This past weekend was my 20th class reunion. I took the lead on the event this time round. I was also the leadership for our 15 year reunion planning committee. Along the way I learned some “best practices” for reunion planning. The 20 year was considerably easier to plan since we had learned a great deal of the ins and outs from planning the 15th.
Top 10 Tips for Planning a Class Reunion
1. Use an Event Planning Site
We used two different event planning sites. One for the 15 year reunion and another for the 20. The one I highly recommend was the one we used for the 20. It was EventBrite: https://www.eventbrite.com. This site is great because you can provide all the event details, people can purchase tickets right on the site, their fees are reasonable, they provide spreadsheet downloads for the event admin of the tickets purchased, and the site is very user friendly. I am so happy we used this site, as it made my life much easier and less complicated.
2. Make it Affordable
I come from a small town but our high school wasn’t that small, as our graduating classes are close to 400 each year. Being a small town in the Midwest we have lots of people who still live and work there. When we first began planning the 15 year reunion there were some on the planning committee (including me) who wanted to make the event more fancy and upscale. We wanted to do a catered dinner at the local art’s center which is a beautiful old venue. Unfortunately, we realized the costs for tickets would probably reach $75 per person or more. There were some wise people on our committee who pointed out that our numbers for attendance will be low if we chose to go this route. Not everyone can afford to spend that much ($150 per couple) for a night out. Even if they can afford it, do they want to spend that kind of money for a class reunion?
We decided to go with a venue that does weddings and banquets at a reasonable cost. It is a more casual atmosphere, but it can be dressed up too. Our tickets ended up being $25 each for our recent 20 year reunion. This price made it much easier for people to attend as it is a price that people can swallow. That price included cost for the venue, DJ, Photo booth, 1 drink per ticket, and a cocktail/appetizer buffet. We did have dessert sponsored as well as the DJ and photo booth cost supplemented by two graduates who had local businesses. They were able to put out information and advertisements about their businesses on the front table and were thanked during announcements too. It was a win-win proposition!
Keep in mind that last minute expenses may come up, so allow for some cushion in the ticket price. For example if you can figure out the total cost per head to be $22 or $23 a head and you are charging $25 a head you will have some additional money on hand for service charges that you forgot to factor in, decorations, and name tags. If you have 100 ticket buyers and your total is $23 per head and you charge $25 that gives you an extra $200 cushion. Trust me, you will need it. If you have any extra the day of the event you can always head to the dollar tree for additional decor such as balloons and candles. Be sure to save some to tip the DJ or anyone not included in the gratuity from the venue.
3. Use Social Media to Promote
We are very lucky to live in this era where the majority of people are on social media. It is easy to create a Facebook group for your graduating class. Allow the settings so that the group is public and anyone can add people. Just be sure to set it so that the admin has to approve any adds to the group. Doing the settings in this manner allows people to easily find the group and also easily add fellow classmates. Which means less work for those planning the event!
We did not mail out invites to our reunion. Instead we relied on the power of social media. It worked well for our class. Classmates were encouraged to reach out to their classmates that were not on Facebook, who they had been in contact with in recent years.
4. Contact People Personally
Our class had well over 200 of our classmates on Facebook and within our group page. Our planning committee divided up the list of classmates alphabetically. We were each then responsible for contacting the people on our portion of the list. Again, the primary form of contact was through Facebook as we do not have a class list with addresses, phone numbers, or even email addresses.
When a person is contacted personally they are more likely to consider attending. When the invite is put out to an entire class, it just doesn’t feel personal. A personal message to each person in the entire class from one classmate to another is the best way to make sure everyone is included and feels welcomed. Even more so they feel wanted. Why attend an event unless you feel that you are wanted there? Make everyone feel wanted by making sure they are personally contacted and the message is not just addressed impersonally such as “to whom it may concern”. Use their name, ask them about their life, comment on something you have in common such as something you have seen on their Facebook page. Find a connection between you and your classmates. Not only will you find that people are more likely to engage via Facebook when you approach them in this personal manner, they are also more likely to consider attending the event. We all want personal connection and to feel wanted. That is part of the planning committee’s duty to make this happen for your fellow classmates.
5. Have an Evening Program of Some Sort
Plan for someone to say something during the night. My friend Molly was the emcee for our reunion. We had a pre-planned program. It included a welcome, some tips for enjoying the evening, a tribute to each of our classmates that had passed away, and a short award program. The awards were just 8 total and included neat things such as who traveled furthest to attend the reunion, who had been married the longest, who served in the military the longest, who now lived closest to the high school, and more. The winners were each given an extra drink ticket for that evening. It made the night a little more fun and interesting.
I had been to previous reunions when nobody spoke for the group. There was no welcome. There were no announcements. We arrived, mingled, ate, drank, and left. It feels a little more “official” when there is a program of some kind (even if it is just 5-10 minutes). Short is good. Making people feel welcome and part of the group there, is what the emcee should do to start the evening out.
6. Use a Committee to Plan the Event
Organize a group of volunteers to coordinate and plan the event. Again, do this a year in advance, so you can actually plan and get a decent venue. We simply put out a request within our Facebook group asking who would like to volunteer to help with the event. We then created a separate Facebookngroip for these 7 people who were planning the reunion. It made communications and updates very easy. We also did a few group phone conference calls throughout the year to divide and conquer the task of planning everything.
7. Plan Fun into the Event!
When there is something more than just food planned for the event, it creates opportunities for fun and more interaction. We had a photo booth and DJ at our recent reunion. Both helped to make the event a whole lot more fun and festive!
8. Do a Slide Show
Have one person on the committee organize a slide show of memories from high school. That person can post within the Facebook group that people can send photos to them for the purpose of including in the slide show. We did this for our 15 year reunion and we received over 300 photos total from various classmates. We were able to use that batch of photos for a new slide show for our 20th reunion as well.
Our venue had a screen and projector for us to use. Our classmate from the planning committee (Kaia) was in charge of preparing the slide show and she brought her computer to the event so it could be played via the projector. We just kept playing it throughout the night repeatedly so everyone had a chance to see the photos. It created some great conversations as memories pooped up on the screen. Prom, musicals, school plays, football games, cheer team memories, hallway shenanigans, and so much more were up on the screen for everyone to see. Doing a slide show really brings you back to those high school years- in a good way as they are happy memories being featured.
9. Recruit People to Bring Memory Items
Ask your classmates if they have yearbooks, play bills, jerseys, old gym uniforms, graduation ceremony papers, or anything that willl help bring floods of memories back from high school. Put this request out in either the EventBrite invite or via the Facebook group. Doing it via Facebook is helpful because it can start a conversation between classmates about what they saved and the memories attached. Ask classmates to bring these items (with their name on them) to the reunion. Have a table set up where you can set out these items. This was done at our 15 year reunion and it was awesome! The item that got the most talk was the hand made middle school gym uniform that one of the girls from our class still had in her possession. It’s amazing how such a tacky outfit can make people reminisce and laugh so much!
10. Begin Planning a Year in Advance
Start early. You may think there are people planning the event, but you don’t know unless it’s put out there and asked. For our 15 year reunion our class didn’t realize that nobody was coordinating anything until it was almost too late. The whole event was coordinated in less than 4 months. Because planning got started so late there was absolutely nothing available for the summer months and it was too late to plan anything that soon. We ended up with a September event on a Friday night because availability for locations and dates was slim pickings. We were lucky to find anyplace at all on a weekend night! The earlier you start the more likely you are to get the venue you want. You don’t have to do the bulk of the work until 6 months before the event happens. However booking the venue and having a committee in place should happen at least a year in advance. Our 15 year reunion was a lot crazier to plan because of the short time frame. The twenty year fell much more easily into place as we had multiple dates to chose from for the venue we wanted. We also had ample time to divide the work, check in with one another on progress of the work, and it all eventually got done. Begin planning earlier to make your own life easier in the long run!