Planning a high school reunion provides a rare chance to bring friends together from a formative and fun time of life. But there’s no question it can also prove time-consuming and challenging.
Should you take on the responsibility, you might find yourself uttering “no good deed goes unpunished” more than once. Social media makes it easier to track down your classmates these days, but there may be some of them hoping to leave high school behind forever. Others might stress out over how they’ll stack up today vs. yesterday. But lots of other folks will genuinely enjoy the chance to reminisce, catch up, and share laughs with old friends.
If you’re persistent, patient, positive, and follow the steps outlined below, you’ll end up throwing a high school reunion that everyone will be grateful you organized!
As you prepare to plan your high school reunion there will be lots to consider. You can start by choosing a time, date, and venue that will work for the greatest number of people. Oh, and since we still have a pandemic in play, you need to be mindful of the extra challenges that come along with planning a high school reunion this year, including the potential need for social distancing measures, depending on where and when your reunion takes place.
Don’t worry, we’re here to guide you through all of that and more. We created our ultimate guide to walk you through every step of the process.
Let’s dig in!
1. Start Early
The early bird gets the worm. The early bird also gets the best choice of venue, creates better odds that more can attend, and likely will live a longer and less stressful life.
By starting to plan your reunion early, you’ll find that it’s much easier to secure a great venue, locate more of your classmates, and make sure just about everyone who wants to attend actually can.
Pro Tip: Start planning a year in advance of your anticipated reunion date. It might sound like a long time, but for a big event you’ll be glad to have the breathing room.
2. Form a Committee (Gradually)
A reunion is a big undertaking so don’t go crazy taking on everything yourself. Start modestly by enlisting a few key contributors – folks you know you can truly rely on to get things done and spread the word. That may be all you need in terms of a “committee.”
Obviously if things get too busy then you grow your group as needed. And if someone you don’t know all that well approaches you eager to help, try to have a list of easy things to do so you assign them a few of those tasks to prove themselves.
Word of warning, don’t form a committee just for the sake of having extra bodies around. Believe it or not some people seem like joining committees just to say they are on them. These people are rarely helpful.
In terms of roles, it generally helps to have at least one person in charge of key verticals including:
- Events: venue, food/drink, entertainment, decor
- Communication: mailing list, invites, attendee tracking, updates
- Finance: fundraising and bill paying
A lot of these items can be managed via some handy spreadsheet templates you can request from us via email.
Pro Tip: Your first few collaborators will also serve as the perfect core foundation of your class Reunacy page. This will put faces to your class and help get folks reconnected early. Check out this post for a step-by-step guide.
3.Establish A Budget
Your budget is a critical part of your high school reunion planning. Ideally, your event will be financially accessible to your classmates while still providing everyone a top notch experience.
While it can be a bit of a chicken and egg dilemma to determine what kind of party you want to throw vs. how much it will cost, ultimately the event will be shaped by what your group can afford. So before you dream too big, consider factors such as:
- What percentage of your class do you think can realistically attend? This will inform your headcount which will drive just about every aspect of your budget.
- How much will your classmates be willing to spend for the event? One quick way to determine a minimum budget is to ask yourself these first two questions and do some quick math. Think 50 people will attend and pay $50 each? That gives you a budget of $2,500 to start with.
- Will anyone in your class help underwrite the event? Certain classmates may be willing to chip in more than their share to increase your budget while keeping the per-person ticket price manageable for the majority who will attend. Maybe two or three people are willing to put $500 each. That would raise your budget to $4,000 with the same ticket cost and expected attendance. Finding and managing these folks requires finesse, check our post on underwriting for more info.
- Are any aspects of your event absolutely essential to its success? Do you have to have an open bar? What kind of food will you serve? Is it a requirement to rent out a venue? Variables such as this can put upward pressure on your budget.
- Have a plan for tracking/covering/getting reimbursed for any expenses you might incur during the early stages of your reunion planning. Also think about any overages you might incur if, for example, fewer people attend than anticipated. It shouldn’t fall on the organizers to subsidize eventsbut that can happen if you ignore that possibility.
Pro Tip: In the event you have money left over after a reunion, consider making a class gift to your school, or just saving those funds to put towards your next reunion!
4. Set the Date
Choose a date you believe will work for the largest number of people and stick to it. In the event that a few people decline early on you might be tempted to move the date. Stick to your guns.
Not sure what dates will work best? Consider asking your school’s director of alumni relations. An even better source might be friends you have from classes below or above you who can provide valuable intel on dates that may have worked (or not worked) for their recent reunions.
5. Find Your Classmates
Tracking down your classmates can be one of the most difficult steps in the high school reunion process.
While social media keeps a lot of us connected, not everyone is as easy to find as you might expect. While many high school classes have Facebook groups, not everyone is on Facebook and content posted there can frequently get lost in a very crowded shuffle.
Reunacy offers a much easier connection to your classmates and allows you to invite people by email address including those who might not normally be on social media.
Luckily, there are several tactics you can use to make it easier to locate your former classmates and get them connected via your Reunacy page.
Check In with Your High School
Many schools have development officers or admins who track alumni and are ready to assist with reunion planning. Public schools might not have as many resources, but they can probably point you in the right direction. Check in with them to learn what resources they have available and how they can help get you in touch with your classmates. They may be about to put you in touch with alumni in adjacent classes who can share recent reunion experiences/best practices.
Create a Master List
Start with a master list of classmates. If it’s your first reunion and can’t get a list from your school, start with your high school yearbook. Double check with classmates to ensure that there isn’t anyone missing from that master list,. Other things to note as you’re preparing your list:
- Use Google Sheets, since it’s easy to share and collect
- Have several people adding to and collaborating on the list
- Always update any school-specific email addresses (“edu”) for your classmates, since those will likely have expired. Unless they’re working in academia of course 🙂
Do Some Sleuthing On Social Media
While not everyone is on Facebook, most people have at least some presence on social media. Start by reaching out to people on your friends lists. Remember, many of them will also have connections to others, including those that you might not be able to contact on your own.
Pro Tip: Respect boundaries. Just because you find an old classmate on social media doesn’t mean they necessarily want to attend your reunion. Be polite when reconnecting and know that if some people don’t respond enthusiastically to what you’re planning, that’s OK. Let ‘em go and move on.
6. Build Your Class Reunion Website
Reunacy makes it easy to build a class reunion website and ensure that all of your former classmates have the opportunity to share information and get back in touch.
Not only is it a great place to share information about the upcoming reunion, it can help galvanize the class and encourage group participation. Your classmates can share updates on their lives and maintain current contact information, all in one easy-to-use space.
Even better, once you get your classmates on board, you’ll be able to have the class crowdsource all the information needed to put together an exceptional reunion.
7. Carefully Choose Your Venue
Venue selection is always a critical decision and Covid has only made it more so. Here are a few keys to pick the perfect spot to host your class reunion:
Your anticipated attendance (headcount) will help you narrow down your possible locations. Don’t forget that classmates are likely to bring significant others. Once you’ve scouted some appropriately sized alternatives, refine that list using filters such as indoor/outdoor flexibility, dedicated restrooms, and extra space for social distancing.
Reunions are unique versions of parties where attendees are usually most interested in catching up. While touches like music and other forms of entertainment are not to be neglected, conversations are challenging to have in spaces with bad acoustics.
Be wary of indoor venues that are compact with lots of plain flat walls and ceilings, or outdoor space that may have neighbors who generate excessive noise.
Whether you’re indoors or out, ideally you’ll have space that has some variety to support conversations both intimate and boisterous.
If you’re working with a bar, restaurant or other rental venue, pay close attention to how the staff treats you as well as other customers.
During final negotiations, do you notice management going out of their way to accommodate you? Or do you sense them being difficult? Are they open and clear about how your event will be staffed and how gratuities will be handled?
In other words, a perfect venue can become a lot less so if improperly managed. And it works the other way, too. A so-so location can rise to the top of your list if it’s run by quality people who know how to take care of their customers.
8. Create a Welcoming Atmosphere
High school reunions offer an opportunity for your classmates to reconnect. Many classmates, however, may not have seen each other in years. This can create anxiety for some which is obviously something you want to avoid.
The following tips will help you create a warm and welcoming atmosphere that will encourage conversation and connection – and discourage last minute cold feet:
- Decorate. Make the vibe fun. Vintage posters from movies, music, TV shows, and other pop culture from your high school years can create a time machine effect in your venue and give guests plenty to talk about. If there are TV’s in the venue try programming youtube playlists featuring movie trailers, commercials, sports highlights, and music videos from your glory years to run/loop silently over the course of the event.
- Music. Create fun playlists with the top songs from your high school years. This is also a fun and easy thing to crowdsource – an easy thing to ask all classmates about and have them contribute to.
- Touches like period specific Decorations and Music are two things that will also create a less intimidating environment for spouses, partners, and significant others who may attend. While it’s likely that most didn’t attend the same high school, it is likely they’re close to the same age and will appreciate your nostalgic touches. Anything you can do to make them feel welcome goes a long way towards your event being better overall.
- Name Tags. The younger you are, the more likely you will be to avoid name tags. But as your event grows, more spouses attend, and more years pass, name tags will become a necessity. Note that the lanyard style or clip on ones are preferable to stickers, which could damage certain types of clothing.
- Document It! If your budget allows, hire a photo booth and photographer to document the event. It’s one less thing you’ll have to worry about in the moment and you’ll be glad to have content that you can use to follow-up this reunion and promote the next.
- Drinks. Making sure you have a great bar. (More on that in a minute.)
- Advance intel. Create a Reunacy Page for your group to give everyone a directory of who’s attending. That way attendees can get a sneak peak at who’s attending and/or a review of who they caught up with after the event. Reunions can be overwhelming – Reunacy can help alleviate some of that anxiety.
And again, with the ups and downs of COVID protocols, be prepared to change gears in case rates start to rise in your area.
9. Cash Bar vs. Open Bar
Chances are good your reunion will have a bar. Having a few drinks can help decrease nerves and make it easier for people to warm up and connect with one another in spite of all the time that has passed. The question is will people pay as they go or will the bar be open?
An open bar traditionally makes for more fun events. But It does mean more advance planning since someone – or more likely the class collectively – will need to pick up the tab. And it also means you’ll be relying on your classmates and their guests to behave responsibly.
Make sure you carefully consider your budget ahead of time. Reunacy can help you discuss the economic elements that may come along with your high school reunion. If your class budget is running a little short, a paid bar may be a safer bet.
Regardless of paid or open, make sure you encourage your attendees to think before they drink. In this age of app-based ride sharing, just about anyone can get a ride home from anywhere. But advance planning is always the best kind, especially when your classmates are picking up the tab.
10. Promote Your Event: The Countdown!
Let your classmates know your Reunion is coming soon and that it’s going to be great. Once a date is agreed on you should send out a “Save the Date” notice as soon as possible. Don’t be concerned about sending several of these when your event is many months away. The key is to just make sure folks are marking their calendars!
Share information on social media and link people back to your Reunacy page, where they can get more information about the event itself and read up who’s attending. Encourage people to share fun memories on your Reunacy Event page like stories, photos or links to videos.
Send personal emails to those you know best, and encourage them to do the same for those they know best.
A great way to avoid update fatigue is to make sure that each message you send contains new (and ideally meaningful) information presented in a fun way.
Here’s an example of how a campaign might play out for a reunion happening in late November:
July 1: Save the Date
August 15: Location Revealed
September 15: Pricing/Ticketing Launched
October 15: Attendees Update/Ticketing Reminder
November 1: Countdown 1 (Fun Pop Culture Factoid)
November 15: Countdown 2(Fun Pop Culture Factoid)
November 25: Reunion Eve Reminder
As you promote your event, make sure you include not just the location and cost, but what measures you’re taking to keep everyone safe and comfortable. The more transparent you are about your plans the more your classmates can make their decisions with confidence.
11. Turn on Event Ticketing
This planning list goes to 11! These days sending out invitations to reunions means setting them up as online events so you can collect digital RSVPs and/or sell electronic tickets. Reunacy helps you do all of these things via its robust Events module (and you can avoid fees from sites like Eventbrite!).
With Reunacy, you can set up an event for the reunion and send out group messages via email. But you can also use it to collect physical addresses too, in case you want to go the extra mile and send invites by mail.
Reunacy also includes an RSVP system for your event that makes it easy to check and see who’s planning to attend.
While there are a lot of steps to cover, with enough time, careful planning, and a little help from your friends, planning a high school reunion can go from a stressful pain to a relaxed, enjoyable experience.
And keep your eye on the prize. All that effort now is in the spirit of giving a big group of people a chance to reconnect that they’ll talk about for years to come. Oh, and p.s., you get to be the hero who made it all possible.
Start a free group on Reunacy today to start connecting with your high school classmates and building the plans for your big, amazing, incredible, awesome reunion.