Mark Krause is a fourth-generation funeral director whose successful Wisconsin funeral home business joined Foundation Partners Group last year. The founder and past president of the Funeral Service and Cremation Alliance of Wisconsin (FSCA), he is a former president of Preferred Funeral Directors International (PFDI) and past president of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA).
Mark attended the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) Advocacy Summit in Washington, DC, in his new role as Foundation Partners Group’s Vice President of Government and Industry Relations. He shares his thoughts on the Summit below.
Q: How was it to attend the first in-person Advocacy Summit in three years?
Well, it was nice to go there and see old friends and make new connections. I've been at several summits in the capitol over the years, some with ICCFA, and I'm always excited to go to Washington and see everyone. This Summit is an excellent opportunity to engage our political franchise by visiting with legislators and talking about our mission, why we're there, and just connecting and relationship building. I think that's so important. It’s heartwarming that we have a system of government that allows a free exchange of ideas. I earned a double bachelor’s degree in history and political science, so anytime I can engage in the political system as an advocate, I find it very rewarding on a personal level.
Q: This was your first summit as Foundation Partners Vice President of Government and Industry Relations. Did it feel different from previous conferences, where you represented only your funeral home?
No, it wasn't any different for the most part. In many ways, I still see myself doing the same thing that I’ve always done -- helping to get our message out as funeral professionals. I feel that a rising tide lifts all boats. I still look at what I do as trying to improve the profession, advance it forward, and give voice to funeral directors who perhaps don’t have the same resources or opportunities. In this new role at Foundation Partners, my focus is governmental issues related to the industry and our unique contribution to funeral service. But, like my colleagues, I was at the NFDA summit to help get our message across to legislators, especially the ones from my home state of Wisconsin, and to discuss our issues and find out how they might support us.
Q: What are the legislative or regulatory issues on the horizon that you feel will most affect the funeral industry?
One of the most significant issues is the opening of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruling on our General Price List (GPL). It’s been 40 years since the rules were addressed, and there is a move to modernize how consumers access a GPL. It used to be that families received the GPL at the funeral home. The FTC wants consumers to have easier access to price information. They are proposing that funeral homes offer the GPL on their websites. Of course, a GPL on its own can be confusing to many families. Many in the business feel it’s best for families to review the GPL with a funeral professional to explain pricing and value based on each family’s needs and budget.
Q: So, do you think it’s a good idea to make GPLs more accessible to consumers?
Absolutely. We must be more relevant to today’s digital consumer. Consumers want transparency and although some funeral directors are concerned that making the GPL more accessible will be a deterrent, I don’t believe it will. It will create more informed consumers. And since we know from our consumer research that price isn’t the only factor in consumer decision-making, providers who highlight other benefits of their care will attract more families, not less. Offering the GPL in ways people want to receive it is a positive change.
Q: What are your thoughts on the proposed requirement to include GPL in funeral home advertising?
Many of us agree that consumers should have easy access to the GPL, but also believe that a proposed requirement that funeral providers include their GPL in their advertising is not a positive change. We would be the only profession to deal with such a requirement and implementing it would be a burden. The GPL should be available to consumers – they can click and download it. But everyone is not on board with making it a requirement in ads. We’re watching that closely.
Q: Are there steps that funeral providers should take if they are required to post GPLs on their websites?
Believe it or not, a few funeral homes still do not have websites, so digital access would not apply to them. But most of us already have the GPL on our websites. Consumers can click on it, get it in an email, or even by snail mail. The key will be providing accessible and transparent GPLs.
Q: There is talk about a bill letting families use their Health Savings Account (HSA) for funeral arrangements. What do you know about that?
Another bill being considered would let employees using their HSAs to help pay for funeral expenses. Say you have a married couple, and one spouse dies. The HSA funds go to the surviving spouse. But when they die, what happens to the HSA? Currently, unused HSA funds are usually put back into the estate and taxed accordingly. The proposed legislation would allow HSA money to be used to pay for funeral expenses. The proposed HSA bill is relatively new on the track and has yet to do a lap so no one knows if it has legs.
Q: What were the top messages that resulted from the forum with the Deputy Undersecretary for Field Programs and the Cemetery Operations National Cemetery Administration?
The National Cemetery Administration will continue to serve veterans as it always has. The Deputy Undersecretary discussed how the agency resolved issues at Arlington National Cemetery. They also gave updates about maintenance and service at veterans' cemeteries. It was good to hear their reassurance that our veterans will continue to receive respect and honor in our national cemetery system, which is important. We owe such a huge debt to our veterans.
Q: What about VA burial benefits? Based on what you learned at the Department of Defense Military Family Forum, will there be any changes?
We don’t foresee any changes in burial benefits issued to eligible veterans through the VA. I can tell you that the Department of Defense remains committed to guaranteeing military funeral honors for every family that wants them. That includes a color guard, two individuals representing the veteran’s branch of service, and playing “Taps” live or with a recording.
Q: Did you leave the summit feeling more positive, less optimistic, or neutral about future or proposed changes within the funeral industry?
Well, you tend to leave something like this feeling very positive. You're there talking with people – legislators, your colleagues or maybe it's regulators. You get the feeling that they're listening to us. It might seem odd to outsiders; here’s a bunch of funeral directors coming to D.C. to talk about what we do and how we’re affected by regulation and other issues. The truth is we touch everyone's life every day. We are in a profession that engages the public and helps families through the hardest days of their lives. For many funeral professionals, it’s not a career but a calling.
The legislators know that we are a respected and professional industry and many of us are leaders in our communities. In many ways we're very visible, which interests legislators when issues arise that affect the families we serve. My personal belief is that you cannot go wrong when you side with families and make it easier for them to make decisions for themselves and their loved ones. There have been so many changes to our profession. It’s staggering when you think about how we reach families and communicate today and how much that has changed.
Q: Do you think funeral professionals should do more to leverage their influence as community leaders?
Yes! There are about 16,000 funeral homes in the United States that employ more than 100,000 people. The funeral industry produces over $16 billion in revenue every year. I mean, that's huge. Look at the taxes and the number of people we touch. I encourage young funeral directors to get involved because your voice will make a difference.
So much of what we do is regulated at the state level. Know who your state representatives and senators are. If you’re allowed to provide input on funeral-related issues, do so. You stay at it, you stay concerned, you stay active, and you learn the issues so that when the time comes for you to say something, you have an informed voice and people will listen.
Leaving the summit with a positive outlook, Mark emphasizes the importance of funeral professionals leveraging their influence as community leaders. With the industry's significant impact on the economy and the lives of individuals, he encourages fellow funeral directors to get involved, stay informed, and actively participate in shaping the profession's future.
In a rapidly changing landscape, Mark’s experience and dedication are a reminder of the integral role of funeral professionals in supporting families during their most difficult times. As the industry continues to evolve, their voices and advocacy remain essential in ensuring a compassionate and informed approach to funeral service.
Foundation Partners Group is proud to support the NFDA’s advocacy efforts. Their lobbying helps positively impact the national laws and regulations directly affecting funeral service professionals and small businesses. To learn more about current issues, including proposed legislation affecting the funeral profession, visit the NFDA’s Advocacy page.