Return Home: First Crowdfunded Funeral Home Envisions the Future of Deathcare
Crowdfunding isn’t a new concept for deathcare professionals. After all, more and more families are turning to crowdfunding platforms to cover the costs of their loved ones’ funeral services. But crowdfunding to fund a funeral home itself? Now, that’s a new idea. A brilliant one, in fact, if the success of Return Home in Auburn, Washington — the first ever crowdfunded funeral home — is any indication.
“We opened in June 2021,” explains Micah Truman, founder and CEO of Return Home. “And we started crowdfunding in February 2022. In one month, we raised $400,000. There’s a real groundswell of support for people for what we do, both from inside the funeral industry and from the consumers at large. It’s been really exciting to watch how that’s going.”
Not your grandma’s funeral home
So why are folks so enthusiastic about investing in a brand new funeral home in the Seattle suburbs? Perhaps it’s because Return Home isn’t your typical funeral establishment.
First, Return Home specializes in Terramation, a term Truman and his team coined to describe the process of natural organic reduction in a more palatable way.
“We needed a word that helps people understand what we’re doing, but not feel concerned,” Truman explained. “‘Terra’ means ‘earth,’ and ‘-mation’ means ‘changed.’”
It’s a refreshingly apt description, and one that fits perfectly with the values and mission of Return Home — one of which is radical transparency.
“We don’t want people to have to create that imagery of what we’re doing in their head,” explains Katey Houston, a licensed celebrant, funeral director and embalmer and Service Manager at Return Home. “So let’s just tell them exactly what we do and exactly how we do it.”
Discovery through DeathTok
One of the ways Houston and the Return Home team shed light on the relatively new Terramation process is through TikTok. Although more and more people are revealing behind-the-scenes details of deathcare on the video platform, most in the profession still view TikTok as taboo. Return Home, however, has built a loyal following with their down-to-earth, easily understood TikTok videos.
“We probably have one of the most powerful TikTok presences in the funeral industry,” Houston says. “We just posted a video showing exactly what happens when you come into the funeral home, beginning with when we transfer your body from the cot. It just hit 255 million views.”
Houston and Truman attribute their TikTok success to their demonstrations of transparency among a profession that doesn’t usually talk about what they do, and certainly don’t show it.
“If we hide something, if we don’t tell the world what we do, they’re going to invent a scary story for what it is,” Truman says. “We have a culture of secrecy. We think we’re not going to talk about it. But why not? It gives people such comfort. I think we shortchange ourselves by trying to put it behind the door.”
Investors include funeral directors
Perhaps it’s this open approach that has attracted many forward-thinking funeral directors to invest in Return Home through the company’s crowdfunding campaign.
“We’re over getting close to 200 investors now, and a number of them are in the funeral profession. That’s been heartening to see,” Truman says. “Buying shares in Return Home allows them to own a small piece of our company and sort of continue their passion for what we do.”
Truman and Houston explain that it’s not only young deathcare professionals or those from green burial backgrounds who want to partner with or own a part of Return Home.
“There are hardly any green burial providers who have invested, but there are some old-school funeral directors,” Houston says. “I’ve talked to a couple of them when they’ve come to visit. They feel comfortable that if a family comes to them and asks for Terramation, they have somewhere they trust to send them for the service they want.”
Truman adds that some deathcare professionals have gravitated to Return Home because the culture and values of the company remind them of why they chose their career path.
“The funeral community are like the kindest, coolest, most service-focused people,” he explains. “But many of them have been in an environment where maybe they weren’t able to express that. So when someone in the funeral community invests in us or visits us, they feel that and it takes them back to why they joined in the first place.”
A unique opportunity for aftercare
With this groundswell of support from the deathcare profession and the public at large, Return Home is well on its way to reaching its financial growth goals, andalthough they are still actively accepting investors. In the meantime, though, they’ve helped more than 540 families through not only the tailored disposition services of their loved ones, but also with long-term aftercare that the gentle, yet lengthy, process of Terramation offers.
“We’re walking families through at least 60 days,” explains Houston, “so I’m talking to them constantly. They come in and visit. I have made lifelong friends with the families I’ve observed here so far. Trusting me with their person for a long period of time is something new to them, and it’s an entirely different relationship — a completely different journey. Every time I see them or talk to them, I can be like, ‘Okay, it sounds like you’re feeling this part of grief right now. Let’s talk through this or get you some resources for this.’”
The journey Houston explains begins with the preparation of the body for a highly personalized laying-in service. Families often participate in the bathing and dressing of their loved one, and after the person is placed in the vessel, they are invited to use the viewing room in any way they’d like.
“We’ve done dance parties, and we’ve had some families taking shots of huckleberry vodka and pouring it in with them,” Houston says, smiling. “It’s not just set up as a viewing. It’s just a time and a space designated for the family to do exactly what they need to. And often, they don’t know until they walk into that room what it is they need.”
Deathcare for all
Like these laying-in services, the families and individuals who have chosen Return Home for themselves or a loved one are anything but one-size-fits-all.
“The thing that’s been really cool is the breadth of it all,” Truman shares. “As young as 23, as old as 99. Asian American, African American, white, gay, straight. To be honest, I thought originally it was going to be people like my family, you know, nice tree-hugging Causcasian people. What ended up happening is they’re coming not just from Washington State, but also from Colorado, Oregon, California, and Missouri — from all across the country, which has been really amazing. It’s really a kaleidoscope of people.”
Truman and Houston are truly excited about partnering with funeral professionals from all over to provide Terramation services for their families.
“We really see ourselves as a partner to the funeral industry,” Truman explains. “The family can do everything at the funeral home, like a traditional visitation, and then transport the body to us for the laying-in. If the funeral home wants to use our facility for their services we can arrange that, too. We’re in this together.”
“We’re essentially functioning as the end disposition,” Houston adds. “We have partner-to-partner pricing specifically for funeral homes.”
If you’re interested in sharing ownership in Return Home with as little as a $247 investment, visit https://www.startengine.com/returnhome to learn more. If you’d like to become a deathcare partner, or just to hear more about the Terramation process, feel free to reach out at https://returnhome.com/contact/ or (206) 888-HOME. Both Micah Truman and Katey Houston would love to hear from you.
“We’d love for our funeral folks to come in,” Truman says. “We are of this industry. We are not from outside of it. We are staffed with people within it, and we’re here to provide another method that both services our families and helps our own people. We’re not here to do anything but make this industry better.”