Reunion Organizer 101

In charge of the big event? Don't miss our Q&A advice on the most common issues at family events. You can stay sane before, during, and after the reunion -- and have fun, too!

Are you the one who's been the leader in making the reunion a reality? Along with the pleasure of bringing family members together come possible stress-inducing issues. Don't despair! We've got some great tips for keeping a cool head -- and enjoying yourself before, during, and after the big event.

Q. Help! I'm juggling too many details by myself. Any tips?

A. Delegate! Start enlisting volunteers from the start. Not only will you ease the burden on yourself, but you'll also allow other family members to feel needed and involved. Try to match the right person to each job (e.g., an accountant as treasurer; a good cook to plan menus). Volunteer jobs include:

  • Mailings
  • Money management
  • Site coordination
  • Ordering T-shirts or other souvenirs
  • Buying decorations
  • Soliciting and collating family surveys
  • Organizing menus and making potluck assignments
  • Planning games/activities for adults and kids
  • Handling registration
  • Organizing presentations (family history, awards, etc.)
  • Performing as master of ceremonies
  • Setting up and cleaning up

Keep in mind that once all jobs are assigned, you're not off the hook. Follow up regularly to make sure all the work is getting done. Make deadlines and reassign some jobs, if necessary. Keep the family informed of volunteer efforts in your mailings and be sure to express your appreciation at the big event.

Q. I had a huge fight with my brother about a year ago, and I haven't spoken to him since. Should I invite him to the reunion?

A. Many (if not most) families have some troubled relationships. A reunion can be a good time to repair broken bonds. (You might want to try to patch things up before the reunion, or set aside time in a private place to avoid making a possible scene.) At the very least, try to put your feelings on hold for a few days. As far as bloodlines go, your brother has the same right to attend the reunion as you do. Relatives who are not involved in your dispute may expect to see him. Take the high ground: Invite him, and let him decide whether or not to attend.

Q. My cousin recently lost his job, and his family is strapped for funds. How can I make sure they attend the reunion, without my cousin having to pay?

A. Some families create reunion "scholarships," a fund to subsidize some family members who might otherwise be unable to attend. These funds can be collected by adding an optional surcharge to the registration fee or by fund-raising efforts (see below). Of course, recipients' names should be kept confidential.

Q. My Great Aunt Lillian is disabled. How can I be sure she's able to attend our upcoming reunion?

A. Check in advance to make sure that the site you choose has handicapped parking, wheelchair access (ramps, elevators, etc.), and handicapped restroom facilities. For outdoor events, make sure the site has shade and shelter. When organizing presentations, offer your aunt a front-row seat. Assign a family member to help with meals and other activities.

Q. I'm trying to come up with a budget for our reunion. Any guidelines?

A. You should first make a list of all your potential expenses, according to Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions magazine. Then add 10 percent to offset unexpected costs. It's always better to overestimate than be caught short at the time of the reunion. (You can always return the extra proceeds or bank them for the next reunion.) You might want to open a separate checking account to keep track of all reunion income and expenses. Your initial list of expenses might include:

  • Bank account and checks
  • Phone calls
  • Printing
  • Mailing supplies and postage
  • Deposits for hotel, caterer, keepsakes, and tours
  • Registration supplies
  • Awards and prizes
  • Entertainers
  • Picnic supplies
  • Rentals (tables, chairs, etc.)
  • Decorations and flowers
  • Daily food expenses
  • Photographer and/or film
  • Tips/gratuities
  • Taxes
  • Post-reunion mailing

Create a budget committee to help research all these expenses and make sure to keep track of every dime that comes and goes.

Q. What fund-raising ideas can help us raise the money we need for field trips, a banquet, and other "extras"?

A. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Hold a 50/50 raffle, in which the winner takes half the proceeds and the reunion takes the other half. You might also ask family business owners to donate some prizes to raffle off.

2. Sell or raffle off goods and services (e.g., homemade crafts, baked goods, jams and preserves, or a free dental visit with cousin Mark, a massage by Aunt Marge, babysitting, etc.).

3. Sell T-shirts, hats, and other keepsakes. To minimize cost, take orders before the reunion.

4. Auction off a family quilt. Each member prepares one square with a design significant to his/her family. Some quilts can raise hundreds or even thousands of dollars. (Note: This activity may require about eight to 10 months of advance planning.)

5. Create a family cookbook, memory book, book of family genealogy, oral history tape, etc., in advance and sell it at the reunion.

Q. We've planned a lengthy presentation about our family history. How can we keep all the toddlers occupied while their parents delve into family roots?

A. Enlist a few preteens from your clan to baby-sit the younger children on a rotating basis (e.g., half-hour stints). You can even arrange to pay them a nominal fee. Keep the children nearby (in an adjoining room) and provide plenty of toys, books, healthy snacks, diaper-changing gear, bubbles, and games. Check on them occasionally (without being seen, if possible) and have the baby sitters call for you whenever you're needed. (Cell phones come in handy at these times.) For reunions that last more than a day, plan family-history discussions for nighttime, when children are in bed. Hire baby sitters (either family members or a baby-sitting service) to stay with them and contact you with any problems.

Q. We want our teenagers to feel part of the reunion. Any suggestions?

A. Teenagers might seem bored by the prospect of spending a whole weekend with relatives they hardly know, but there are plenty of opportunities to make them feel needed and involved. First, provide them with jobs, such as stuffing and stamping envelopes, assembling reunion packets, making signs and banners, decorating rooms, selling T-shirts, and acting as waiters.

Choose a site with lots of activities for the younger set (e.g., tennis, swimming, amusement-park rides, bicycling, bowling, etc.). Make sure you plan the reunion with a variety of multigenerational mixers, so young and old get to know each other. Sports, dancing, relay races, family storytelling, talent shows, and nature walks are great ways to break the ice. Don't expect teenagers to baby-sit, especially for long periods. (Ten- to 13-year-olds might be more willing.) Plan baby-sitting in advance and hire professional baby sitters from outside the family if you have to.

Finally, keep teenagers involved in discussions of family history. Some families create games like Jeopardy, Trivial Pursuit, or Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, based on their family history. A good resource is the book Fun and Games for Family Gatherings by Adrienne Anderson (Reunion Research, 1996).

You could also have older kids create a video of the reunion or take photographs. Some teachers might be willing to give extra credit to teens who interview family members and write essays about their past.

Q. How can I encourage certain family members who might feel like "outsiders" (for example, singles, relatives without kids, widows) to attend?

A. Involve them in planning the reunion from the start. Working on committees can break the ice and strengthen bonds before the reunion begins. At the reunion, help them get involved in activities that suit them (e.g., special talents such as music or crafts; keeping track of family history; entertaining young children, etc.).

Q. My husband says he hates reunions. How can I make this fun for him?

A. Very often, relatives who marry into the fold would rather walk on hot coals than spend a weekend making small talk with Aunt Inga and Uncle Jack. Here are a few ways to save the day(s):

  • Don't expect him to come to every planned event; let him have some time alone, away from the fray.
  • Resist chatting about old times and telling "inside" jokes without involving your spouse.
  • Include reunion activities that your husband may enjoy (e.g., swimming, golf, fishing, sports).
  • Ask him to get together with other "in-laws" to stage a roast -- or toast -- for the family (e.g., "The top 10 reasons we married into the White family are ...").
  • Don't expect him to remember everyone's name or relationship.
  • Don't volunteer him to do various chores without asking him first.
  • And most of all, make him feel loved, wanted, and part of the family.


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