In 2012, my mom said, “I’m so glad you moved here. Now you can help plan the family reunion!” Say What?!
I don’t know the very first thing about planning a family reunion, but Google might.
Unfortunately…Google knew very little about actually planning a reunion. All it knew was surface high level…thanks for nothin’! The same-o same-o dated content seemed to show up everywhere. Was there not anyone who could actually teach me how to plan a reunion I’d be proud of?
Everything for the reunion was researched, actually Pinterested (is that even a real word? If not, it is now!) and second guessed. As it turns out, planning family reunions is just like “Event Planning” with more focus on heritage and ancestors in order for it to be meaningful and memorable.
You may not have 2 years to plan your next family reunion and thankfully you don’t need it. What do you need? A great guide that ensures you’ve covered all the important items including the single most important element of reunion planning.
NOTE: We have just released such a guide. Get the most out of your reunion efficiently and save the headache!
Three Main Phases of Planning a Family Reunion
Spoiler alert…Everything about planning a family reunion is actually planned ahead of time! You leave nothing to chance. Think of planning a reunion or any event, similar to giving an important presentation at work, opening a new restaurant, or launching a new product.
Planning for these types of events all have three main primary phases:
- Get Ready-decisions that complete prior to the event day
- The Event Itself-The Reunion…Itself
- Post Event Follow-up-Most importantly, understanding how the family felt about the reunion and what worked well, also debriefing with the committee, and continuing the conversation weeks and months post reunion
Get Ready: All the decisions that complete prior to your big day and in order to market your reunion. This includes: determining what goals you want your reunion to accomplish, dates & location, collecting family contact details, and getting family jazzed about attending the reunion.
The Reunion Itself: All the decisions for the actual event. Includes items like “the schedule”, food, activities, games, awards, icebreakers, keepsakes, etc.
Post Event Follow-up & Future: Just what it sounds like. Evaluating how the reunion went, what worked, and what didn’t work, along with any insights or decisions that need to be made for the next reunion and a plan executed post reunion that keeps the lines of communication open.
Let’s break down each of these three stages into a lot more detail.
Due to the volume of information included, we’re breaking up each of these three stages into three separate posts. Find links to each stage at the bottom.
REMEMBER: All phases require planning PRIOR to the reunion!
Get a Great Checklist
Checklists help ensure you remember everything! You don’t need to use them line for line but they do help you consider things you might not have considered before.
Our Checklist is titled Chart Your Course and it’s totally on steroids! It details what you need to do when so you won’t forget anything. We also include 3 different checklists one for 18-24 months lead time and one for 12-months lead time. In addition, we’ve how to plan a reunion in 6-months or less checklist!
When you are planning with 6 months or less, we explain how to modify our checklist to still get everything covered! We also include additional items in the Chart Your Course guide, but we are giving away for free our 6-month checklist for FREE! It includes the checklist and additional information on how to get things done in less than 6 months along with information on how you can take your great reunions to Smashing! GET OUR FREE CHECKLIST HERE!
Form a Family Reunion Committee or Team
It is just WAY more helpful to have a committee or a team! More hands for doing and more brainpower to think up ideas and identify & solve potential problems before they ever get to be a problem.
Choose a core group of people you can rely on.
FIRST STEP: Determine as a committee what goals you want to accomplish with your reunion. When you hold reunions you can accomplish so much more than just having a party if you want to. YOU can help mend broken hearts and fences if there be any by how you intentionally involve others in helping.
Then reach out to other family members in specific ways to utilize their strengths and involve more family in the hosting part of your reunion. Consider them ad hoc committee helpers.
There is great wisdom in sharing the workload and getting others involved. This helps them feel and be a part of the whole. And as a benefit helps get them excited about the reunion.
Some ideas of what ad hoc committee helpers could oversee:
- 2 hours of group activities
- plan and manage the talent show
- plan tabletop decor
- prepare the desserts for a specific meal
- A small portion of the overall
Our Success By Design Activity (this product is available as part of our whole family reunion planning toolkit) helps with determining what goals you’d like to accomplish through a series of thought-provoking questions. It’s the foundation of your reunion. If you decide not to utilize our activity, please don’t skip this step! Still define your goals.
You, as the committee members, don’t have to “do it all” BUT you do need to follow up on it ALL, and make sure plans are on track and possibly have backup plans should the need arise.
Next Items to Accomplish
- Determine your committee roles so you each have various areas of responsibility moving forward.
- You’ll need to gather all the family contacts into one space for communication of all the reunion details. If this “space” is a digital spreadsheet, like our Reunion Relatives, it can also then be easily passed to the next committee that heads up the reunion. We recommend trying to keep this updated as family members move between reunions.
Choose a Date & General Area
When you are just starting your planning, choose a general location such as a country, state, or city area. Such as in even years we’ll hold the reunion in Bedford, Oregon, USA and in odd years we’ll hold it in Toledo, Ohio, USA. This could be in years that end in 5 and 0 or even decades & odd decades too if you want to establish a regular reunion.
If you are limited on time (less than 12 months) then narrow down your location. In fact, we’d recommend you go ahead and choose a city and then quickly choose a venue if you are less than 12 months out.
To find the actual date, we highly recommend doing a survey to your family with 3-4 date options and allow them to tell you what works best. There are great FREE survey tools you can use. I’ve personally used Survey Monkey for many many years. You get 10 questions for free. Totally perfect! We also have some pre-designed Google Forms surveys available if you’d like to not start from scratch. They come with a detailed video to know how to use them.
Once a date is narrowed down, communicate it to your family! If you have a lot of time say 12-18 months we recommend sending a “save the date” or “plan ahead date” so your family can start saving for travel to attend the reunion.
If you have 12 months or less before your reunion, get that invite (designed to your theme) out to your family! Muy pronto!
Choose a Theme-The single MOST important element of reunion planning
Literally, EVERYTHING you do around your reunion will be driven with the theme in mind! This doesn’t need to be like a pirate theme, or a sea voyage-although they totally can!
Themes like a birthday party, or golden anniversary celebration—ideas that relate to important dates of your ancestors.
A theme could also be a design element such as polka dots or stripes. Themes could be ancestral related such as “Through the years” or “Back to our Roots”.
You can also have your theme be an extension of your location. For example, if you are holding your reunion at a campground, the idea “campy” or using camp type of wording and images for your whole reunion.
Your games, activities, even some food choices, and of course decor should be driven by the theme.
Financing a Family Reunion
Oh that dreaded “MONEY” word. Why does it seem that discussing financial issues with family is the most challenging of all topics? In reality this is one of, if not the most important item in the whole list.
To help you keep track of costs and budgets, we’ve created the Reunion Pocketbook Google Sheet to help you manage all the income and expenses associated with putting on a reunion.
Here are a number of different ways you can finance a family reunion. They each have their own pros and cons and therefore a “right” answer just doesn’t exist. Also what worked last time may not work this time.
- “Pot luck” each activity or meal so all expenses are shared-sign up sheets work great
- Everyone covers their own costs (with a minimal donation for keepsakes, decor, etc)
- per person
- per family
- local family only-traveling family has an added expense
- per major family unit-say like all the children’s families or grandchildren’s families pay $X
- Wealthy patron funds the reunion
Consider activities such as raffles or auctions that can be conducted at your reunion THIS time to help fund the NEXT reunion.
If you have a smaller reunion…say like your immediate family the solution may be vastly different than if you have 50+ people that attend a reunion.
Family Reunion Invites
You don’t need an actual invitation (like a wedding invitation) depending for your particular reunion, but you should send a formal invite of some kind.
You can certainly use electronic invites from companies like Punchbowl or e-vite or send more informal invites like an email. If you’d like to step it up a bit, send an actual printed paper invitation. (think wedding invites)
In any case, make sure you tie the invite to your theme for a more cohesive overall feel!
If you have older family members that might not get the “digital” world, consider sending paper invites too.
And always always always follow up with each family member if you aren’t getting RSVPs to ensure they received it and if they will be attending.
Build Excitement Online
Which scenario is more exciting for you? Let’s assume you receive an invitation to attend a special all expenses paid cruise 10 months from now.
- Each month you receive teasers of your upcoming cruise with helpful information like what to pack, on shore excursions, activities you’ll find on the boat, special food allergy requests, etc.
- After you receive accept the invite, you get an email with all the information then nothing until you show up at the boat.
The first scenario is by far more interesting. Bringing family members along in the process will also help them to appreciate the work and effort involved in planning the reunion including their perspective of the reunion success.
We are super big advocates of building excitement for your reunion and establishing a plan on how you will bring your family along in the process. This is also a great way to involve some of the younger generation (aka: more tech savvy)!
We’ve also developed the Ultimate Family Reunion Planning System to make sure you’ve got all the tools to be successful! You could buy the individual parts but why would you want to do that when you can get the whole system at a fraction of the cost of the parts.
Family reunion planning for the items occurring at your reunion coming in Part 2!