Family Reunion Planning Guide
Ideas, Tips & Printable Fun for Planning Memorable Family Get-Togethers & Festivities
It's family reunion planning time! Whether you are planning a backyard barbecue for 20 or a family fete' for 500, planning a family reunion can be very rewarding – and also overwhelming, stressful, and time-consuming. We've got your back!
Pro Tip: Check out our ideas for virtual activities at the end of this article to include family members who can't attend in person.
Follow these tips and guidelines to help simplify planning and boost the fun for everyone:
Coordinating the Family Reunion
Every year, somehow the planning of the family reunion lands squarely in your lap. Maybe you really enjoy the planning, or maybe you are guilted into it, "You always do such a great job!" -- "It would fall apart if you didn't plan it!" But just because you are in charge doesn't mean you have to shoulder ALL the responsibility.
Keep your stress levels low this year and organize some help. For a small event, you only need a couple of volunteers to assist with the family reunion planning. For larger family reunions, you need to enlist several family members who will recruit their own volunteers. Be sure to recruit ardent and competent leaders. You don't want someone who will flake, leaving you with their tasks yet to be completed.
As the planner in charge, you will coordinate your family volunteer leaders and make sure everything gets done according to schedule. Here is a suggested list of volunteer leaders you may need for family reunion planning:
- Communications: This person keeps family members informed of plans for the reunion and keeps track of RSVPs by age group
- Food & Refreshments: Whether you are planning a catered event or a potluck you need someone to be in charge of food and drink so you don’t end up with five different versions of grandma’s famous potato salad and no main course!
- Entertainment: This volunteer organizes the photo slideshow, DJ, band, games for both kids and adults, excursions, etc.
- Keepsakes: This person orders swag such as t-shirts, koozies or custom printed hats to memorialize your gathering
For larger reunions, requiring more extensive travel & budget, you may also need volunteers for:
- Finance: In charge of the bank account, managing the budget and making purchases on behalf of the big event
- Lodging: Negotiates group discounts with hotels
- Hospitality: Organizes name tags, agendas, and signage, checks in guests, distributes welcome goodies and t-shirts
Pick a Time and Place
Family Reunion: When & Where
Once you have your volunteers appointed, you need to select a date and location. Give yourself plenty of time to plan and set a date as early as possible. You'll need the time to organize everything and your attending families will need time to make travel arrangements or save money to offset expenses. You may need to find a venue, get things printed, have t-shirts made, etc. For a destination-style reunion you should plan at least a year in advance. Smaller reunions can be planned in just a few weeks.
You will be hard-pressed to choose a time and place that works for everyone, but a good first step to achieve maximum participation is to email questionnaires to family members with multiple reunion types (one day, multi-day, destination), location, and date suggestions. Ask family members to rank the options to find out what works for the majority of those participating. After you've set the date, don’t change it. It won't work for everyone–the best you can do is to choose a date that works for MOST people.
If you have relatives traveling from across the country, make sure you choose a location that has an easily accessible airport. Try to choose a place closer to the biggest contingent of your family, unless everyone agrees to visit a particular destination. Since you're the one organizing the event, remember that you can make a good case for home field advantage – you know your city better than any other place.
- Your backyard (or another family member's)
- A public park, pool or campground
- A hotel, resort, or restaurant
- Church basement
- Airbnb or VRBO (large capacity rental property)
- Event venues used for weddings
- Elk's Club or American Legion Hall
While deciding where you are going to have your reunion, you also need to think about how you are going to feed everyone. If family members are local, a potluck is always a great idea. You can also pick up party trays at a local grocery store deli, hire a caterer, or use a full-service location. (i.e. hotel or restaurant) BONUS: Someone else does all the setup and cleanup!
Pick a Theme
Family Reunion Party Theme
Once you have figured out a time and place, you're ready to set the scene! Keep it simple by selecting a color theme – ask family members to stick with the theme when picking their reunion outfits, making dishes to bring, and creating decorations or treats for the event. Or get even more creative and select a fun theme from a favorite book, movie, era or setting.
Some theme ideas:
- Wild West
- Pirates of the [YOUR LOCATION]
- Decade: 1920s, 1960s, 1980s
- The Olympics
- Medieval Times
- Harry Potter
- Dr. Seuss Characters
- Back to the Future
- Under the Sea
Engage the Troops!
Family Reunion Attendance
You'll need to get a handle on how big your event will be. Create a Facebook Event page for the reunion and then head to SignUp.com and create a SignUp. You can get an idea of how many people are coming and what their general interests are right from the beginning. Can someone organize a picnic? Are there enough local people to help with transportation? Does anyone belong to a pool who would be willing to arrange a group swim? Maybe you have some exercise coaches who would be willing to lead a group hike or exercise class.
Free SignUp sheets will save you time, stress, and energy getting everyone organized and pitching in. Promote the SignUp on the Facebook Event page by posting a link. Have family members sign up online anytime from anywhere. They can leave comments about food allergies, excursion interests, and their t-shirt sizes!
Do the Math
Family Reunion Budget & Expenses
Once you have an idea of how big your reunion is going to be, you'll have an idea of how much help and budget you'll need. Ask for donations to help offset early expenses. Survey the group’s skills and talents using a Volunteer Interest Form by SignUp.com then later prepare additional SignUps covering all your Reunion activities and volunteer jobs. (Pro Tip: Collect money with SignUp.com quickly and easily to cover activity fees, catering and t-shirt/keepsake costs.)
Cost can be the biggest obstacle for attendance. One important thing to remember is the disparity of ages and income levels inherent in any large family gathering. Consider young families who are always strapped for cash, seniors who are living on fixed incomes, and everyone in between. Make your choices with all income levels in mind so that the reunion is affordable for everyone to participate.
Some families collect donations and plan fundraisers to help cover some costs for members who would have a hard time affording the reunion. For more expensive plans, give the family at least 12-18 months to budget and save. Maybe even offer payment plans over the course of the year to help make it more affordable. Just be sure you have someone who is responsible for managing the money that everyone finds trustworthy.
Have a Plan
Family Reunion Schedule & Itinerary
A schedule or itinerary is key, but build in some down time, too. Arrange events that will involve all members together and remember to include time to just sit, talk, reminisce, and be together. Plan kid-friendly entertainment, as well. Provide a selection of kid-favorite activities like corn hole, frisbee, bubbles, chalk, balls, a bounce house and other traditional lawn games. Don't forget to include things that can be played indoors as well, like board games and puzzles. If your family is large and willing, arrange for a softball, volleyball, flag-football or soccer game.
Beyond that, provide lists of other activities in the area such as golf, hiking, swimming, fishing, boating, tourist attractions and shopping. Include maps, contact information and transportation options.
And a Backup Plan
Family Reunion Rain Plan
If your reunion will be outside, be prepared for inclement weather. Either choose a location with an indoor option, like a covered shelter or cabin, or set a rain date and be prepared to make a call before anyone sets out on the road.
Get the Word Out
Family Reunion SignUp
Send invites as early as possible. (Pro Tip: For official invitations, check out our list of our favorite event invitation websites.) Head over to SignUp.com to quickly organize helpers for all of your family reunion needs, from food and drink to paper goods and entertainment. You can build a SignUp in just a few minutes! Invite participants via email or social media and with just a few clicks family members can sign up to bring something or volunteer. Automatic reminders insure you aren't scrambling at the last minute to purchase paper plates for 50.
Activity & Game Ideas
Family Reunion Entertainment
- Set up a cute photo booth and designate a hashtag so family members who couldn't attend can follow along on social media. If a lot of teens and twenty-somethings are attending, ask one to set up a custom event SnapChat filter (to be approved by SnapChat 10-15 days prior to the event).
- Get out the games and learn fun facts about your extended family!
- Need an icebreaker to loosen up recently reunited family members that need to get to know each other? Play Family Reunion: Would You Rather... with everyone and find out something unique you share with your distant and not-so-distant relatives.
- Download and print Family Reunion Trivia for all of your attendees to play together and see who knows the family the best!
- Have a rousing discussion with family that you haven't seen in awhile and play Family Reunion - Get To Know You. You'll learn how similar and different you really are to your in-laws, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.
- Create a playlist with fun, upbeat music that spans generations, but keep the volume low enough so people can still talk and you don't annoy the neighbors.
Fun for Virtual Attendees
Sometimes family members are unable to attend the family reunion in-person – that doesn’t mean they can’t participate virtually! Platforms like Zoom or Skype make setting up video chat easy even for the technologically challenged, and sharing a family video or playing games like Family Reunion Trivia or charades are easily converted into digital activities. Here are 5 more ideas for online family reunion fun!
- Family Member Video Interviews – Create a SignUp to get a list of interested participants, then schedule one-on-one or smaller groups video sessions between family members. Provide all participants with a list of suggested questions to ask. After the interview, schedule a time for all family members to connect on video and have each person or smaller group present the most interesting facts they learned.
- Guess the Family Member – Weeks before the reunion, the host must gather as much intel as possible about a few specific family members (without letting on to any family members what your intent is – think “sneaky tactics” to get friends and family to talk about the chosen persons). Choose the most interesting facts that you think will make for fun conversation. On reunion day, ask participants to guess the family member based on the clues you provide. This is a great way to learn fun facts about family members that you may not otherwise learn! Pro Tip: Another version of this game is presenting baby pictures of family members and having everyone guess who is who.
- Virtual Talent Show – Did you know Uncle Jack plays a mean banjo? Or that your cousin Cheryl can give a heck of a duck impression? Create a Talent Show SignUp, share with family members, and ask anyone interested in participating to choose a time slot to show off their talent via Zoom or another video platform during the family reunion. Pro Tip: For family members that can’t attend in-person or in real-time virtually, ask them to record and send you a video of them performing their talent.
- Create a Family Memory Board or Slideshow – Before the day of the reunion, ask family members to share photos and memories they have of other relatives. Add them to an online family history journal, such as FamilySearch. You can do this together during the reunion, as you chat about each photo and memory, or create it beforehand to be shared during the reunion as a digital photo album or slideshow.
- Minute to Win It Competition – Pick 5-10 fun tasks to be performed within a minute or for the duration of a minute (think “wrap a loved one in toilet paper” or “keep a balloon from touching the ground”) and be sure to tell participants what supplies they’ll need beforehand. Start the clock and watch as family members go head-to-head to win the title of Minute-to-Win-It champion! Pro Tip: You’ll need a few moderators / non-participants for this one so you can watch and keep track of when family members complete their tasks.
Enjoy the Big Day
Enjoy time with your Family!
All the planning is done and there is only one thing left to do. Enjoy the day!
A few last-minute Family Reunion tips:
- Have a reception table as guests arrive. Ask each family member to sign a guestbook so you will remember who attended and consider taking a picture next to a banner to document each family unit.
- Be sure to designate someone (or a team of people) to take pictures and video throughout the Reunion to record the day's events. If you have the money, hire a photographer, but a family member who is good with a SmartPhone will work, too!
- Ready any technology (cameras, screens, laptops, iPads) that will be used to include family members joining virtually. Be sure to plan for extension cords and power strips to keep them engaged for the duration.
- Set up a free cloud account for everyone to upload and share their photos after the event.
- Appoint responsible adults and older teens to rotate supervising kids' activities - especially important if swimming, fishing or boating is on the agenda.
- If possible, designate a quiet air-conditioned or shaded area for people to go when they need to escape the chaos of family.
- If you'll be serving alcoholic beverages, consider posting a sign reminding family members to arrange for designated drivers, safe rides home, and preventing minors from partaking.
- Have a small first aid kit and clean-up supplies on hand, like extra trash bags, paper towels, hand sanitizer, etc.
- Remember, as with life, not everything will go smoothly. Don't stress, just make the best of the situation. People will still have a great time.
- Have a place for people to submit suggestions for the next family reunion location.
- Be sure to thank everyone who helped plan the reunion.
Send out a survey asking everyone who attended to provide feedback on the reunion. What did they like, didn't like, want to add next year, etc. Don't take anything personally. You can't make everyone happy (you aren't money, haha). Use the comments and suggestions to get started planning your next family reunion.
Whether you are planning a small, family get-together at your home or a large, week-long extravaganza, just remember the point of a reunion is to bring family together, have fun, and make memories that last for years to come.