The Uber Family Reunion: A Planning Checklist

A month-by-month guide to help your family create a large family reunion.


Large family reunions are wonderful occasions designed to celebrate your family's long-lasting heritage and traditions, and your family's future. These types of reunions usually span several generations, and include fourth and fifth cousins, maybe even more.

If you're planning a large family reunion, it's a good idea to start gauging interest and gathering contact information more than a year in advance. Even more important: Assemble a team of relatives who will help you coordinate this large event and all the things that go with it. Here's a checklist to help you and your family get started!

12-18 Months Before

Create a mailing list. Begin a database of mailing addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses that you can add to and update so you can get the word out. Consider starting a "group" online at Yahoo or on Hotmail so you can easily stay in touch.

Determine interest of family members. Send out a family poll (by e-mail or by post) to gauge interest in a reunion, get an idea of how many people might attend, determine dates, locations, and find out what their idea of the perfect reunion might be.

11-12 Months Before

Form reunion committees.

  • Site coordinator to set up accommodations
  • Treasurer to keep track of expenses and organize fund-raising activities
  • Culinary planner to arrange menus, schedule meals, contact caterers, and evaluate local restaurants
  • Set designer to handle decorations and signs
  • Events director to plan activities and entertainment
  • Reunion secretary to coordinate communications and handle inquiries
  • Historian to provide family background when needed
  • Photographer/videographer to record the event
  • Head housekeeper for cleanup

Create a budget and bookkeeping system.

Begin fund-raising. Large family reunions can get pricey for the organizers, even when each attendee is paying his own way. Here are some ideas to help you defray your expenses, or to finance the attendance of far-flung family members, or people with special needs.

  • Hold a family-only raffle, auction, or garage sale in which the items for sale include Grandma's quilts, hand-me-down furniture, kids' art, or memorabilia. Coordinate the sale on the Internet.
  • Make a family documentary using movie-making software. Screen it at the reunion and sell copies.
  • Ask for donations from family. Set up a reunion Web site over which donations can be made through a PayPal account, a secure online service that allows you to send and receive money with a checking account or credit card using only an e-mail address.

Research locations and facilities.

  • Have your events director research places that cater to a variety of interests, age levels, physical abilities, and financial resources.
  • The backyard barbecue may be the classic venue, but consider memory-making opportunities such as a cruise ship or a dude ranch. Ocean or lakeside family resorts are ideal; there are things to do on both water and on land -- activities to keep kids busy and lounging opportunities on the beach for grown-ups.
  • Many vacation areas have a "destination manager" who can help you with the details of your reunion. Additionally, hotels and resorts often designate one member of their sales staff as the reunion specialist.
10 Months Before

Finalize the date and location. Find out what amenities will be available: drinking water, swimming pool, grilling facilities, changing rooms, indoor space (in case of rain), picnic tables, etc.

Plan accommodations.

  • Create a list of local accommodations and see if you can arrange a discount on a block of rooms.
  • Contact local family members to see if they'd be willing to host relatives in their home. Compile volunteers' names and phone numbers into a list.

Come up with a tentative reunion schedule, theme, and approximate cost per person.

Send save-the-date e-mail or mailer.

  • Include a tentative reunion schedule, theme, approximate cost per person and accommodation options.
  • Request information on missing relatives.
  • Request information on family traditions, recipes and activities that you might want to include in your event.
  • Request volunteers to help with planning, or to bring food, crafting supplies, volleyball nets, or other items for the group's use.
8 to 9 Months Before

Contact volunteers and dole out tasks as appropriate.

Hire a photographer.

Hire a videographer.

Hire entertainment -- disc jockey, band, or other entertainment, if applicable.

Reserve accommodations.

8 Months Before

Schedule events and activities.

  • Secure professionals or locations for your activities. For example, make white water rafting reservations, reserve a softball field, hire tour guides or yoga instructors.
  • Start purchasing items you'll need for any crafting activities.

Schedule and plan meals. Whether you're doing a casual picnic, an extended camping trip, or a weekend in Las Vegas, you'll want to plan a menu and/or find reasonable restaurants that can accommodate large groups.

  • Create a list of all the meals you'll be eating or the food you'll need.
  • Assign one food item to each relative.
  • Contact restaurants to see if they'll accommodate large groups and make reservations then if possible.

Finalize plans for reunion favors, video, family history pamphlet, or T-shirts. Family members will want something to remember this grand occasion.

  • Ask an artistic family member to design a T-shirt, hat, sweatshirt, or other personalized clothing item.
  • Pull together resources for your family history or video.
  • If you decide to give out favors, disposable cameras and matchboxes are two budget-friendly options that can be personalized for your event.
6 Months Before

Send invitations.

  • Include finalized times, locations, maps, driving directions, accommodation options, costs, and a schedule of events.
  • Include a sign-up option for specific activities, if necessary.
  • Include assignments for relatives who have volunteered to bring food or other items.
  • Include a request for photos and/or stories you would include in the family history or video.
  • Include an RSVP date, along with an e-mail address, phone number, or mailing address to which they can respond. Ask family members to provide their accommodation or arrival information, if appropriate.
5 Months Before

Start a list of those who have confirmed their attendance, where they'll be staying, and when they'll be arriving.

Reserve rental equipment such as a podium, microphone, tables, or chairs.

Start compiling and writing your family history pamphlet or video. You'll need to finish this four months before the reunion to have time to order the number of copies you need.

3 to 4 Months Before

Make final purchases.

  • Craft supplies
  • Decorations
  • Favors, personalized T-shirts, disposable cameras, or other items you plan to give out at the reunion
  • Other _______________________________

Order copies of family history or video.

Two Months Before

Confirm restaurant reservations and provide your latest guest estimate.

Confirm with relatives who are bringing food or other supplies.

Confirm meeting places.

Confirm activities.

Confirm sleeping accommodations.

2 Weeks Before

Contact restaurants with a final guest count.

Contact any professionals you've hired and confirm times, locations and the final guest count.

  • Photographer
  • Videographer
  • Entertainment
  • Activities coordinators, instructors, tour guides

Review your final to-do list.

Buy last-minute decorations and supplies.

Create signs and banners.

Make arrangements to donate leftover food to a local shelter or food pantry.

2 Days Before

Review reunion minutiae with committees.

Prepare final payments and tips for any professionals and help you've hired. Put these together in separate envelopes so you can quickly hand them out as needed throughout the event. Keep in mind that you can send extra tips later if their performance was exceptional. Otherwise, a 10 to 15 percent tip is customary if it's not included in their charge.

The Day Before

Set up and decorate.

Get some sleep!

Within 2 weeks of the event, you'll need to:

Write thank-you notes to special attendees, relatives who donated time and money, and any other people who helped make your event a success.

Send additional tip money and remaining final payments.

Develop film. Be sure to get CDs made so you can upload photos to ofoto.com or shutterfly.com. This way other family members can purchase copies of your photos.

Donate or distribute leftover favors, decorations, family history pamphlets, etc.

Within 4 weeks of the event:

Follow up with videographer and photographer to find out when materials will be ready for distribution.

Send an e-mail or mass mailing to all who attended, summarizing the festivities, thanking them for attending, and telling them where they can purchase photos, videos, or any other follow-up items from your event.

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