In the midst of a year filled with uncertainty and change, The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) brought the profession together for three days of inspiration, reflection, education, and professional and personal growth during the 2020 Virtual International Convention & Expo. Held October 20-22, NFDA’s first-ever Virtual Convention drew 1,806 total attendees (1,254 attendees and 552 exhibitor representatives). A total of 81 international attendees, representing 15 countries and territories, participated in the event. The Expo Hall featured 128 digital booths.

“While we all wish we would have been able to gather in person, I am so glad I had the opportunity to reconnect with colleagues and friends during the biggest and best virtual gathering in the funeral profession,” said NFDA President R. Bryant Hightower Jr., CFSP. “I always take so much away from the interactions I have with colleagues during the NFDA Convention and this year’s event was no exception. From conversations taking place during our keynote events and education sessions to the ideas exchanged in break out lounges, I learned so much from my fellow funeral directors that will help me continue to serve families at the highest level.”

The NFDA Virtual Convention proved to be an exceptional experience for all who were able to attend. The convention featured thought-provoking keynote sessions led by leadership expert and author Simon Sinek; customer service authority Micah Solomon; and inspirational documentary filmmaker Brett Culp.

From better serving Generation Z and LGBTQ+ persons to sharpening embalming skills, attendees attended a wide-range of compelling education led by the best experts in their fields. These sessions – and the accompanying live chat with expert speakers – offered attendees new perspectives and practical strategies to expand their skills and raise the level of service they provide to the bereaved.

Forming Connections  

While attendees could not network in the ways in which they are accustomed, NFDA offered plenty of opportunities for attendees to connect outside of the interactive chat feature available during keynote and education sessions.

During breaks, attendees could join video chat rooms where they could discuss challenges with colleagues; ask experts their most pressing questions; and have fun during magic shows, trivia contests and the Pup-Doodle Derby races featuring therapy dogs-in-training.

Attendees also took time to explore booths in the Virtual Expo Hall where they could meet with valued supplier partners and discover products and services to help them create meaningful tributes and improve their business operations.

NFDA invited attendees to create a visual representation of the connections they were creating during the Virtual International Convention & Expo by contributing a selfie to the Digital Photo Mosaic, sponsored by Legacy.com. See the finished product on the Convention home page, www.nfda.org/convention.

 Service of Remembrance: Honoring Last Responders 

 A highlight of the Virtual Convention was the Service of Remembrance. Funeral directors are serving on the front lines of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. During this year’s service, Dr. Alan Wolfelt offered a message of healing and hope to the funeral directors who kept – and continue to keep – the doors of their funeral homes open to comfort grieving families during this trying year. And, as is its custom, NFDA honored the memory of funeral service professionals and other family members who died during the last year during the Service of Remembrance.

A video of the Service of Remembrance is available online, https://convention.nfda.org/Highlights.

Big Winners 

Every time a Virtual Convention attendee visited a booth in the Expo Hall and clicked the “Email Me More Information” button they were entered into the Great Big Giveaway raffle drawing. There were many fabulous prizes, including the grand prize, a trip to the 2021 NFDA International Convention & Expo (including travel). The winners were:

  • $25 Gift Card: Mark Janik, Hamburg, New York; Tara Williams, Walton, New York; Allison Bowerman-Johnson, Munising, Michigan; Ruben Garza Jr., Dover, Delaware; Tazi Martinez, Glendora, California; Rodney McFarland Sr., Monroe, Louisiana; Abi Works, Graceville, Florida; Katie Mackoway, Waynesville, Ohio; Christine Bushby, Millbrook, Alabama; and Matthew Park, Beaver, Utah.
  • $50 Gift Card: Tammy Haslem, Roosevelt, Utah; Dorinda Cobb, Blue Ridge, Georgia; Sarah Stopyra, Danvers, Massachusetts; Brad Walker, Spanish Fork, Utah; and Dwayne Cobb, Blue Ridge, Georgia.
  • $100 Gift Card: Steven Melby, Clay Center, Kansas; and Carly Larson-Rondeau, Racine, Wisconsin.
  • Echo Show: Heather Brown, Franklin, Pennsylvania; and Deirdre Ambrose, Chicago, Illinois.
  • Apple Watch: William Couey, Milledgeville, Georgia; and Hannah Auxter, Bellevue, Ohio.
  • Grand Prize – 2021 NFDA International Convention & Expo: Jenna Picou, Cleveland, Tennessee.

Each day, attendees had an opportunity to test their brain power during a trivia contest in the break lounges. The top winners in each contest won prizes – $250 gift card for first place, $100 gift card for second place and $50 for third place – courtesy of ASD-Answering Service for Directors, LendingUSA; Live Oak Bank, NGL and Tukios.

  • October 20: 1st place – Alexis Cannizzo, Johnstown, New York; 2nd place – Tara Williams, Walton, New York; 3rd place – Frank Cagnina Jr., Walton, New York
  • October 21 
    • Contest 1: 1st place – Frank Cagnina, Jr., Walton, New York; 2nd place – Andy Johnson, Parkersburg, West Virginia; 3rd place – Lisa Meyer, Newton, Illinois
    • Contest 2: 1st place – Chrissy Stanifer Bushby, Millbrook, Alabama; 2nd place – Tara Williams, Walton, New York; 3rd place – Alexis Cannizzo, Johnstown, New York
  • October 22 
    • Contest 1: 1st place – Tara Williams, Walton, New York; 2nd place – Stephen Leavitt, Parkersburg, West Virginia; 3rd place – Jason Meyer, Newton, Illinois
    • Contest 2: 1st place – Alex Roberts, Wooster, Ohio; 2nd place – Alexis Cannizzo, Johnstown, New York; 3rd place (tie) – Jarad Roberts, Wooster, Ohio, and Shelly Chudzinski, Belleville, Michigan

Attendees cheered on their favorite therapy dogs-in-training in the Pup-Doodle Derby. Attendees could vote for their favorite puppy in the Thumbies booth in the Expo Hall. All people who voted for the winning puppy in the races, held October 21 and 22, were entered in a drawing to win a $250 gift card. The winners were: Stephanie Deiters, Washington Illinois; and Cheryl Roberts, Dayton Ohio. The puppies were trained by Ultimate Canine. Videos of the Pup-Doodle Derby races are available online, https://convention.nfda.org/Highlights.

In the weeks leading up to convention, everyone who registered Virtual Convention was entered into a weekly drawing for a $100 gift card. The earlier an individual entered, the more chances they had to win. The winners were: David Mitchell, Albion, New York; Robson Posnik, Curitiba, Brazil; Brad Connor, Waynesville, Ohio; Edward Calahan, Chicago, Illinois; Eric Larrison, Pratt, Kansas; Jay Jacobson, Decorah, Iowa; and Jon Reichmuth, Elkhorn, Nebraska.

All funeral service education students who registered for the Virtual Convention were entered into a drawing for a $250 gift card, which was won by Holly Reiss, Grafton, Wisconsin.

On to Music City 

 Planning is already underway for the 2021 NFDA International Convention & Expo, which will take place October 17 through 20 in Nashville, Tennessee.

“We’re hopeful we will be able to reunite in person for the 2021 NFDA Convention in Nashville,” said Hightower. “I have very fond memories of our last convention in Music City and I know that next year’s event will be even better! It’s going to be great to be in the same room with my colleagues from across the country.”

Hightower continued, “While much is unknown about the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic during the next 12 months, I want to reassure our funeral service family that their health is our top priority. We will take whatever steps we feel are necessary to ensure a safe environment at the NFDA Convention and all in-person events we host in 2021.”

From country to rock ‘n’ roll to classical and pop, music has influenced nearly every aspect of Nashville and its people. However, there is more to Nashville than just music. The city’s restaurant and nightlife scene is as diverse as the artists that have recorded albums there. Attendees can pick up a special souvenir from the distinctive boutiques that fill neighborhoods like East Nashville, 12 South and Hillsboro Village. From museums and art galleries to historic sites like The Hermitage, culture abounds in Nashville. Convention attendees can learn more about the lively city of Nashville by visiting www.visitmusiccity.com.

Sponsors              

 The 2020 NFDA International Convention & Expo was made possible, in part, by the following sponsors:

  • Double Black Diamond: Homesteaders Life Company
  • Keynote Speakers: Batesville; Homesteaders Life Company
  • Platinum: Global Atlantic Financial Group
  • Branded Mask: Federated Insurance
  • Gold: ASD – Answering Service for Directors; Lending USA; Live Oak Bank; NGL; Tukios
  • Pup-Doodle Derby: Thumbies; Ultimate Canine
  • Welcome Coffee: Express Funeral Funding; Inman Shipping
  • Digital Photo Mosiac: Legacy.com
  • Digital Deception (magic show): Physicians Mutual
  • Silver: C&J Financial; ClearPoint; Doric; Foundation Partners; Messenger; Nomis Publications Inc.; Ring Ring Marketing; Roosevelt Investment
  • Service of Remembrance: funeralOne; Messenger

About NFDA 

NFDA is the world’s leading and largest funeral service association, serving more than 20,000 individual members who represent nearly 11,000 funeral homes in the United States and 49 countries around the world. NFDA is the trusted leader, beacon for ethics and the strongest advocate for the profession. NFDA is the association of choice because it offers funeral professionals comprehensive educational resources, tools to manage successful businesses, guidance to become pillars in their communities and the expertise to foster future generations of funeral professionals. NFDA is headquartered in Brookfield, Wis., and has an office in Washington, D.C. For more information, visit www.nfda.org