The Funeral Co-operative of Ottawa Inc. (FCO) is a not for profit co-operative organization based in Ottawa. It was incorporated in 2010 and its grand opening will be in September 2013. The organization is an independent and local co-operative owned by its members and managed by a funeral director and a volunteer board of directors elected by members. All funeral arrangements are high quality services priced on a not for profit basis to benefit members.
1. Community Background
The geographic scope of this social enterprise is Ottawa and Eastern Ontario. It is the first funeral co-operative in Ottawa and the second still in existence co-op in Ontario.
Through extensive research, feasibility study and business plan it was found that there are approximately 5,300 deaths per year in Ottawa and that there is only 22 service points to serve families and that at high prices. Hence, the need to create a funeral cooperative in Ottawa that would provide funeral services of high quality at a reasonable price.
It was decided that a funeral co-operative would be created with the goal of lowering prices and to give Ottawa’s citizens a community option that is owned by the people of the community. The Funeral Co-operative of Ottawa is owned by its 600 plus members, who are residents of the Ottawa region. For sustainability, the cooperative goal is to get 1,000 members after one year of operation. This makes the enterprise much less susceptible to being bought out by a multinational corporation.
At any time, the team of the Funeral Co-operative of Ottawa is ready to assist the community through its difficult times. They are dedicated to providing the best services possible and to respecting people’s dignity, needs and traditions.
The Funeral Co-operative of Ottawa Inc. was founded by a group of engaged citizens who shared a common vision of having a new option for quality funeral services offered on a not-for-profit basis. Over time, more local residents joined the group and an idea that once was only a dream became a reality. The FCO was incorporated in 2010 and will start offering services in 2013. The co-operative was inspired by the success stories of the Coopérative funéraire de l’Outaouais in Gatineau and the Sudbury Funeral Co-operative. The FCO targets excellence and will offer funeral services that can meet different budgets.
3. Development of Enterprise & Outcomes
The result the social enterprise is trying to achieve is visible in its vision and mission. FCO’s vision is to help families in the Ottawa area commemorate the passing of their loved ones with dignity and in the manner of their choosing. The co-operative mission is to provide a range of quality funeral arrangements which reflect the choices of the deceased and their families and that on a not-for-profit basis. This is all provided at affordable prices, with dignified funeral arrangements, and service that is professional and caring. There is no up selling.
The FCO interacts with other social enterprises such as churches and cemeteries.
The Funeral co-operative has several partnerships with other organizations that support the business. Those partner organizations are Greater Vancouver community assistance foundation, Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative (CAIC), Community Forward Fund, Sound Advice, Fédération des coopératives funéraires du Québec, Coopérative funeraire de l’Outaouais, The Co-operators, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, the Ottawa coop network, Sudbury and district funeral co-operative, Alterna Credit Union, Desjardins, Conseil de la cooperation de l’Ontario and the Ontario Co-operative Association.
Some organisations will change from their original concept at a given stage. Since the Funeral Co-operative’s grand opening is this year (2013), the organization has not changed from its original concept.
4. Organizational Structure
To develop its organizational structure, the social enterprise received technical assistance from the Board of Directors, Sudbury and district funeral co-operative, Coopérative funéraire de l’Outaouais, International fundraising consultancy, Fedération des cooperatives funéraires du Québec and lawyers.
The members of the Board of Directors were the champions for this organization; they brought in their capacity and leadership as well as their expertise in fields such as co-operatives development, communication, funeral services, accounting and other domains.
Since the FCO’s grand opening is this year, the social enterprise is still relatively small, with a staff of two: one funeral director and one office and communication coordinator. The office and communication coordinator was recently hired, and his training is ongoing. Since the co-operative is new, it has not yet hired or trained people with barriers to employment.
The organization marketing activities are still ongoing. Their current marketing activities include a Facebook page that has just been launched as well as a video on YouTube, pamphlets and brochures (over 1,000 copies which include membership application), a new brochure which will be available by the end of September 2013, and a new website is to be launched in September 2013.
The funeral co-operative is a not for profit organization and does not have a charitable number nor parent organization; it is an independent co-operative.
FCO’s Funding came from Greater Vancouver community assistance foundation, Alterna Credit Union, Canadian alternative investment coop, Community forward fund, Sound advice, la fédération des coopératives funéraires de Québec and Four individuals.
Each household member 18 years of age or older pays a one-time, non-refundable membership fee of $20. Dependent children under 25 are covered under their parents’ membership. Members receive a 10% reduction in price on all the FCO’s services. There are also prearrangements services offered.
7. Challenges & Successes
One of the challenges that the FCO faced was that the co-operative launch was delayed to September, due to the fact that they were waiting for the Conseil des services funéraires to provide them with an operating license.
One of the biggest development in the business was to obtain grants and several financing loans from financial institutions as well as from not for profits funding sources. Getting a loan allowed them to start and complete renovations, hire the enterprises’ first two employees, purchase the establishment’s furniture and get ready for the grand opening.
Believing in the social mission of the FCO as well as its cooperative business model, more than 600 people have become members. FCO’s social mission is the cornerstone of all of its promotion campaigns. It is part of its marketing strategy as it outlines the co-operative business model as well as the social aspects of the enterprise. An initial 600 members have joined the coop before its launch because they believe that the FCO mission will eventually lower the costs of funerals in the Ottawa region.
By taking a rigorous approach to the development of FCO, the co-op was able to:
- Convince a variety of financial, institutional and association partners, as well as mobilize hundreds of people,
- Engage a group of volunteer leaders with a variety of skills and contacts to make use of within the organizational structure, and
- Ensure there was start-up financing.
FCO is striving to achieve the lowest prices in the region for funeral services and will be able to do so if more members join the existing 600.
9. Lessons Learned
For those who are thinking of starting a social enterprise, FCO has five ‘top tips’ to share:
- Make sure you have the right people around you
- Take the time to discover what resources are available and how to access them
- Get help when needed
- Have a good mission, clear vision and values shared by all the members
- Make sure that members understand the distinction between collective enterprise from the entrepreneurial collective and democratic management
- Undertake a rigorous approach without skipping stages of development that will help clarify the appropriate organizational structure, financial package, the effective marketing strategies and market positioning
For the business to succeed, there were several factors that were critical to its success, including a lot of dedicated volunteers and key allies in the community, across the country, and within the co-operative sector.
At this point, the organization is still in the development and start-up/launch stage. The co-operative receives in-kind support from members of the board of directors, members who volunteer their time, and various not for profit organizations. According to the business plan, the Funeral co-operative is planning to hire more personnel in the coming years.
For those interested in learning more /starting a funeral co-operative, the business plan is replicable, transferable to another context and be made available for a promoter group or any other group.