|by Edith Wagner|
During reunion season I'm often asked for my four or five most important tips. At the top of the list is this: never organize a reunion alone. There are plenty of stories about successful reunions organized by one person, but that's a lot of work and rather unfair. It can also be a good precursor to burnout.
You're organizing a family reunion which means, of course, that others must be willing to help. Often you may have to ask but, frankly, that's how most volunteers start anyway...by being asked. In some instances, others understand immediately what you're getting at and volunteer. The smart ones will volunteer for things they love to do and happily relieve you of those responsibilities. It's the ones who need to be cajoled, begged or urged to contribute who are more difficult.Speaking of contributions, there are those who truly have no time to volunteer before the reunion. They have two lovely alternatives. The first is to contribute cash to help defray your pre-reunion expenses. If potential contributors ask what needs to be paid for, you can cite phone calls, postage, printing, and deposits. The other alternative for these people is to volunteer at the reunion itself. Can they help with games for the kids? Take photos? Serve food? And don't forget that cleanup always goes much faster with committed volunteers.
Interest, enthusiasm and "ownership" of the reunion grows with each volunteer you recruit. Don't be afraid to delegate whenever necessary.
What Can Volunteers Do?
Spend no money on services volunteers can perform. Assess members' skills and talents. Examine each need and purchase to determine if there is a volunteer solution. Is a family artist willing to design invitations? Can someone provide and arrange flowers? Would a talented cook help cater a picnic? Or is someone with a computer willing to input and maintain your mailing list? Who wants to get together to kvetsch, gossip and stuff envelopes for mailings?
As reunion organizer, you are the main volunteer share the joy. Make sure many others get in on the action. How do you find volunteers? Ask, beg, demand, cajole, plead. Do whatever it takes to involve others in your success. Mention volunteer service lavishly in your correspondence and newsletter. For example, in the first mailing, ask for help to keep records, do subsequent mailings, produce a program, memory book, family history, cookbook or quilt. In the second mailing include a list of who volunteered to do what and what you still need volunteers to do. In your last mailing when you generate excitement and enthusiasm for the reunion itself, solicit on-site volunteers. And remember, volunteers don't even need to be in the same city. They can stay in touch by phone, fax, mail, and e-mail.
Reunion Committees Need Volunteers
Some volunteers will be members of committees. Committees add to the fun and "ownership" of reunion organizing. They share planning, generate and implement ideas and inspire attendance. These are some committees to consider creating for your reunion team:
Beth Gay, of the Gay Family Reunion in Moultrie, Georgia, offers these additional committee ideas: A Decoration Committee makes the place festive and welcoming. A Signage Committee makes the reunion easy to find. Don't worry about perfect lettering use bright colors and make it large. Use small signs around the reunion. Arrange for a highway sign nearest your meeting place. Consider renting a sign with moveable letters and an arrow pointing the way. A Scrapbook Committee watches local papers for any mention of family members. Ask family in other cities to date and send clippings. Display the always popular family scrapbook at reunions. A "medic" is useful at outdoor events for organizing the first aid kit and there are always special projects locating the nearest phone and emergency numbers.
It takes a dedicated volunteer editor to solicit contributions, provide overall direction and enforce deadlines. Additional volunteers are needed for book design, layout, production and distribution. Most of the work can be adapted to suit volunteer schedules and talents. You will still need volunteers even if you choose instead to contract with a printing company that specializes in cookbooks.
Reunion Day Volunteers
As you approach the Reunion Day(s), review your volunteer plans and requirements. If you can, meet with volunteers or a committee who will work with volunteers before the reunion to review every detail of the program and coordinate tasks. Identify the jobs that will be assigned to volunteers (runners, greeters, kids' games, cooks and food service, and cleanup). If possible, create a job description for each volunteer activity. Form groups of volunteers based on job responsibility, and review with them their job duties. Allow ample time for questions and answers. During your reunion, consider brief, daily meetings to regroup, motivate, and review schedules. Thank volunteers for their help and motivate them to have a great reunion.Engage the most gregarious, outgoing volunteers, perhaps family elders or committee members as a hospitality committee. Some cousins know only a few people (or perhaps no one) at the reunion. A friendly atmosphere and people to talk to will help them have fun. Identify these goodwill ambassadors with bright red vests or special nametags. They can watch for first-timers and introduce them around.
And What About Next Year?There is always business to be done at reunions. Reunion business meetings are a great time to chose the next chairperson and solicit volunteers for the next reunion. The meeting is also a great time to recognize and publicly thank volunteers who helped with the current reunion.
About the Author
Edith Wagner is the editor of Reunions magazine, author of Reunions Workbook and Catalog and The Family Reunion Sourcebook (Lowell House, Los Angeles) in bookstores now. She collects material for this column and Reunions magazine from family reunions and invites you to share your reunion ideas, concerns or questions. You can e-mail Wagner at email@example.com or visit the Reunions magazine Web site. e