Family Reunion Planner: When You are IT

“Consider the efforts of the planner.” That is a sincere request from my cousin, Velda Parker. Velda has been a planner and assistant planner for the Parker Family Reunion for years, and she wants every family member to heed those words each year when reunion time rolls around.

Family members usually look forward to the reunion as an opportunity to socialize with close kin and reconnect with distant relatives, but few have any idea how much work goes into pulling the event together. Nor do they understand the angst the planner experiences when she must constantly appeal to those planning to attend the function to send in their contribution before the deadline. Family reunions like most other worthwhile activities incur expenses and for the planner having the required funds and meeting deadlines is essential.

Anyone who has had the responsibility for organizing a family reunion or has simply lent a helping hand knows that it can be a headache. Like, Velda, I’ve worn both hats, and our hands-on experiences have given us an education for which some folks are willing to pay.

Family reunion planning is big business. So much so that numerous convention and visitors bureaus across the country hold annual family reunion planning seminars and workshops.

Orchestrating a family reunion isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be as daunting a task as some might think it is. Even a first-time planner, with organizational skills and (ideally) someone to share the load, can produce a function so enjoyable that your family will talk about it for years.

Here are some pointers for producing a memorable reunion.

  1. Don’t try to do it all by yourself, ask for help. Unless you choose to assume the responsibility of managing all aspects of the reunion, it is a good idea to form a committee (or committees) to assume some of the following tasks: locating a venue and negotiating accommodations; collecting contributions and maintaining a budget; assuming responsibility for meals, music, and entertainment at the banquet; making name tags, tee shirts, and shopping for raffle prizes and gift bag items. Another committee could be responsible for organizing entertainment, games or other activities.

Heads Up:  Forming committees is easier said than done. Usually, folks are eager to participate in the fun and activities at the reunion, but rarely volunteer to work toward making the event happen. So, don’t be surprised if you cannot get committee volunteers. Carry on.

  1. Decide on a reasonable amount to charge each participant. Ideally, the combined contributions of all family members will cover the down payment and other hotel costs. It will pay for postage stamps (to send information to those without email). Expenses for a DJ or other musical accommodations, including a podium, a microphone, and decorations in the banquet room, if desired, will all come from the combined fees paid by family members. Their contribution will also cover the cost of prizes, souvenirs, raffle tickets, and other unplanned incidentals.

Heads Up:  Be reasonable, but fair. People who live in proximity to the town or city where the reunion is held may bear less expense than those who must travel from distant cities. Some folks who will incur travel costs may balk at being asked to donate more than the cost of a jumbo pizza with a side order of buffalo wings, but you don’t want to have to spend a lot of your own money to cover additional expenses for the reunion. I don’t know a single reunion organizer, including Velda and myself, who has not had to spend a considerable amount of our own money to ensure a successful reunion. So unless you have Mark Zuckerberg deep pockets request a practical contribution (set fee) from family members. Folks who want to attend the event will find a way.

Send out the announcement letter at least a year in advance; this gives people time to set-aside funds for the reunion. Years ago, I used snail-mail to inform family members about the planned reunion. Today I would send out a contact group email and snail-mail only those who are unreachable online. When I snail-mailed the announcement, I enclosed in the envelope a preprinted postcard. The card gave information about the place where the planned reunion would be held and offered a choice of two-weekend dates for the event. Recipients were asked to indicate a first and second choice and then return the postcard to me by the deadline indicated on the card. Easy enough to drop the completed postcard in the mail. You’d think. Although most people returned the card promptly, some left me hanging for weeks or responded only after a second notice. After I received most of the cards, I planned the reunion for the date favored by the majority.

  1. Selecting a hotel. When scouting for a hotel, it is a good idea to check-out different ones in the area and determine who will give you the best group rate. Be sure to ask whether they offer a free breakfast; free parking accommodations; a hospitality suite; Wi-Fi; do they have a gym; and what other amenities are available. Much of that information is also (usually) available online.

If you can, set up a site visit to inspect the hotel, do so. Sometimes this isn’t practical especially if you live in a different city. So you will likely be making all negotiations and arrangements over the phone.

Once you make a decision, you’ll sign a contract finalizing the booking. Read the contract closely before signing it. Determine how many rooms you think you’ll need, but don’t block an excessive number of rooms, because you may be penalized with a hefty fee if a number of the rooms go unbooked by the deadline.

If you fill a certain number of rooms, some hotels will offer a complimentary room (that you can use a Hospitality Suite) at no additional cost. A Hospitality Suite is a private room that is used as a hangout space for the attendees of your family reunion. At our reunion in Burlington, I asked that a card table is set up in the Hospitality Suite and we used that table to play card games (like a favorite – bid whist). We even held a bid whisk tournament which, for the record, was won by my brother, Chico, and Uncle James.

  1. Plan accordingly for activities. Try to include something for all age groups. Consider that there will be seniors as well as youngsters attending the event. At one reunion, we played volleyball in the park on the Saturday early afternoon before the banquet.
  1. Try to avoid having the banquet dinner late in the evening. Many people may not want to be sitting down for dinner at 7 or 8 p.m. The hours between 4- 6 would allow folks time to enjoy the meal and any entertainment (like a talent show) and then, those who don’t want to dance the rest of the night away can return to their room.

And a few last tips:

As a courtesy, you may want to create a “Things to Do” sheet listing nearby parks, eateries, shopping malls, or other local attractions and sightseeing spots. Make sure to leave some copies in the Hospitality Suite.

For our family reunion in Burlington in 1995, I prepared a souvenir booklet. There was also a video made at the banquet. Such treasures enable guests to revisit the occasion through the years. However, since nearly every man, woman, and child now has a cell phone, many people will undoubtedly take their own photos and videos, so it would be unnecessary to incur an additional expense for a photographer or videographer.

If you have programming knowledge (or a relative who does) you can create a Family Reunion Website; your FRW would make information available online to family members in an efficient manner. Depending on the site design, your computer savvy family members can register and make their contribution, get updates on the reunion plans and see a list of who’s coming.  A Facebook page could also serve some of these purposes.

Finally, some hotels will include a welcome on the marquee sign at the entrance to the property for your family reunion. Ask if this free service would be available for your group. It won’t hurt to inquire about signage outside the Banquet Room and Hospitality Suite as well.

Now while you are digesting all of that, sit back and enjoy this video from the Reed & Puryear Family Reunion.

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