Planning big events is no easy task. They required advanced planning by a strong team of action-oriented leaders, pre-determined objectives, sufficient funding, attention to detail, and appealing functions. However, not every event goes according to plan.
Most college homecoming events take place in the fall semester, typically connected to a football game. The vast majority take place in the month of October. In an ideal world, the planning process should begin no less than 11 months prior to the big event but, preferably, it’s a year-round process.
Homecoming events can play an incredible role in the advancement of fraternity and sorority chapters. They bring chapter alums back on campus to showcase their pride, re-connect with their alma mater and chapter, strengthen existing relationships and develop new ones, and tour changes on the campus. The objectives of Homecoming activities may vary from chapter to chapter, but should always foster greater opportunities for alumni/ae to maintain active involvement and engage as volunteers and donors.
If you don’t have the ability to dedicate 12 months, or even several months, to planning Homecoming you can still pull off a great event. Here’s a much abbreviated step-by-step plan to coordinating a great Homecoming. It’s a 60-day plan, broken into a week-to-week checklist.
- Assemble a team of trustworthy leaders as the planning team. Select the point person, who will guide all tasks. Be sure to enlist at least one undergraduate representative. This person will serve as the point of contact for the undergraduate chapter. Schedule weekly meetings/calls to report, assign tasks, and maintain momentum.
- Determine how much money you’re able to allocate to planning the event. Then, create a budget, featuring itemized expenses and revenue (if you’re charging registration fees and accepting donations).
- Identify the activities you want to host during the Homecoming Weekend. This may include a Friday afternoon golf outing, Friday dinner, Saturday pre-game tailgater, Saturday post-game function, and a Sunday breakfast. You don’t need to plan all of these activities…one or two will suffice.
- Create a planning checklist of all tasks. As a cheat-sheet, you can simply copy/paste the tasks listed here.
- Obtain a copy of the chapter’s alumni/ae database. Review carefully to identify inaccurate (or lost) information, email addresses, phone numbers, etc. Update the database as much as possible in advance of email and snail mail communications.
- Schedule activities with locations and times, and assign any associated fees. Make sure these logistics are final, as it will be difficult to change after you’ve posted them publicly.
- Setup an online registration system. If you manage a chapter website, be sure to add a page and function on the site to promote the activities, accept RSVPs, and transact payments. Using specialized online resources, like Evite, can work just fine. If you’re charging registration fees, be sure you connect payments to go directly to the chapter’s bank account. Working with PayPal, Stripe, or other merchant services will allow this to happen quite easily.
- Distribute a “Save the Date” email to all alumni informing of the date and various activities. If the registration page is completely setup, be sure to provide a link.
- Contact the University (typically the alumni association) to add activities to the overall campus Homecoming calendar. This will allow alumni/ae whom aren’t listed on your database, or have inaccurate contact information, to learn about your chapter’s activities.
- Continue looking for updated contact information, particularly mailing addresses.
- If it’s included in your budget, mail invitations to alumni/ae. As cost-saving measures, you can mail postcards and to alums living within a 100-mile proximity to campus. Be sure to boldly feature the online registration link, as well as a mailing address to accept print registrations.
- Continue looking for updated contact information, particularly phone numbers and email addresses.
- Make reservations for all of your activities. This includes tables, chairs, tents, linen, silverware, decorations, disc jockey, audio/visual, food, and beverage.
- If it’s in your budget, design banners, boards, etc. for display at the various Homecoming activities. Place the order as soon as possible, as it make take time to print.
- Post the event through your various social media channels. Be sure to link the event page on all messages to drive traffic.
- Distribute an email to all alumni/ae as a reminder. It will serve as the first announcement for those whom you found new email addresses, so be careful how you word the email. Or, split the email list, according to whom received the previous invitation and who’s new.
- Create a sub-list of alumni/ae living within a 50-mile radius of campus. Split the list among the committee to make personal invitation calls. Be sure to track calls to update contact information, collect verbal RSVPs, and gather key comments.
- Post promotional messages through your social media accounts. Be sure to make the message appealing and link directly to the event/registration page.
- Continue calling alumni/ae.
- Develop a schedule for each activity. This agenda will keep the activities conducted in a timely and seamless manner. Doing this three weeks in advance allows for revisions and consideration of alternative plans, should any unforeseen situation occur.
- Confirm the event’s placement on the university’s overall calendar, promotional materials, website, etc.
- Identify an event photographer. Preferably, secure two, one of whom can take video.
- Continue calling alumni/ae, especially those living within 25 miles.
- Confirm all logistics reservations. This includes confirmation of delivery and pickup times and locations.
- Send a reminder (aka “looking forward to seeing you”) email to all registered alumni/ae.
- Present the full slate of activities at the undergraduate chapter meeting. The discussion should also include the desired roles (and regulations) for undergraduate members. It might be wise to inform the undergraduates of the many opportunities the weekend can present to them, both as an overall chapter, as well as benefits to individual members.
- Clean the chapter house to make as presentable as possible. This includes all areas, including living quarters, in case alumni want to see individual rooms.
Week 9 – Homecoming Week
- Contact food/beverage providers and give them an updated number of guests. This is very important, as most require a 48-72 hour notice.
- Print lists of each activity’s registrations.
- Print nametags, if you choose to use them at the activities.
- Design sign-in sheets to track attendees to each activity. Be sure to include columns for cell phone and email information.
- Conduct a walk-through of the chapter house to confirm cleanliness.
- Write a news story recapping Homecoming and post it to your website. Be sure to include photos. Share the story through social media.
- Mail letters or distribute emails to each attendees, sharing your appreciation for their attendance. Be sure to note if they enlisted as volunteers or donors.
- Updated the main database with the newly found contact information. In addition, be sure to update the database, if not done already, with the event’s attendees and payments.
- Conduct an evaluation meeting with the planning committee to discuss successes, shortcomings, and areas to emphasize for the next Homecoming.
Allocating two months to plan a major chapter event is not a recommended best practice. However, by following the steps listed above, success can be achieved. It’ll be fraught with stress and many working hours, especially since the planning will start at the beginning of the fall semester. We all know there are plenty of other activities and distractions during the initial weeks of the semester.
Strong Homecoming activities can catapult a chapter’s success, both in undergraduate and alumni/ae operations. Visualize what a successful chapter looks like to you, then imagine the many ways Homecoming can make that vision become crystal clear.
Take steps today to plan an incredible Homecoming for your chapter!