Buyers of Memorial Trees from funeral homes websites getting left in the dark
When Tim and Kim Breegle lost a dear friend in late 2020, they decided planting a memorial tree in her honor was the perfect tribute, as their friend was an avid gardener and enjoyed nature.
The Breegles purchased the memorial tree through the website of the local funeral home that was handling the services, and according to the website and the information sent from their purchase, the Breegles would receive a one-year anniversary follow-up on the tree.
But to this day, they have no idea if any tree was ever planted or where. And they're not alone.
The tree they purchased was actually sold by Consolidated Funeral Services, which does business under the initials CFS, Inc., a marketing company based out of Needham, Mass. CFS provides free websites to 6,400 funeral homes in the US, according to its website. The marketing company also provides free websites to most funeral homes in the Valley as well. According to CFS's website, in exchange for the free website, the funeral home, and CFS “...split the proceeds with you 50/50” from the funeral homes e-commerce sales page which sells flowers and other products, including blankets, but most CFS-built websites offer multiple opportunities to purchase a memorial tree for the family of the deceased.
When Joe Bailey of Smith Township purchased a memorial tree through a funeral home website after the death of a family friend two years ago, he never received any follow-up on his tree purchase either.
21 News spoke with 8 other people who purchased memorial trees from Valley funeral home websites – and none of the other people we spoke with received any follow-up from CFS on their memorial tree purchases.
Tim Breegle said he received a purchase confirmation in December of 2020, along with information about the tree program, the benefits of planting trees, and a PDF certificate from CFS's tree planting partner, The American Forest Organization, a non-profit conservation organization, based in Washington, D.C.
Most Valley funerals home websites offer the option to purchase a memorial tree as the first option on their e-commerce portal. The tree planting purchase links also appear on the Tribute Wall of the deceased's obituary with multiple option links to purchase. According to the funeral home website “When you choose to have a memorial tree planted you are doing more than simply putting a plant in the ground.” It states “you are making a long-term commitment to the environment and implanting the memories...”
But if CFS doesn’t follow up with purchasers to confirm that the purchased trees were planted, and where, how do you know you got what you paid for?
21 News reached out to CFS to find out. Paige Mullaney, a customer support manager for CFS, stated via email that the tree planting location is determined by its planting partner American Forests Organization, and takes place in the spring and summer in areas of greatest need closest to the site of purchase.
Via email, 21 News asked for documentation showing how many purchased trees were planted from CFS, but Mullaney stated “I apologize but we do not disclose the report as it has every tree from that year planted...”
'LACK OF TRANSPARENCY'
We reached out to CFS' planting partner American Forests Organization to see if the non-profit was able to verify the number of trees sold through CFS-provided websites and if it could confirm that a tree for every purchase takes place.
Rekha Patricio, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for American Forests told 21 News that the organization is not involved in any part of the purchase or reporting cycle and doesn't engage directly with CFS customers.
Patricio told 21 News in an email “We're troubled by the lack of transparency around some of the questions you've raised and are planning to meet with CFS...”
Patricio said that American Forests through their partnership with CFS had planted approximately 800,000 trees in 2021.
A few funeral homes in the Valley sell the memorial trees for $29.95, stating a subsidized price from the pandemic, while most sell a single tree for $39.95.
American Forests said it receives $1 to plant a tree from every memorial tree sold from CFS-supplied funeral home websites.
In an email, CFS said, “We are committed to ensuring that one of the most difficult times in peoples’ lives is as meaningful as possible and continue to enhance our tree program in furtherance of that goal, including increased communication with purchasers and families about the impact of their donations.”
After we raised the concerns of people who had purchased memorial trees from the e-commerce website, Senior Director of Communications for American Forests Michele Kurtz told 21 News in an email “...We are reviewing all of our Memorial Tree programs, including this partnership with CFS, to ensure they meet the guidelines and transparency standards we require in all our partnerships...”
Kurtz followed up with 21 News days later stating “Our philanthropy team had a good conversation with CFS... and is continuing to evaluate the partnership. These conversations are ongoing...”
We asked both American Forests and CFS for on-camera interviews for this story, but both declined our offer.