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Burying our preconceptions about funerals

8 March 2023 at 4:20 pm
Ruby Kraner-Tucci
A not for profit and social franchise is forcing the mainstream funeral industry to wake up to a more accessible and affordable way of saying goodbye to our loved ones.

Ruby Kraner-Tucci | 8 March 2023 at 4:20 pm


Burying our preconceptions about funerals
8 March 2023 at 4:20 pm

A not for profit and social franchise is forcing the mainstream funeral industry to wake up to a more accessible and affordable way of saying goodbye to our loved ones.

On average, it costs over $8,000 to have a basic burial in Australia, a figure that climbs to $11,000 and counting when you add in features like flowers, photo slides and celebrant or chapel services.

While death is a natural part of life, funerals carry a substantial financial toll. Almost 70 per cent of respondents to Australian Seniors’ Cost of Death report said it took them six months or longer to financially recover from staging a funeral, including 28 per cent who said it took them more than a year.

Challenging the estimated $1.6 billion Australian funeral industry to become more affordable and accessible is the mission of not for profit funeral service and registered charity Tender Funerals.

It’s the brainchild of general manager Jennifer Briscoe-Hough, who came up with the idea after being hit with a large bill for her mum’s funeral, despite the service being largely self-managed.

“The coming and going of life really shouldn’t be costing people a lot of money,” Briscoe-Hough told Pro Bono News.

“Funerals are often sudden costs and it can throw people into funeral poverty, because it’s an unexpected expense. It can throw people into experiencing financial hardship, but also the impact of not having the funeral you need to have can throw people into more complicated grief.”

To counter the culture of upselling in the private funeral industry, Tender Funerals reduces the markup of products and services wherever possible, and importantly provides a range of options to decrease the pressure to spend more.

When it comes to payment, individuals can choose to solely pay what it costs the organisation to run the funeral, which on average is between $2,500 and $4,500, or they can opt to contribute an additional $250 into a benevolent fund that can be accessed by those experiencing financial hardship.

Tender Funerals also offer no-interest loans of up to $2,000 to help navigate funeral expenses and relies heavily on over 100 volunteers to keep costs down.

“Death is such a great leveller. People love to pay the $250 more, and sometimes people will round that up to $1000,” continued Briscoe-Hough.

“Funerals, you can’t repeat them, and if you can’t afford the funeral you need to have, there’s a big shame that goes with that.

“Once you start to break down those things that people think they have to have, they start to make decisions about what is possible. It’s not about having a cheap funeral. Actually, it’s about having a funeral that you want.”

“A beacon of light”

Tender Funerals caters to all cultures and spiritualities, abiding by a philosophy of neutrality, and aims to provide meaningful funerals led by the loved ones of the deceased. That could mean a traditional church service and burial, or it could be as creative as inviting the community to write messages on the coffin, having fish and chips on the beach, and replacing the hearse with a much-loved Ute.

Between 2021 and 2022, Tender Funerals saved individuals over $1.35 million in funeral costs and distributed $10,000 from its benevolent fund, which received contributions from two thirds (66 per cent) of its clients.

That includes Jodie Kennedy, who arranged her dad’s funeral with the support of Tender Funerals Mid North Coast after he died unexpectedly last year.

Kennedy decided to pay the additional $250 after a negative experience with a private funeral provider that quoted four times the amount of Tender Funerals’ services, and focused heavily on the costs at a vulnerable time.

“I’ve never dealt with the private funeral world and I was absolutely stunned. It was first about the money and when you face a traumatic death, that just was too much,” Kennedy told Pro Bono News. 

“I called Tender to just find out where to even begin in the face of death, which is not the time to be lost at sea. The funeral director was just a beacon of light and kindness.

“I didn’t even hesitate to [pay] it. Knowing the amount of volunteer hours and the true authenticity of everybody involved, I would have paid it five times over. It’s of a whole community value. They could not have been kinder, more compassionate and more helpful in the whole process, and for a very reasonable price.

“The whole journey was so healing for the grandchildren, for the siblings, for my mum. At a time like that in your life, you don’t think as clearly as you would normally, and I can honestly say we don’t have a single regret.”

Championing social franchise

While the impact is now demonstrable, it took around seven years for Tender Funerals to prove its value to the community and get off the ground.

A large part of the organisation’s success is owed to creating an impact-led documentary and accompanying crowdfunding campaign, which eventually turned into philanthropic support from the AMP Foundation, Ecstra Foundation and Snow Foundation, among others.

Since then, Tender Funerals has staged over 1,000 funerals, saving communities around $5.8 million, with plans to expand into 20 different locations across the country. The organisation worked with Social Ventures Australia to develop a social franchising model, which allows communities to own and operate their own Tender Funerals.

Each outpost receives support from the central Tender Funerals Australia, including training and funding, as well as joining the organisation’s national network. 

“I think it’s fundamental for every community,” continued Kennedy.

“Their approach really humanises death, something that is so uncomfortable for so many of us. I think it’s essential. If we offer the ability to be born in a town with choice of cost and ways to do it – in a hospital, at home, with midwives – then we should offer that with our end of life as well.

“Businesses have to make money, I’ve got a business and I’m not against that, but the ability to have a [funeral] not for profit, it’s very powerful and very necessary.”

Ruby Kraner-Tucci  |  @ProBonoNews

Ruby Kraner-Tucci is a journalist, with a special interest in culture, community and social affairs. Reach her at

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