The NHFA is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all-volunteer organization that is the leading body of home after-death care support and education in the US. Created in 2010, our members come from all 50 states, five provinces, and seven countries. Many of us are home funeral guides who also identify as licensed funeral directors, ordained ministers, educators, body workers, licensed social workers, registered nurses, therapists and counselors, directors of nonprofits, attorneys and physicians. Many simply want to support the movement from institutionalized care back to family care of our own dead.
The mission of the NHFA is to educate and empower families and communities to care for their own dead.
First came our predecessors: Jessica Mitford, Ernest Morgan, William Wendt, Lisa Carlson, Nancy Poer, Tamara Slayton, to name a few. Thanks to their guidance and mentorship, Crossings and Final Passages started offering trainings and workshops around the country starting in 1996/1997. For 10 years, all those trainings had produced many who were deeply interested in the work. Crossings decided to celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2008 (a few months later than the actual anniversary). People from all over the country were invited to come. We really saw it as a first chance to gather all those who were taking up home funeral care to meet, network, and celebrate our shared mission. Mark Harris was the keynote speaker, Nancy Poer, Char Barrett and Karen Van Vuuren all attended, along with about 40 others. It was held at Seeker’s Church in Takoma Park, and afterward there was dinner at Beth and her husband Bill’s home that the Crossings Board orchestrated.
Karen, whom Beth had known through Waldorf, and then through having taught a workshop in Boulder from which Natural Transitions was founded, had tremendous enthusiasm for the 10th anniversary. She shared in the goal of gathering home funeral advocates together, and offered to do hold a follow-up event the next year in Boulder, CO. Her team at Natural Transitions provided the fuel to make this a reality: Deb Dore, Patte Ward, Barbara Horn, Reva Tift, Sue Mackey, Will Reller. In the spirit of “getting organized with a capital O”. Karen had the brilliant idea to invite facilitator Patty Beach, and to this end, invited people to stay on Sunday for a brainstorming session. At the event, we divided into two groups—one group who wanted to participate in the leadership team, and the other group to say what they wanted from the organization.
Out of that meeting came a leadership team of 13. We worked on things such as our name, our logo, getting incorporated, mission, etc. Karen secured a web domain. Char was voted as leader because she was both a professional funeral director and a leader of the home funeral movement and, it was felt, lent us credibility. By the following year, we became a board of directors that included Jerrigrace Lyons, Nora Cedarwind Young, Kelsey Ramage, Dave Robles, David Haisman, Peg Lorenz, Donna Belk, Char Barrett, Cari Leversee, Marian Spaddone, Beth, and Karen. Char agreed to be the president for a two-year term. Karen & Beth were co-vice-presidents. Donna was secretary, Cari was treasurer.
The first NHFA conference was held in Boulder, Colorado in 2010. Back in Colorado the following year, one of the draws to the 2011 conference was Nora Cedarwind Young's presentation about hospice work. Nora was the first to speak to the organization about a professional dress code appropriate for the work of Death Midwifery, and about approaching the death threshold informed about what to expect with the stages of dying, family dynamics, and how to transition from Hospice to facilitating a family directed home funeral. The following year, Lee Webster expanded on this with a presentation on 'How To Speak Home Funeral,' which she offered as a presenter in at the conference in Chicago, in 2012. Lee also organized that next conference with Donna, and became a board member with a focus on public relations. Lee continued to provide background and nonprofit organizational support to NHFA as VP, and then as President for a three-year term which ended in 2017.
Getting Organized: Year 1
It is the dynamic people that make the organization and keep it running and they must be acknowledged as well:
Peg Lorenz for coming forward enthusiastically with good ideas and being unafraid to say the hard things, no nonsense.
Donna Belk for her amazing web and facilitation skills, and especially for coming around for a second term as a board member.
Lynn Barnett for coming forward when we desperately needed a treasurer.
Merilynne Rush for her organizational skills and thoughtfulness.
Cari Leversee for her initial treasurer duties and amazing web knowledge.
Char Barrett for taking the brunt of the first run as president while also getting her own business thriving.
Jerrigrace Lyons for holding strong with us throughout our long process of forming.
During formation, there was an intent to unify home funeral guides under one roof, to create a networking body that was mutually supporting, and that would eventually give a public voice to this work. A corporation was formed and registered with the State of Washington, a bank account was established, and the NHFA was in business. Conferences were held, bringing guides and others interested in the home funeral concept together to explore myriad aspects of end-of- and after-life care.
Board Governance Structure
The more time the members spent together, the clearer their questions became about what each needed from the organization and from each other. Committees were formed at the Board level to address specific issues and areas, such as providing a clearinghouse of resources and educational materials, and members were invited to participate. The Board chose a model of governance for itself called the Consultative Leadership Process rather than a formal, authoritative Robert’s Rules of Order style customary to a national nonprofit board. Instead, members wished to create a system of leadership by consensus that was thoughtful, deliberate, and inclusive.
Why a 501c3?
As the Board developed, it became clear that, for financial reasons alone, it was necessary to attempt to obtain tax-exempt status with the IRS. The question evolved into one of organizational identity. Did we see ourselves as a professional entity, which would eventually require providing all that goes with it, such as standard setting, certification, fee schedules and the like? Or did we see our primary function as one of providing educational resources to home funeral guides and the public, and of keeping the rights of families as our polestar? It was clear that the NHFA could not do both simultaneously, and it was even more clear that until the public was aware of home funerals, guides would not be in a position to assert themselves professionally. Given the legal licensing constraints of the funeral industry, there was also a risk of exposing the organization and its members to potential legal action by pursuing trade or professional organization status, known as a 501c6. Were the Board to have chosen this route, it would have meant the necessary development of regulatory actions and functions, such as required standards of care, certification processes and testing, and the added burden of monitoring and enforcing. The result would have been a top-down management paradigm. The sitting Board instead chose to follow the process of becoming a 501c3, focusing on educational and charitable activities and, with minor adjustments, committees were realigned accordingly. An intention was set to develop a unified fundamental message while providing recommendations for guidance and educational resources first and foremost, with the expectation that home funeral guides were uniquely qualified to take up the challenge and lead the way.
By doing so, the Board sought to preserve the grassroots nature of the organization to make home funeral a household word again, forging ahead with initiatives intended to support rather than mandate, to inform rather than dictate, and to steer rather than regulate.
The NHFA also opened its doors to anyone—funeral directors, hospice workers, medical community members, and the general public—in addition to any persons choosing to call themselves home funeral guides, in concert with the spirit of inclusion invested at the start of the organization.
The NHFA is a nonprofit 501c3 organization committed to supporting home funeral education. The NHFA does not offer certification opportunities. Membership in the NHFA and participation in its activities does not constitute endorsement of any kind.