The key to engagement is giving your alumni reasons to get together. Your event calendar will be an important part of what your board or group of volunteers will do to get alumni together. In this post we’ll look at ways to get a calendar started and how to keep it organized and effective throughout the year.
Before You Start a Calendar Know Where You Want To Go
Imagine that you are going to take a vacation. What’s the first thing you do? Decide where you want to go. From there, you plan your budget, make reservations and pack your bags. The same goes for planning your club’s event calendar. Know where you want to go.
At the beginning of each “club year” (according to your university’s schedule) take some time to determine what your club’s goals are. They don’t have to be complicated or lofty but they should give you enough direction to know how you should plan. For example, last year our club’s objectives were:
- Get more volunteers engaged with our board and at our events
- Hold regular game watches at our new location
- Focus on fundraising and look for ways to build fundraising into our events
These objectives helped us start planning events that would meet or support these objectives.
Get Out Your Calendar
You don’t need anything fancy to plan your schedule but you should have an actual club calendar. There’s something about having to write down an event or type it on a calendar that makes if official. Here’s a template for the one we use.
First, Identify When You Won’t Have Events
Our club board has learned through the years that some times of the year aren’t good for events:
- the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve (this can be a great time for bowl game watches or local sports outings though)
- July through early August is also a tough sell because of family vacations
It’s not that we don’t have events during these times. It’s that we make sure if we are going to have events during these timeframes that volunteers are available to help. If there’s interest in scheduling an event during these times, we work to find one that fits. For example, we have an alumni night with our local NBA team every year around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Why? Because we can give families an opportunity to come to a game for a discounted price. Because even if the game is on a Tuesday night at 7pm the kids don’t have school next day. And because it’s an opportunity to get the family out of the house after being cooped up for the holidays!
Start With What You Know
Starting can be the toughest – or easiest – part of what you do as an alumni leader but most leaders don’t have to start with a blank calendar. Consider this:
- Do you already get together for games or social hours?
- Do you hold regular events that your alumni always show up for?
- Does your University require you to hold a certain type or number of events during the year?
- What are the dates of your club board meetings?
These questions can help you begin to plan your calendar. Our club has a series of events that we call our “anchor events.” These are events that we hold every year or that are popular with our alumni. When we plan our calendar, we first populate our event calendar with placeholders for these events. We write them down so that our calendar begins to “come alive” and we can see where we have opportunities to schedule other events or not schedule over important ones.
We recommend starting a simple list of events that you are already holding – game watches, that annual volunteer event, or a social event. If you have any doubts about what events you’ve been holding, go back through your social media accounts and look for event posts or pictures from the activities to refresh your memory.
Now Fill In the Rest of the Schedule
Fill in the rest of your schedule based on what’s interesting to your alumni. Some great examples can include:
- Interesting local events – have a festival, brewery or museum exhibit in your town that’s interesting? Reach out to them to see if you can offer a group experience for your alumni. One of my favorite events was held by a Florida club. A local theater company held spooky tours of their city in the evening. The group met for an early dinner and then took the tour.
- Sports outings – these can always be fun and season-specific. Go to a minor league baseball game in spring. Catch a hockey game or arena football game in the winter. The team’s Group Sales office is the key to getting a block of tickets for you club.
- Service events – organizations in your community could also use an extra hand. Your alumni may be able to connect you with those organizations so you can offer the club’s services. Service events can make great family-friendly activities.
- Social activities – Meet at a new restaurant. Reach out to a local wine shop to host a wine tasting. Hook up with other local alumni clubs and hold a mixer. Local bars and restaurants are always looking for new ways to bring in clientele. Contact their event coordinator to see what you might be able to plan. And don’t think that you always have to lay out cash for events like this. Sometimes, event coordinators can offer you some free or nearly free options for events.
- Speakers or educational events – Speakers and other kinds of educational events can pull in alumni who might not come to other types of events. Older alumni respond well to local authors and experts. Younger alumni may be interested in hearing local business people and technology leaders talking about emerging opportunities in their communities. Check with your university to see if they can hook you up with someone on staff to come speak with your group.
Last, Plan For Only What You Can Do
Having lots of events is terrific for your alumni but can be exhausting for you and your committee. Only plan events if your volunteers are available and would like to do it. Alumni leadership is supposed to be fun. It is not fun when you plan an event and you have no volunteers to help (trust me). Make sure your volunteers understand that having fewer, well supported events is far better than having many events that are not well planned or well staffed.
Now Share Your Schedule
I recommend sharing your schedule using a tool like Google Docs, DropBox or a similar online tool. This will give volunteers the chance to see the schedule, sign up to volunteer, or provide help with scheduling. The more volunteers can participate in planning the club’s annual calendar, the more I’ve found that they contribute some pretty fantastic ideas.
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