As the days grow warmer, our minds turn to one of those harbingers of summer: family reunions. As much fun as old-auntie kisses are, planning a family get-together is no walk in the park, even if the event is held in one.
Whether you’re in charge of a picnic for a few cousins or a week-long vacation with the entire clan, we have some tips to make the planning less daunting and the connections more fun.
Write It Down
Save yourself a headache, stress and maybe even some money: jot down what you know. It’s okay if all details aren’t planned. After all, we don’t need to know right away whether there will be a sack race for the kiddos at 2:30 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Start with the basics. Break each day into meals and broad time slots: breakfast, morning (travel), lunch (on own), afternoon (family activities), dinner (potluck), evening (family photos). As you get closer to the event, you’ll likely have a couple of different written plans: one that you can share with the family when you send out the invitations; one that is more of a planning/resourcing document; a third that serves as a communications outline.
Here’s an example of information you may want to track:
Create a Budget
A budget determines what type of space you can rent for the event. (Even park shelters often have fees.) Food is always a cost. Create a “per person” budget so that Cousin Sam’s family of seven doesn’t pay the same as Grandma. Determine early on, too, how you will gather the money and who is responsible for tracking down those who haven’t paid yet.
Gather the Addresses
Ask for both email and snail mail addresses. While most people communicate via email, remember great-aunt Maggie may not. Use something like Google sheets so you can easily share updates with the group (and EVERYONE can update their Christmas lists). Ask family members to update their own contact information and to pass along to anybody who might not be on your contact list. List families by household and double-check that cousin Sally isn’t listed twice – at her childhood home and her new SoHo flat.
Venue and Accommodations
Your venues and accommodations largely will be determined by your budget, but you should also think about your audience. Special accommodations may be needed if there are babies, toddlers, or family members who are visually impaired or use a wheelchair.
Check out the site prior to the event. Will it accommodate the whole group if it rains? Is there a severe weather shelter nearby? Does the site have everything you need: electricity, tables, chairs, projector or screen, full kitchen, stocked bathrooms? Nothing’s worse than expecting 125 people and realizing you were supposed to bring your own TP.
If you opt for a hotel, ask for a discount rate for room nights. Even if your plan is as simple as setting up tents on Uncle Bruce’s lawn, ask questions. Is there a septic system that people should avoid driving over?
In your first announcement, be sure to provide the basics: dates, location (include the address!), accommodations, and any upfront fees or shared costs. As the event gets closer, update attendees with details about activities and what everyone needs to bring. Swimsuits? A dish for sharing? Additional cash for the latest edition of the family genealogy book or a regional tour?
Your last communication prior to the event should contain the schedule of events. It will include a simple layout of the hours and day/s and where activities will be held. This schedule is a kindness for all involved.
Keep messages simple and avoid long-winded updates about Aunt Lena’s gout flair-up or the not-so-recent discovery of great-grandpa’s third wife Anna’s missing china in Aunt Mildred’s collection.
Tips: Suggest a family hashtag so you can aggregate images on social media during and after the event. Also keep each email heading similar so people can find it easily, e.g. Jaaten Larson Reunion: Accommodations and Jaaten Larson Family Reunion: Graveyard Tour.
Activities are a great way to encourage interaction among family members who don’t know each other well. Assign teams (mix by ages and families) to play yard Olympics: bag toss, ladder golf, bocce ball, Klub, washer toss. Create clues for a medallion hunt.
If it’s a large group, use nametags. You all may be related, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everybody knows each other. (And think about it: the young ones in your group think anyone over 25 looks the same.) Color coordinate nametags for each branch of the family tree. Bonus points if you can get everyone to wear a nametag every single day.
Roles and Jobs
You don’t have to do this alone even if you are a prized control freak. Outline jobs for others to take on. Give family members a chance to choose how they want to help. If you are specifically asking people, don’t ask one person to do all the like activities, such as kitchen clean-up, recycling, photography. Ask Sandy to take photos in the morning and Mark in the afternoon. Split up families to prep meals so they can get to know each other.
Enjoy the Moments
Once the event is underway, stick to the schedule shared prior to the reunion. Everyone will thank you. Be sure to take some leisure time for yourself. After all, it’s your family reunion, too.
Your partners in leadership.