Christine Pepper, MBA, CAE
Chief Executive Officer
National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA)

Christine Pepper began her career with NFDA in January 1986 as the director of finance & operations. After nine successful years in various other accounting positions, she was promoted to assistant executive director in August 1995. She assumed the role of acting executive director in 2001. In December 2001, she was named NFDA chief executive officer.

Christine received a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Real Estate from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1985 and master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1992.

Christine is a member of several professional societies, including the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE) and the Association Forum of Chicagoland. She is past president of WSAE.

Christine and her husband, Derwin, have two children, Zachary and Delaney.

Opioid Crisis Brings New Focus at NFDA Convention
Mukesh Buch
September23, 2017

Can you give us a brief overview of the event and your organization?

NFDA International Convention & Expo is the world’s largest gathering of the funeral service industry. Our objective is to help funeral professionals find out what is happening in the industry, discover new products, network with colleagues, and take their businesses to new levels of success.

This year’s event will be held at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center over 3 days, October 29th through November 1st.

NFDA was founded in 1882, and is currently the world’s largest funeral service association. The association has 19,700 individual members, represent more than 10,000 U.S. funeral homes, and has members in 49 countries.

Most of our U.S. membership consist of small family owned business that make up about 50% of the industry. Much of the balance of the industry is under the control of large corporate businesses.

NFDA is headquartered in Brookfield, Wisconsin, and has an office in Washington, D.C.

NFDA also has a well-known magazine call The Director. It is distributed to our membership as a printed publication and available digitally to our global members. In addition, we send out weekly bulletins to all our members.

What has been your strategy for making the event successful?

We are always looking for ways to enhance our attendee’s experience. Among the initiatives we have pursued in the last few years were the addition of pre-convention certification seminars and the introduction of a smartphone app.

Our printed event program has been turned into what we call a “programming planner,” which is a spiral bound notebook that incorporates a lot of useful information about the show as well as the industry.

This year we have also added campfire sessions on the expo floor to give the attendees an opportunity to get together and have small intimate meetings on various topics.

The NFDA always likes to give something back to the city where we hold our meetings. In Boston, we have joined with the local Habitat for Humanity and will offer attendees an opportunity to volunteer for local projects.

Who attends your event and who is your target audience?

It depends somewhat on the specific location. In Boston, we are expecting a large audience because most of our membership resides east of the Mississippi River. Typically, our members prefer locations close to home since they are small businesses and find it difficult to get away. For our foreign attendees, it is sometimes difficult for them to obtain visas and this has put a damper on our attendance in past years.

Our target audience includes anyone in the funeral service related business. That includes not only funeral homes, but also cemeteries, the crematories, grief counselors, and clergy. We also have representatives from the hospice community.

The association has 19,700 individual members, represent more than 10,000 U.S. funeral homes, and has members in 49 countries.

Tell us more about your educational sessions.

We hold a variety of workshops and education sessions. Every day, there are technical workshops on embalming techniques, which is an area that is very important to funeral home operations. But because most of our members are small business owners, secession on business management skills are just as important. We also have sessions on the importance of the funeral ceremony and maintaining communications with the families that they serve.

An unfortunate topic that we are covering this year is the impact of the opioid epidemic and how it is affecting funeral directors. Rather than dealing with the death of aging parents, it is becoming more common for parents to deal with the death of their adult children. One director recently mentioned having to arrange two funerals for a family that lost two of their children.

We also have a secession on active shooter training, because funeral homes serve all walks of life. In some communities, gang funerals happen on a regular basis. Funeral directors need to make sure that mourners that come to funerals, as well as their staff, are safe.

Would you describe your international pavilion?

Our international pavilion is the world’s largest funeral exhibition and it encompasses the full range of funeral services and products. Exhibitors have the opportunity to showcase their latest products to potential customers face-to-face.

And because many of the professionals are from all over the world, suppliers may find opportunities to export their products. We always have somebody from the Department of Commerce on hand specifically to answer question about export procedures.

Who are the keynote speakers, and what is their focus this year?

Our two keynote speakers are John Maxwell and Troy Aikman. John is an author, pastor, businessman, and motivational speaker whose objective is to inspire, challenge, and equip organizations to reach their potential through leadership training. Some of our members will have the opportunity to have a one-on-one meeting with him back stage.

Our closing speaker is Troy Aikman who is the well-known former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys football team. We are very excited to have him to talk about his twelve-year football career and what motivated him as a professional sports figure.

How many exhibitors do you have this year and do you have key sponsors?

This year we have around 350 exhibitors that will occupy our 250,000-square foot exhibit floor. Each year we try to attract new exhibitors. We do that by attending a number of state and international events to convince suppliers to offer their products and services to our membership base.

In organizing the expo floor, we have an area set aside to showcase the new product and services providers that come to the show. That allows the funeral directors an efficient way to discover new suppliers and their innovative offerings.

We also have an Innovation Award program that we give out each year to a vendor or exhibitor that is selected by the attendees. The top five contestants are introduced at our opening session and the winner is presented an award.

The event offers many sponsorship opportunities, everything from sponsoring the keynote speaker to sponsoring our coffee carts. So, we do have a number of options available, whether it is keycards, convention bags, or lanyards, we offer many opportunities.

An unfortunate topic that we are covering this year is the impact of the opioid epidemic and how it is affecting funeral directors.

What are the highlights of the event or the location?

This will be the second year that we have held the event at the Boston Convention Center. We have found the facility to be one the nicest and most convenient sites for both suppliers and attendees. The center is very open with lots of glass that allows in sunshine. It is not a dark and dreary facility like you find in some other cities.

The fact that you can see onto the exhibition floor from the registration area gives a positive impression when you first check in. Attendees can see the scope of exhibits from a different perspective. You don’t realize how large the event is until you start down the escalator to the exhibit floor.

The facility is also conveniently located to the harbor in downtown Boston. It is within walking distance from many of the city’s major attractions and a variety of hotels. The Westin is convenient, since it is collocated with the convention center, but there are many fine hotels within a short walk of the site.

The Boston Convention & Exhibition Center provides us everything we need within its facility including: our general sessions, the expo, registration, and workshops. For our closing evening, we are planning a harbor tour. We have chartered a boat which will give attendees a chance to see the Boston skyline from the water. It will be a fantastic opportunity for everybody to enjoy the evening and say their goodbyes for another year.

Are you going to be broadcasting the event live this year?

We have been live-streaming our sessions for the last few years including our opening session, our closing session, and our Service of Remembering; and, we are also live-stream our student recognition ceremony. We are also going to do some Facebook Live workshops this year including the opioid panel. They will appear on Facebook and YouTube.

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