Your first step is to get help. Yes, you’re the planner, which means you can elicit and delegate help. Invite those you think will get just as excited as you, those who are responsible enough to carry out their commitments, and some creative types who will have fun ideas. Then plan one or two meetings and before your first, email as many families as possible to get feedback on dates.
At your first meeting, hand out contact information so you can all keep in touch. As a group you’ll need to decide a few preliminary items: Who’s invited, the date(s), your budget, a theme, and the type of reunion, which will probably determine the location. Once these are established, the rest will come together easily.
Type and Location
The type of reunion will depend on how many people you’re inviting. An afternoon barbeque in the backyard or at a park is a simple, fairly inexpensive option and can work for a few families or the whole gang. A ranch or cabin can accommodate as many as can bring tents or RVs. Or you can take those tents to a campground or state park. For a theme park visit you don’t have to come up with the activities and everyone just makes their own reservation at a designated hotel. Cruises work the same way, your meals are included, and you don’t have to clean up.
A theme is a great idea not only because it ties everything together, but because most of the other decisions you have to make (e.g. food, accommodations, activities) will be a given.
Luau! Perfect if you want to bring everyone out to the beach or even just a hotel swimming pool. Decorate with tiki torches, leis, and tropical flowers. Bring in Kalua pork, coconut shrimp, tropical fruits, and shaved ice for meals. And see if you can find someone who can teach the entire family the hula.
Yee-Haw! A western theme means easy barbeque and Dutch oven recipes, horseback riding, a rodeo, and cowboy hats. This is an ideal fit for a ranch or cabin. For a big bang the last night, have a dance and bring in a square dance caller (or learn to do it yourself).
Chips, salsa, nachos, tacos, enchiladas, huevos racheros, horchata . . . coming up with food options for this reunion won’t be too much of a problem. Smash a few piñatas and decorate with sombreros and strung lights.
Go with your roots.
Plan the theme around your ancestral country. Ireland, Germany, England, Russia, Japan, wherever! Find a cookbook for recipe ideas or ask a missionary who served there. Stop in at your local library; any book on the country’s culture will give you ideas for decorations and maybe even activities.
Assign one person to track down all addresses (enlist help for this) and get out invitations as soon as possible. Have them use the theme in the invitations and include the dates, the place, and as much information on accommodations as you can give them. This might not be much if you still need to make reservations, but you can always follow up with emails or another detailed reminder.
The important thing is to let families know the dates and the type of reunion so they can set aside that weekend and start saving.
You’ll need to put together a budget for the reunion that includes every little thing you can think of, right down to the little umbrellas you want to put in the drinks. Designate a treasurer and let each member of your planning committee know the budget of what he or she is in charge of (the invite person, the food person, the reservations/accommodations person, etc.).
And unless your uncle is Bill Gates, you’ll need to come up with a way to pay for it all. A common way is to charge families an admission fee. In the invitation indicate the set price per person (calculate down for children and senior citizens) and let them know in detail what that price covers. For theme park or cruise reunions, you’ll want to make the reservations all at once so the families can be close together. This means you’ll have to collect funds well in advance, and give families even more time—maybe a year or two—to save up.
If you or the committee ends up having to front some of the funds, consider having an auction or raffle at the reunion to help reimburse. The family members can prepare for and supply some of the auction materials such as baked goods, homemade quilts and crafts, piano lessons, artwork, or any form of service.
Don’t worry too much about activity planning your first meeting. As the agenda comes together you’ll find where you need to put games and other entertainment. Don’t forget to use the resources around your site (horseback riding, boating, fishing, hiking, Splash Mountain, etc.)
Responsibilities of Your Committee
Hopefully you have a handful of responsible, fun people ready to help bring this whole event together. Make sure each knows what he or she is in charge of and what that entails.
The person in charge of the invitations will track down addresses, send out a first invitation, a reminder a month before, and also keep track of RSVPs and a count of guests to give to the reservations person and the food person.
Reservations and Accommodations
This person will be in charge of collecting pricing and availability information on all possible accommodations, reviewing it with the committee, and together choosing the best, and hopefully most inexpensive option. He will work with the treasurer to take care of the deposit and then with the person in charge of food to work out how to use amenities for meals.
The person in charge of food will coordinate all meals. She may need to search out restaurants or banquet rooms, choose menu items, and coordinate the down payment with the treasurer and a head count with the person over invites. For other meals, she needs to plan the menu, make a list of ingredients, choose less expensive ingredients, purchase all the food, and pack it.
If you are having families or groups of relatives cook and clean up different meals, put a list of who cooks which meal in a binder for yourself, along with a typed instruction sheet for each meal that can be given to the family cooking. Each sheet should include who is cooking which meal, what the meal is, and the recipe and instructions. This chair person will also be in charge of letting the families know what they are in charge of.
If there are any potluck meals, the person in charge of food will coordinate the meal and contact each family and let them know what to bring.
The person in charge of clean up should contact families and ask for volunteers to help clean up after the reunion.
The treasurer should have a good grasp on finances and keep a close eye on the budget. He collects funds from families and keeps track of what comes in, what goes out, and who paid for items out-of-pocket. He should be in contact frequently with each committee member and make sure everything is reserved, bought, and paid for timely so there are no late fees.