How to organize a family reunion – and keep the peace

05/17/2014 12:00 AM

05/12/2014 2:13 PM

Uncle Doug hates the heat, Cousin Sue won’t eat meat, and aunties Dolly and Polly refuse to participate in any outdoor activities. Yet despite all the various opinions (and ultimatums), everyone wants a family reunion. With so many personalities spread over so many places, how can one possibly organize a family reunion that pleases and appeases the masses? Whether your family closely resembles the Clampetts or the Kardashians, or a bit of both, there are plenty of options to keep family having fun, instead of ready to run.

We are family

Family reunion organization, priority number one: Create a team. “Planning a family reunion can be a full-time job for one person,” said Greg Jenkins, Partner in Bravo Productions ( ). More than one organizer allows for an opportunity to divide and conquer. “A couple working together, for example, can split the duties of working on venue, location, food and beverage, and lodging accommodations,” Jenkins said.

Begin with a headcount. The number of people interested in attending the reunion will dictate the appropriate venue and location. “If you have 200 attendees over a weekend,” Jenkins said, “you’ll need to assess adequate space and accommodations to properly handle the event’s requirements.”

Jenkins advises developing a timeline to ensure that all tasks are accomplished in a timely manner and to prevent last-minute improvisations that may lead to over spending and added stress.

Hot in here

Before locking in a family-reunion location, peruse a calendar. Not only will the time of year determine family-member availability, it can also affect weather.

“Review the average temperatures of the time of year that you plan to host a reunion, including sunrise and sunset times,” Jenkins said. “For example, if you host a family reunion at a public park in the city of Atlanta in August, you will need lots of cold water on site. If you host your family reunion around Thanksgiving in Chicago, there is a chance of major snow storms that might prevent many out-of-town guests from attending.”

Jenkins also cautions planning a family reunion around the holidays. Although many people may have more time off to get away, travel can be pricey, not to mention the added impact of holiday spending.

“Survey your family members before setting the date,” Jenkins said.

Money matters

Once a date and location have been established, it’s time to consider finances. “Develop a line-by-line budget,” Jenkins said. “Include equipment rental, tables, chairs, decorations, catering, entertainment and permit costs. This will provide an idea of the overall cost of the function and the financial responsibility of each person attending the reunion.”

For family members traveling from out of town, secure a group rate from local hotels. “Try to pick lodgings convenient and centrally located to family reunion activities. Arrange for special discounts or coupons at local tourist attractions,” Jenkins said.

In addition to procuring money from relatives at the reunion, the planning team can set up a means of funding prior to the event. is a simple and user-friendly site that enables family members to contribute to the reunion costs. Reunion hosts can suggest a donation amount and guests can pay online.

That’s entertainment

When considering entertainment, take stock of your audience. “Most family reunions are ‘family friendly,’” Jenkins said. “To this end, activities should be structured in a manner that will provide entertaining and fun elements for everyone.”

Beanbag tosses, sand volleyball, badminton and racing games can appeal to a younger crowd, and chess, checkers, crafts and cooking/baking contests to a mature audience. Sharing family photographs is often a favorite at family reunions. Encourage every generation to bring pictures to the event., a photo digitization service, offers packages in which up to 1,800 photos can be scanned, printed and shipped. In addition to vintage and nostalgic pictures, attendees can capture and scan snapshots from the reunion itself. Depending on the package, family members can order a prepaid box of scanned photos to ship home.

So long, farewell

If money and resources permit, provide welcome bags for guests. Include snacks, beverages, a local map and an itinerary of reunion events. Providing forgettable items like bug spray, sunscreen and other small amenities can be a nice gesture for wayward travelers. For a unique parting gift, provide each family with “Genealogy in a Jar” – a Mason jar decorated with a family print and filled with copies of family group records, census records, and more (inspired by

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