while making overall arrangements more affordable.

Providing a Special Experience

For families that do not have a financial need, you can direct expenses that would have gone to cremation towards other areas to make the experience more special and personalized while also improving profitability.

Providing Additional Comfort

In their time of need, many loved ones struggle with complex emotions. Donating bodies advances medical science, which can provide additional comfort to families in distress, knowing that some good will come out of their loss.

Human tissue is used for preclinical research to evaluate the safety and efficacy of certain drugs and practices and is also valuable for genetic research and genomics to study genetic variations and identify disease-related genes.

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How Should Funeral Homes Handle Bodies for Science Donation?

Funeral homes should contact UTN and verify that the consent paperwork has been completed and UTN has accepted the body. Bodies should be refrigerated to preserve them for transportation but should not be embalmed. UTN has a list of accredited medical facilities and organizations that are in need of bodies and tissue samples for training doctors and surgeons, medical device development, and medical and pharmaceutical research.

UTN will arrange for transportation. Funeral homes will want to ensure the appropriate paperwork is presented to pick up the body, and they get a receipt from the organization for the donors (if applicable).

Throughout the process, funeral homes should stay in touch with families and update them on timeframes and progress. Since this process is new to most families, additional questions may arise. Providing consistent updates can help families feel that there is an orderly process and demonstrates your attention to detail in caring for their loved one.

Helping the Bereaved Donate a Body

As a funeral director, part of your role involves discussing sensitive information and helping clients make informed choices, which includes the option of body donation. While some families find this idea alarming initially, you can explain how donating to a body donation program can be a meaningful choice that benefits others.

When introducing this option, find an appropriate opening in the conversation, such as when discussing costs and final arrangements.

Families should understand that body donation is an option, but they are not obligated or pressured to participate. If they are interested, be prepared to talk them through the process. Typical questions may include:

  • What happens to the body?
  • What happens to the remains?
  • What impact does this have on costs?

Funeral homes should have answers to these questions and be prepared to share anything else families need to know. You can discuss body donation options and find out what services are available in your area by talking to dedicated specialists at United Tissue Network.

Families may need guidance to understand the consent paperwork and how the process works, including filling out paperwork and coordinating the process with UTN.

Body Donation After Death

UTN works directly with funeral homes to handle the arrangements in an ethical and dignified manner, including coordination with any organ donation groups to ensure all viable organs are directed to patients with transplant needs.

When the research has been completed, UTN will coordinate transportation to the crematorium. After cremation, UTN coordinates with patients to pass on the remains.

What are the Best Body Donation Organizations?

When thinking about body donation organizations, there may be options. However, you should be aware that there are for-profit companies that sell body parts. Unfortunately, many of these organizations promise to use donations for medical purposes but do not follow through. According to the FBI, there is little oversight on the marketplace.

To ensure body donations are handled properly and used for appropriate research and training, funeral homes should only work with 501(c)(3) nonprofit agencies, like United Tissue Network (UTN). UTN is the only non-profit organization accepting body donations in Arizona and Florida.

UTN pays the costs associated with transporting the body to a qualified research or medical facility, making sure the facility meets stringent standards for how body donations will be used. After the research is complete, UTN manages the cremation of the body and provides copies of certified death certificates.

Body Donation Eligibility

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to furthering medical research and education through body donation, UTN has more flexibility in which clients it can accept, such as upper-age, cancer, or dementia patients. If a client is 18 years or older and does not have a communicable disease such as hepatitis or HIV, most patients can qualify.

Acceptance into the program requires a medical history. Once a donation is approved, United Tissue Network handles all associated expenses of donating the body to science, including transferring the body to a UTN facility, locating appropriate scientific testing, research, or training facilities, and cremating the remains. UTN also works with organ donation groups to ensure all usable organs are directed to patients in need.

Is There Body Donation in Arizona?

UTN accepts whole-body donations in Arizona in compliance with the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA). To learn more about body donation in Arizona, contact UTN at (877) 738-6111.

Where Can I Find Body Donation in Florida?

UTN accepts whole-body donations in Florida in compliance with the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA). To learn more about body donation in Florida, contact UTN at (877) 738-6111.

Body Donation Program Near Me

Finding a body donation program near you that you feel comfortable working with is not as easy as it might seem. Contact United Tissue Network to discuss your options. If we are unable to help you, we can refer you to other organizations that could help.

Body donation programs fulfill an important need in helping scientists, researchers, and doctors test and train. Presenting body donation as an option for your clients can provide them peace of mind, knowing their loved one’s passing will have a lasting impact.

Contact United Tissue Network at (877) 738-6111 to learn more. We have the information you need to provide compassionate care for your clients and discuss body donation programs confidently to help them make an informed decision.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some FAQs that funeral directors often ask, along with the answers for review. If you still have questions about how the process works, please contact the UTN team.

What is the cost of body donation?

UTN covers 100% of the cost of transporting bodies, arrangements with research facilities, and the cremation of the remains. There is no payment to the family, which can ease their financial burden.

How does body donation affect funeral plans?

Body donation replaces the need for embalming, but families can still hold memorial services and request the burial of remains if desired. Costs for any services, burial, or other arrangements will not be covered by UTN.

How is the body handled?

Body donations are handled with respect and dignity throughout the donation process.

How long does it take to get cremated remains returned?

Families have the option to ask for cremated remains to be returned within four to six weeks, one to two years, or disposed of properly by UTN. We encourage families to pick up cremated remains at local offices. If this is not suitable, remains can be sent via certified mail to a personal residence or the funeral home.

Is there an age limit on body donations?

UTN accepts body donations from adults 18 years of age and older, including upper ages. As a nonprofit, UTN has different criteria than some for-profit organizations. This allows donations by clients that have diseases such as cancer, dementia, and diabetes. Although acceptance into the program requires a medical review, generally, the only automatic disqualifiers are those with a history of a communicable disease, such as HIV or hepatitis.

Can families pre-register for body donation?

UTN works with hospice centers for end-of-life care, so families may pre-register and provide a medical history to determine acceptance. Once an individual is accepted into the body donation program, they will receive a Donor Security Certificate, which guarantees acceptance into the program regardless of any changes in health.

Funeral homes can contact United Tissue Network to initiate the body donation process if a family has already pre-registered and been accepted.

How do you protect privacy?

UTN believes in confidentiality for donors and researchers. To maintain confidentiality, donors are assigned a unique ID number that is used for all forms of communication other than with the donor’s family.

Who can authorize a body donation?

If someone has not been pre-registered for body donation, authorization is covered by the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA), which allows the surviving relatives to authorize donations.

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What Are the Issues the Funeral Industry Faces?

For most locations, the biggest challenge is the loss of traditional revenue sources. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) reports that cremations now account for about 60% of funeral services. The 2023 NFDA Cremation and Burial Report forecasts that number to grow to 81.4% by 2045. Cremation costs are considerably lower than traditional embalming and burials, bringing in less revenue.

There is also increased competition from low-cost funeral providers and online resources. Consumers have access to information about costs and alternative sources for the products and services typically sold by funeral homes. Ancillary product sales are also trending down; these have traditionally been a significant source of revenue.

With continued staffing challenges, recruiting and retaining workers, and rising wages, margins can become very thin for funeral homes.

Against this backdrop, there is also growing competition from low-cost funeral providers, online retailers, and independent crematories.

Funeral home marketing has become more important than ever to distinguish yourself and attract families to your business. If you are asking how do I market my funeral business, we have some ideas to help—starting with finding your opportunities and identifying your target market.

SWOT Analysis for Funeral Home Businesses

A SWOT analysis for funeral home can provide valuable insight into where to focus your funeral home marketing, such as:

  • Pinpointing your funeral home’s competitive advantages and unique capabilities, which you can leverage for growth. This may include reputation, customer service, facilities, or unique offerings.
  • Identifying any operational or funeral home marketing strategy weaknesses that need improvement.
  • Discovering new growth opportunities and potential markets or services for expansion.
  • Considering external threats from competitors, industry trends, or other factors.
  • Making informed strategic decisions about your funeral home’s direction and resource allocation.
  • Optimizing your probabilities of success and sustainability by capitalizing on strengths and opportunities while shoring up weaknesses and combating threats.

A SWOT analysis is a structured exercise that follows a multi-step approach.

Identifying Strengths

Focus on the positive attributes and advantages that set your funeral home apart. Consider what you do best and what makes your business unique. For example:

  • Years of experience and a strong reputation in the community
  • Caring, compassionate staff dedicated to service
  • Convenient location and ample parking

Evaluating Weaknesses

Identify areas that need improvement in operations or service. You want to address these before you begin your funeral home marketing or advertising. Some areas you may want to review include:

  • Facility décor or furnishings for updating
  • Diversity in service offerings
  • Brand awareness in the community

Recognizing Opportunities

Next, research external factors that could provide opportunities for growth and improvement, such as:

  • Growing demand for pre-planning and cremation services
  • Potential partnerships with hospice organizations
  • Adding online scheduling or virtual tours

Analyzing Threats

You will also need to consider external factors that could negatively impact business. Assess risks that need to be mitigated. Such as:

  • Increasing competition from new funeral homes
  • Rising costs of supplies and inventory
  • Changing consumer preferences

Interpreting Your SWOT Results

After you complete your SWOT analysis, you will want to assess the results and rank priorities for critical areas. Consider leveraging your strengths to capitalize on your opportunities as part of your funeral home marketing. You will want to address weaknesses and threats to mitigate your downside. When you take an honest look at your business through this lens, it can help create a foundation for your funeral home marketing strategies.

One of the keys to successful marketing is honing your unique attributes and positioning your business in light of competitive forces.

Standing out in a crowded market often requires focusing on a particular strength or specialty. Rather than trying to be everything to everyone, smart businesses differentiate themselves by developing a niche, even if they offer diverse products or services.

For example, a furniture store may tout having the largest in-stock selection for immediate purchase versus competitors that require lengthy delivery times. A landscaping company might prominently market its expertise in hardscapes while still providing full-service grounds maintenance. By promoting a unique capability, businesses can build a reputation as an industry leader in that specific area.

An interesting effect is that as a company’s name recognition grows from highlighting a specialty, its brand presence and customer base often expand across all business categories. So not only does a niche focus help businesses stand apart from competitors initially, but it can elevate them to become seen as a market leader.

Who Is the Target Market for Funeral Homes?

As part of your SWOT analysis, you may identify different targets for your funeral home marketing strategies. If you decide to advertise particular services, for example, they might appeal to specific demographics. For example, while older adults still tend to prefer conventional ceremonies and memorials, younger generations opt at even higher rates for cremations. Your marketing approach would be highly different for these two groups.

Typically, target markets for funeral homes fall into three categories:

  • Older adults wanting to arrange for their funerals or those of spouses, etc.
  • Families that have recently  lost a loved one
  • Middle-age couples or chronically ill patients who are thinking about pre-planning services

Within these groups, however, there can be stark differences. Devoutly religious and non-religious groups, for example, or those looking for non-traditional funeral services.

Funeral Home Marketing Trends

Ultimately, you will need to decide which groups represent your best prospects and tailor your funeral home marketing strategies to your target audience.

The objectives of funeral services may be vastly different for different families. Some may want a small, no-frills service, while others want an extravagant display to memorialize their loved ones. Some may want a dignified and respectful service, while others want a rock-and-roll celebration of life. One of the key funeral home marketing strategies that are trending is personalization.

If you are thinking about ways to personalize services and develop new ways of approaching your marketing, you should know that some funeral homes are doing some interesting things that go well beyond traditional services.

Highly Customized, Personalized Services

More families are requesting personalized funerals that reflect the unique interests or personalities of their loved ones. Funeral homes can adapt by adding things such as customized engraving on caskets, special requests for music, or themed décor. Custom caskets or urns that feature sports team logos might be an option.

Several funeral homes are working with cemeteries to create GPS headstones to make it easier to find grave sites or Bluetooth-enabled headstones that can relay the story of someone’s life to their headstone. Such partnerships with other entities can help bundle services and tap into revenue streams that would otherwise not be available.

Non-Traditional Celebrations of Life

Others are asking for upbeat celebrations rather than traditional ceremonies. Video tributes, lantern releases, live music, and events are all options. Some funeral homes provide event space for gatherings and even offer catering and alcohol sales.

Unique Keepsakes

Ancillary products provide ways to increase revenue while providing a lasting memento for family and friends. Funeral homes are adding new product lines all the time, such as portrait urns or customized urns from local artists, custom headstones that capture the personality of the deceased, or jewelry that embeds fingerprints or DNA. Some companies will take cremated ashes and turn them into cremation diamonds.

Live Video

Live streaming allows family or friends, who are unable to attend in person, to view memorial services in real time. High-quality video and audio equipment is relatively inexpensive and easy to operate with a high-speed internet connection.

Green Funerals

Green funerals focus on the sustainability movement. More than half of those surveyed showed an interest in an eco-friendly option, such as foregoing embalming and eliminating concrete vaults. Instead, they are opting for bio-degradable containers or shrouds and burials in green memorial fields.

Therapy Dogs

Several funeral homes have had success marketing the availability of therapy dogs to provide comfort and relieve stress for family members. The American Kennel Club (AKC) has a program for training and selecting therapy dogs specifically for funeral homes.

Whole Body Donations

Many people are aware of organ donation, but far fewer know about whole body donations. Whole body donation plays an important role in medical and scientific research. Families can take comfort in knowing that their loved one is making an important contribution even in death.

This can help low-income or financially strapped families. Working with a nonprofit agency like United Tissue Network (UTN) lowers family costs. UTN pays for storage, transportation, cremation, and return of the remains as well as two certified copies of death certificates. Funeral homes can be reimbursed for their expenses. In many cases, families relieved of some of the financial burden may choose to spend more on memorials or keepsakes.

Home Funeral Assistance

Home funerals are increasing, often for cultural or religious reasons. Funeral homes can consult on legal guidelines, transportation, permits, and coordination to assist families in properly handling home ceremonies. Providing this niche service builds goodwill within cultural communities.

Loyalty Programs

It seems like every business has a loyalty program, providing discounts or perks for repeat business. Funeral homes could provide reduced costs for families, discounts on add-on services, or other benefits for future losses.

Educational Information

Most people turn to online search engines when looking for information about funeral services. Savvy funeral homes use content marketing strategies to establish themselves as trusted authorities and resources.

Creating a blog, FAQs, or library of articles that provide genuine value and answers without a sales pitch demonstrates your expertise. When you reliably offer helpful guidance, you build credibility and relationships.

Conducting in-person seminars represents another educational outreach opportunity. These events could cover topics like pre-planning, estate planning, senior care, grief support, and more. For example, hosting free workshops about long-term care considerations can position your funeral home as an ally providing a needed service, not just a business.

By sponsoring valued community education on sensitive subjects, funeral homes can reinforce their compassion and knowledge to improve brand awareness.

What Is the Future of the Funeral Industry?

Despite rapidly changing consumer behavior, the funeral business is still growing after declines in 2021 and 2022. Revenue is expected to end 2023 at $20 billion in the U.S., growing at a rate of 0.9% for the year.

The funeral industry faces some key challenges in the future. More than 60% of funeral home directors are expected to retire in the next five years according to the NFDA. Funeral home owners should think about succession plans and provide the necessary training for team members. As younger people come into the business, they may bring fresh ideas to incorporate into your funeral home marketing strategies.

Regardless, you need to take a look at your marketing and advertising in a new light to identify your strengths and opportunities to accommodate trends.

If you would like to learn more about whole body donations, contact United Tissue Network today at 877-738-6111. You can also view our complimentary guide, How Body Donation Programs Support Funeral Homes and Families.