Whether you’re expecting a dozen cousins or several hundred relatives, planning a meaningful, memorable and fun family reunion is a challenge. It takes time, organizational skills and a sense of humor. These 10 steps will help make your reunion a success—and keep you sane.
1. Make a plan.
Start by picking a date and location. Professional planner Bill Gunkel of Reunions Unlimited recommends you begin planning at least 12 months ahead. Your best first step, he says, is sending questionnaires to family members to get input on when, where and what they want.
Gather a committee to select three possible dates and locations. Send questionnaires asking family members to rank the options. While you can’t meet everyone’s needs, a survey is the best tool for finding out what works for most relatives.
2. Recruit and delegate.
No one person can manage all aspects of a family reunion. Surround yourself with capable and enthusiastic committee members. As the chairperson, you’ll oversee the event, handle communications between committees, coordinate the volunteers—and occasionally play peacemaker.
For small events with 20 or 30 people, you’ll need only a few volunteers. Large events require more volunteers and committees.
- Finance director: handles the reunion checking account, maintains the budget, makes purchases
- Lodging liaison: finds accommodations and negotiates group discounts
- Food director: works with the caterer or handles the potluck
- Correspondence officer: communicates with family members
- Entertainment director: organizes activities for a variety of ages
- Reservations officer: tracks who’s coming
- Mementos procurement: gathers mementos for display
- Welcome committee: makes name tags, agendas and signage; mans registration; helps people mingle
3. Create a command center.
A reunion generates paperwork: Even with subcommittees, the reunion chairperson needs copies of pertinent information, such as contracts with food vendors, updated registration information, and lodging details.
You might keep everything in a simple file folder, or you may want separate folders for each committee in a file box. Keep your records organized—you’ll refer to them often
4. Build a budget.
Cost can be a big factor in attendance, says Katy Anderson, owner of Reunion Masters in San Jose, Calif. “Keep your costs down or try to give the family plenty of lead time to budget.” She recommends 12 to 18 months.
Give an idea of the price in the first communication about the reunion. For more-expensive get-togethers such as cruises, Anderson suggests offering monthly payment options.
In a subsequent update, asking each family to pitch in a set amount of seed money is a good way to offset startup costs. Get more dough with fundraising projects, and include financial updates in mailings.
5. Prepare a back-up plan.
If your reunion will be outside, reserve a pavilion that can accommodate all the attendees in case of unexpected weather. Pack a few board games or crafts the children can do indoors.
6. Get the word out.
Send invitations as early as possible. If you wish to mail them you might opt for a simple flyer, a card or postcard, or an elaborate family newsletter. An eco-friendly option is an invite delivered via email from Evite or Punchbowl.
Meanwhile, go online to relay information and incite interest. You can create a private event page on Facebook and invite people to join, or put someone in charge of sending simple email updates from time to time. Another idea is to use a family-centered website such as Geni as a message hub.
Include family trivia in your communications! Encourage relatives to send stories, ideas and updates for the mailings. This involvement often leads to better attendance.
7. Offer something for everyone.
Offer a range of activities to meet varied ages and interests. You also can have optional outings such as golf, mall trips or excursions to historical sites.
For kids, aim for a mix of outdoor and indoor activities. Teenagers can organize the younger children’s games.
8. Start with a bang.
Linda Johnson Hoffman, author of The Reunion Planner (Goodman Lauren Publishing), suggests icebreakers to kick off the reunion. “Getting everyone involved as they arrive is essential to setting the right tone,” she says.
- Have a welcoming committee greet arriving guests.
- Create a blank family tree and have each member fill in his information.
- Provide an agenda of activities so no one gets left out.
- Create welcome banners
- Give away freebies, such as imprinted pens or notepads, at registration
9. Share your family’s story.
No matter how different your relatives are, your family heritage is one thing you all have in common. Celebrate it by setting out old photos and memorabilia. Incorporate food, music and decorations from your family’s ancestral homeland.
10. Maintain the momentum.
After the reunion, plan to keep in touch until the next one. Family newsletters and websites are great for this. Recruit volunteers to send a newsletter, create and monitor a page on Geni or Facebook, or build a beautiful family history website (we can show you how)!
A version of this article appeared in the April 2001 issue of Family Tree Magazine.