How do we plan a high school reunion without having to put large amounts of our own money into the budget?
May 12, 2009 8:34 AM   Subscribe

How do we plan a high school reunion without having to put large amounts of our own money into the budget?

A classmate and myself recently agreed to plan our 10-year high school reunion. It seemed like a good idea at the time. We're both enthusiastic and have lots of good ideas, but our plans stalled out when it hit us that this isn't the kind of event that has a budget that we can just draw from.

There is no money, no alumni foundation to support us and the school can't offer anything except use of the gym. Neither of us feel comfortable fronting large amounts of money, but we don't exactly know what kind of plans can be made without dropping large deposits ahead of time. What to do?

A few reunion details:
-We live in a small city in a rural area. There is not a lot to choose from as far as dining and recreation options. Our ideal event weekend would include a Friday night adults-only "social hour" event with party food, adult beverages, a presentation and mingling. For Saturday, we would book a city park, provide lunch and have activities for both kids and adults.
-Our class is very small. We graduated with approximately 34 people, and after counting who all would probably arrive as couples and singles, we estimate about 60 people attending.
-This will be a late summer event, so we need to make solid plans as soon as possible.
-When we checked with classes that graduated a few years prior to us, we learned that none of them had actually had reunions, so no help there.

My co-planner is very budget-minded, good with money and has lots of great ideas on how we can make this event as reasonably-priced as possible. The park would be free and we found ways to ensure that the Saturday lunch would cost very little. It's the more formal event on Friday night that is problematic, as well as some of the side items that will cost money - invitations, programs, decorations, etc.

So, have you ever planned a high school reunion? How did you do it? Should we just suck it up, eat the deposits and costs ahead of time and then sell tickets as early as is reasonable? Is it reasonable to ask banquet halls or party rooms about having our attendees pay at the door?

I can't help but think that we're not the only people who have been caught in this situation before, so hopefully AskMe can come to our aid! Any tips on how we can best do this would be very helpful, as well as any reunion planning tips you might have. Thanks in advance!
posted by bristolcat to Work & Money (10 answers total)
If you plan it in a place where you have low upfront costs (e.g. a restaurant) and you tell people that their rsvp means they will have a place reserved, you will not lose any or much money. If you plan in a park, someone will have to pay for the food upfront, you hope that enough people turn up, that you have enough food, etc. etc.

I would be surprised if as many people turn up as you expect, so this seems like a good option.

Decorations, invitations, programs (programs?) - these will complicate things. I can't imagine it will be fun getting the money out of people for this either! Do you really need these things? What about alternatives like e-mail invites, and an after-party photo flickr set or website?
posted by devnull at 8:42 AM on May 12, 2009

Now, I've never planned a reunion, but two ideas pop immediately to mind. First, skip the invitations, programs, and other printed stuff. Set up a website to track RSVPs, and perhaps a Paypal account to accept the charges. Second, rather than doing the Friday night event at a banquet hall or party room, which would then require catering of some variety, why not talk to the restaurants in your small town. Perhaps you can reserve a room, and then set and pay for an hors d'oeuvres menu once your RSVP and payment deadline has passed. See if you can set up a deal with the restaurant to either do a cash bar, or a fee per attendee for open bar access, which would then be included in their reservation payment.
posted by amelioration at 8:42 AM on May 12, 2009

In my experience, High School reunions are usually planned around thanksgiving weekend because that's when the greatest number are most likely to be in their hometown. If you do it late summer, then people have to make a special trip and attendance will be lower. I'd start by gathering emails, and getting a conversation started online to get a sense of people's interest. With such a small class - it might be enough just to say come out to X bar on Y night.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:43 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Local sponsorship? In our area, pretty much everything to do with the school was sponsored by local businesses.
posted by puckish at 8:44 AM on May 12, 2009

Response by poster: Good ideas so far! Thank you! The website really does sound like a good alternative.

I would like to specify that we have a group on Facebook with about 80% of the class active on it. We've been in touch with the entire class, save one, and have most of them confirming that they are interested in coming and that our date will work, so our numbers are at least fairly solid. Also, it was unanimous to have the event in the summer, as many of them have other commitments for Thanksgiving. And really, if you're coming home to South Dakota, it's way more fun in the summer!

I do have a question - it was assumed that a restaurant would require a deposit to reserve a room. Is this not usually the case? The place that we have been most interested in is a restaurant and they do require a fee to hold our date. They have been slow to get back to us, so I cannot say for sure what this fee is but I heard from someone else that it was several hundred dollars.
posted by bristolcat at 8:56 AM on May 12, 2009

A friend and I did this last year (with her doing most of the actual work, admittedly), and we decided on a guesstimated per-person cost and charged by PayPal very early on. That way there was some latitude to make concrete plans, and we decided that if our estimated cost was too much we would donate the overage to our alma mater.

There were still some expenses that we took a risk on, but having money trickle in through PayPal was a reassuring, and it made things dead simple (rather than collecting at the door...a nightmare financially AND due to the fact that you or your friend will have to forego the festivities in order to work the doors!).

We also felt that if people committed with their hard cash, they'd be more likely to show up than if they'd just expressed good intentions on FaceBook.

We paid for a room rental at the local ski hill, and of course the food, but there were lots of fun and free activities we found to keep people entertained: a slide show of pictures from our school days (collected via the FaceBook group leading up to the event), badminton and horseshoes in the field, a trivia contest with donated prizes, a 1990s soundtrack played on the venue's sound-system, and one of our old teachers as MC. There's a lot you can do with very little cash!

Good luck :)
posted by Pomo at 9:21 AM on May 12, 2009

Have you tried asking your FB group for donations? Perhaps donations to later be credited back against the ticket price of the event?

Otherwise, do enough research to figure out a ballpark on how much the event will cost with your group, and start selling your tickets now. Add some to the expected cost to cover the unexpected costs, and plan to donate any overage money to charity -- perhaps your alma mater needs new textbooks or band uniforms or something.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:31 AM on May 12, 2009

Set up a website to track RSVPs,

I helped my father do his 40th reunion this past fall, and we had great success using PBWiki for this - we set up a main page with the reunion information, but then were able to track RSVPs and missing classmates this way too. It sounds like you've got a good head start doing the Facebook group, but we went with PBWiki because it was free.

And something else we found good success with was the slide show mentioned by Pomo too - we scanned in the yearbook pictures as "then" slides and had people submit "now" pictures, as well as any other "then" photos they wanted to send. All that it cost us was labor, and the place we had it at provided the screen and the PC projector. We did it in Powerpoint on a personal laptop, and after the reunion there was so much demand for a copy of the presentation that they sold CD versions of it for $5 - which was a nice deposit for their next reunion account. People who weren't able to make it wanted copies too - and I think it went over bigger than a program/brochure done for just that evening anyway.
posted by librarianamy at 9:34 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

i have planned a reunion or two for my class. Are there any classmates who still live in town that would be willing to host? That is how we keep costs down for ours. We also forgo the psuedo prom night and don't host fancy get togethers. Really, my girlfriends would rather go by some great jeans and great stilletos than a cocktail dress. Then you can serve mexican or do a shrimp boil and everyone is comfortable.

I don't see anything wrong with selling tickets ahead of time, so you have a pretty good head count and funds to put down deposits etc.
posted by domino at 2:10 PM on May 12, 2009

Good for you for getting the ball rolling! Your classmates will be so grateful, and the other classes will be envious of yours.

My high school class has had success with selling tickets in advance. Like, starting a few months in advance, and a cutoff a couple of weeks before the event. We never sell tickets at the door.
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:59 PM on May 13, 2009

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