How to Organize a Class Reunion

How to Organize a Class Reunion

Judith Levy Leipold ’63

With contributions from Rosemary Repeta and other class members

Someone needs to grab the reins and make the decision that you need a reunion. It doesn’t need to be a committee or even a group of friends. Just one person. Be willing to provide your name and contact information. The earlier this step occurs, the more likely your reunion will be well attended and enjoyable.

Announce your intentions. Post the offer to your classmates “Anyone interested in having a reunion?” along with your contact info. Post at SayvilleAlumni.com, FaceBook, Classmates.com, Sayville.com etc.  The bigger your net, the more fish you’ll catch.

Wait and see. Chances are replies will happen. Some people will openly tell you that they want to help. Others will let you know they can’t help, but would like to attend. Respect everyone and be grateful that they have replied at all.

Reply to each and every email or phone call. Be positive, keep it light, even if you didn’t know person while in school or worse, even if the person wasn’t the nicest to you. People grow up, mature, and become adults. You have changed, so have they.

The most important and difficult task in organizing a reunion is tracking down your classmates.  Start with the contact info on SayvilleAlumni.com, and contact everyone listed.  Ask them if they will register on the site (to supply and correct their own contact info) and ask if they will help track down other classmates, via phone, email, postal mail, or other means.  Be sure that you record everything you learn via the Sayville Alumni Amend page. (If you are organizing a reunion for another school, ask if anyone would be willing to create a database of names and contact information.) Of those not able to help, ask if they have contact information of other classmates and if they would be willing to make new contacts?

Create an initial steering committee (SC). Ideally, among the group there will be someone who is willing to keep the ball rolling. This may/may not be the initial person who posed the question. He/she may not have the time or energy to do all the work, but likely could make other contributions. Allow the SC to be flexible. It might start off with 4-5 people, but as classmates become identified, there may be other workers with great skills. Grow as big as you need to.

Begin some private conversations among the SC members: 1) What is the expectation of the reunion?  A fifteenth reunion might take place at a family-oriented park, while a fiftieth reunion might be a sedentary dinner. 2) Pick a choice of 2-3 dates. Summer (vacation time) Fall (football season), Spring (friendly weather). These dates need to be good for all SC members.

Most likely the reunion will take place in your hometown or the town where the school is located. However, there may be other options. If the 50th reunion was celebrated in the home town in NY, it is feasible that a 55th might be a cruise originating from Florida.

Post choices of dates and venues to everyone and allow the group to decide. Once a date and location is chosen, the fun begins.
If the reunion will take place in a town near the school, plan for a meeting to take place there. The planning session (PS) could take place during a Homecoming Weekend with the reunion to follow that Spring, or even following year. The purpose of this PS is multi-leveled in that it is an opportunity for the SC to work together, become friends while visiting venues and meeting with former classmates who remained local. Having local representatives on the SC will help attend to details face to face.

Before the first PS takes place, do some homework. Make a list of all your criteria. Scenic, playground, food/ liquor availability, etc. Research 5-6 possible venues. Find out which ones meet your criteria, and availability. Put budget on the back burner for just a bit. Make appointments with each venue to meet with during the day/weekend of the PS. If money is the key factor, consider a less expensive venue: a public park, a beach, someone’s home. The main function of the reunion is to gather and enjoy each other’s company. It doesn’t have to be a gala to be successful.

In choosing a venue, emphasize the ability to visit from table to table and have places for private conversations.  Also, a band or a DJ or even gentle background music can be a distraction from the main purpose of conversation.

A chart is handy with name of venue/contact person/telephone number. Also list all the criteria and cost per person.

During venue visits, discuss your vision with the representative to see how they can accommodate you. Discuss the price per person. Ask if that cost pp include tax, and gratuity. Discuss if there needs to be a minimum amount of people at that price and what is the charge for not meeting the minimum amount of people. Discuss menu options and the cost of an open bar vs. cash bar. Discuss the prices of wine, beer, and mixed drinks. Don’t forget to tour the entire facility and to check out the rest rooms.

Compare and contrast the advantages of one venue over another. Eliminate those who fall below expectations. Pick the top three. In your top three, compare physical surroundings, food/beverage quality, budget, and the ability of the venue to carry out your vision. Eliminate one venue. Now that the choice is narrowed to two options, another meeting, or at least a phone call is in order. Examine the actual contract and go over each aspect. One contract may address something that the other does not. Ask the hard questions now and avoid the ‘small stuff’ later. Sound systems, outdoor spaces, linen options, cost of extra bartenders, valet service, etc. If the price needs to be negotiated now is the time. If the price is non-negotiable, perhaps they would include other perks (valet, and ice cream bar, etc).

Before the contract is to be signed, you should have a good idea on the number of people expected to attend. There are factors that may alter the numbers of those attending. The earlier the invite goes out, the better. People are more likely to attend if they can plan ahead by putting aside money now to cover traveling expenses later.

The Contract. Points to include: Date of event; time of event. How many other events will be occurring at the same time (could affect bathroom availability or presentation of food)? Price per person, menu, beverage options, costs? Is there a minimum amount of people that the contract applies to? What is the penalty for not meeting the minimum? Linen options, colors available? What centerpieces can the venue provide? What time can the decorating committee have access to the room? Is there a sound system? Computer access for slide show/power point? Is there additional charges for these? Valet parking? At the time of signing expect to make a deposit to reserve the facility. Options for covering the initial deposit ($500-1,000) could be paid by members of the SC who are willing to share this. Realize that not everyone may be able to do this. Respect all and keep it simple.

Decide among your SC members how big you want to go. While the dinner event at the chosen venue may be the main event, it need not be the only event. If people are going to travel great distances, or it has been forty years or more since everyone has seen one another, it is a good idea to offer additional events. If it has only been ten years and most people have stayed in touch or remain local, then dinner is sufficient. Other activities may include: meeting for lunch at a favorite teen hangout, attending your school’s football game, touring your high school with a pizza party in the cafeteria, having a gathering in a classmates yard/home, having a farewell brunch the morning after the reunion.

Establish different ways to communicate with classmates. A newsletter or website is ideal. Facebook and social media is another option. At the very least, establish a database of names of everyone, and communicate often by email. Begin to advertise the date and venue.
Establish the price for tickets (this is dependent on the venue contract). Figure out the actual cost per person (including meals, gratuities, taxes or additional expenses). Realize this is your minimum and will not cover additional and expected expenses of hiring a photographer,or a disc jockey. Money may also be needed to set aside for decorations, flowers, postage, printing of eventual tickets, maps, itineraries. If the price per person for the venue is $40.00, then your ticket sales could begin at $65 or higher. Be sure the price is affordable so that the majority can attend.

The Treasurer: This person has the responsibility in setting up a bank account that will receive and expend all monies. Some likely duties:
Decide with SC which bank will be used. May be best to use one with multi-state branches. Local bank may give better rates so they are worth looking into.

Make initial deposit of what bank requires. Probably $50 or $100. Someone can front the money to be paid back as funds build up, or it can go toward the price of their dinner ticket.

Bank will order checks and endorsement stamp. May need to be in someone’s name with “doing business as” XYZ Reunion committee.
When you design reservation form, include area for email address, phone #. This information can be added to data base as reservations come in.

Verify that info on reservation form is same as that on database.

As checks come in, either scan to a file or make copies so you have a record.
Indicate on reverse of deposit slip, the name and amount of funds for each listed depositor.
In check register, indicate below each entry, the names of those whose funds are being deposited.

Deposit checks weekly.

Reconcile bank statement and register monthly.

As checks come in, add name of classmates and guests to list of attendees.
Weekly advise SC of names and number of reservations received.
Note on all invoices, the check number, date and whether mailed or paid in person.
Should any difficult question be presented, consult SC for their thoughts.
Among the SC members, establish a calendar for when tickets sales can begin (this is dependent on the treasurer and when they are comfortable receiving money). Consider a promotion of ‘early bird’ ticket sales (using the above example to begin at $65) for the first 3 months. Tickets sold closer to the event date may be $80. Also, establish a policy for cancellations. If cancellations affect meeting your minimum required by your venue’s contract, then total refunds may not be possible.

Photos. During the planning phase, it could be useful to create a class photo album, and add photos as they come in.  The Class of 63 did this here.  With a laptop and projector, you can let a slideshow of these photos run non-stop at the reunion dinner.
Mementos.  Consider the reunion dinner as an opportunity to display mementos, such as gym uniforms, football jerseys, diplomas, or other keepsakes that you can borrow for the event.

Document.  If your SC includes someone who is comfortable writing, the planning events can be documented, and stories contributed by classmates can be collected.

Newsletter. You might want to generate a newsletter to help build excitement about the reunion, to provide details on plans, etc.  There are many fabulous High School Alumni Newsletters out there which can serve as models.  You can distribute the newsletter as an attachment to email, print it and mail it to those for whom you don’t have email addresses, and post its content on your web site. To do a newsletter right, you’ll need someone with good reporting/note-taking/interviewing/writing skills — an editor who will be able to create and nicely present original content.  Some tools for the job:

Microsoft Office Publisher: If you have Office, you have Publisher. Building off experience with the Office product facilitates the use of similar functions within publisher. Publisher allows you to produce a PDF format of your newsletter, as well as a format that can be used by a commercial printer, if you are inclined to publish a class reunion yearbook.

Foxit Reader: Our newsletter editor likesFoxit PDF reader afor its ease of use and functionality. As with Adobe reader, Foxit reader is free to download. It also allows you to select photos or text within a PDF and place it in your newsletter.

Windows Movie Maker: Our Editor used Movie Maker for slide shows with music. This program claims to be able to produce a DVD but he was never able to accomplish that. Instead, he saved the slide show in computer format and used ConvertX to DVD4 to write the DVD.
ConvertX to DVD4: This program is also available free on the Internet and allows you to reformat files to DVD play-ready programs.
As a summary, if you have Microsoft Windows and Office you are well on your way to publishing your newsletter. Our Editor found it convenient to create a Reunion folder containing sub folders for pictures, music, newsletters, slide shows, and Email list. He didn’t use the email function available with Publisher, but instead created a group within my email provider and used it to send newsletters in PDF format as an attachment. Most email providers limit your attachments to 25mg, but he never went over 11mg.

Web Site.  If you have someone handy with web sites, you can create a web site like we did at Sayville63.com.  That site uses WordPress and assorted plugins, including Akismet, FD Footnotes, Google Analyticator, gtrans, JQuery Mega Menu, Quick Cache, and Ultimate TinyMCE.  Try to coordinate the web site with the newsletter.