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Entries in bay area events (1)

Friday
Apr242015

Considerations for Planning A Great Alumni Event

Post written by Chad Reid, thank you Chad!

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I still remember the day I was asked by my Ohio-based alma mater to volunteer my time to plan regional events in the San Francisco Bay Area. It seemed like a no-brainer: I loved my college experience, I never turn down an opportunity to network, and I had loads of previous event planning experience. Churning out well-attended events in the Bay Area was an easy proposition, I figured.


Well, I was wong.


My first “event” was an unmitigated disaster. I had roped off an entire section of a large restaurant, set up an event sign-in table, had raffle giveaways, table-top decorations galore and an RSVP count that featured a respectable sum of 13 people. However, of those 13 RSVPs, only one showed up on the day of the event. And he showed up halfway through.


What I hadn’t taken into account was the inhibitive start time (9 a.m. because of a basketball game airing on TV, but played three time zones later), and the fact that the game overlapped with a ravenously popular annual San Francisco event. I was doomed from the start, but never even realized.


Here are a few tips to make sure your alumni event planning is a smooth process.


Plan Months, Not Weeks, In Advance

Calendars fill up quickly. Consider two months to be the minimum amount of time to send an invitation for a large-scale alumni event (wine tasting, paid tickets to an event), and six weeks for a smaller gathering (happy hour, game watch party). And make sure to check other events calendars to make sure nothing’s conflicting with your event for the day. Marathons, major sporting events and parades will take the air out of any alumni gathering.


Use an Online Survey to Gather Valuable Feedback

This is really important. Attendees, or invitees who’ve never attended an event, won’t always tell you honest feedback if you ask directly. But an anonymous survey can reveal extremely important insights. Ask open-ended questions, like “What types of events do you like?” or “What would you improve?” I was surprised with my initial results but also thankful to have received honest, often-critical feedback from people whom I’ve been inviting to alumni events. Most surveys are easy to set up, and a lot of them are free.


Send Thoughtful, Individual Follow-up Emails

Even if you go way out of your way to create an event, putting your own volunteer time, money, and stress in to make it happen, consider that everyone who showed up came of their own volition. During an event, take the time to talk to people individually. Thank them for showing up, ask them about themselves and their story. When you get back home, make sure to send them a nice, brief note thanking them for taking the time to show up to the event. It makes them feel special, and makes them far more likely to show up to the next one.


Promote Events on Social Media

Social media isn’t just for the millennials anymore. One thing I’ve learned is that Facebook engagement regarding events is far greater than email. It actually feels like a community, strangely enough. Make sure to post great pictures of any gatherings, ask discussion questions, and occasionally share neat tidbits about the old alma mater. Building a sense of community is key, and it’s never been easier using the social tools at your disposal.


Have you ever planned or attended an event put on by your local alumni chapter? Any tips that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!  


Chad Reid is head of the alumni chapter for the University of Cincinnati in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Director of Communications for JotForm. When he’s not working or planning the next great alumni event, he hangs out with his girlfriend and three cats in Oakland, California.