Tips for Organizing Family Reunions

Summertime is synonymous with family reunions. Some people embrace this fact with wild enthusiasm, while others greet the idea with a deep groan and an eye roll.

Which one are you?

Acker Family Reunion 2011

The Ackers take up a lot of space. There are typically anywhere from 80 – 120 people at our family reunions, so finding a location that can accommodate those who like to RV as well and those who prefer cabins is essential.

I fall into the first camp. I absolutely love getting together with all my cousins. We may not see each other but once every year or two, but when it’s family reunion time, we always pick up right where we left off.

Twice now, I’ve had the honor of helping plan our Acker Family Reunion, so I thought I’d share a few tips and ideas about organizing a family reunion.

  1. When you’re planning a family reunion, start well in advance. For a group our size, with more than 100 people, we’ll usually plan a year ahead. It takes time to find the right place and negotiate a good deal. Alternatively, if you get the urge to have a spontaneous reunion this summer, don’t spend your time worrying about planning and details. Just make a command decision about the date and location, and send out a note announcing where you’ll be and when. Then, see who shows up! You can let everyone be responsible for their own reservations and food.
  2. Make a list of your “must haves” before you start researching a family reunion destination. For example, the Acker family must have access to water, be it a lake, river, or ocean. We must have a place that’s pet friendly, and we must find a location that can accommodate 100 or more people, preferably in a combination of cabins and RV camping. Then, when you begin your research, you’ll be able to narrow the list of contenders quickly.
  3. Involve the family in the planning. While you don’t want an abundance of cooks in the proverbial planning kitchen, it’s great to get input. I did a quick, free, online survey using Survey Monkey to narrow down the options for dates, a location, and preferred activities. Just remember that you won’t be able to please all of the people, so don’t try. There will still be something for everyone.
  4. Offer planned activities and plenty of down time. Sometimes it’s hard to find the right balance. You’ll probably want a couple of planned, full-group activities, but it’s also important to have down time for reconnecting one on one. We usually plan our group activities around mealtimes. We’ll do a chili cook-off or catfish fry one evening, and then buy the food for one group meal so there’s at least one evening where no one has to cook. I’m proud to say I won the last chili cook-off, but of course, one of my cousins is convinced “he wuz robbed!” We’ll both look forward to the next showdown!
  5. Quilt

    Special heirloom items, such as this handmade quilt, can be great for raffles.


    Our auctions include family treasures as well as homemade goodies.

    Consider adding a fundraising event, such as an auction, to your list of activities to ensure there’s money in the kitty for the next year’s reunion. It costs money to hold blocks of rooms, pay for fun extras like boat rentals, or buy keepsakes to take home. We always announce to the group how much is in the kitty and hand it off to the next intrepid reunion planner, who’s diligent with the accounting.We’ve auctioned things such as family heirlooms, homemade pickles or hot sauce, and even garage sale type items. And, my especially talented cousin Jane made a quilt, which we raffled off. We wanted everyone to have an equal opportunity to win!

  6. Keep in touch and share your enthusiasm. Over the years, we’ve used everything from printed newsletters, to emails, to Facebook to keep in touch and share our random bursts of family happiness. This keeps people engaged and boosts the number of people who show up. After all, no one wants to miss out!
  7. Be flexible. Our family met last summer at Canyon of the Eagles in Burnet, Texas. It was a great spot for us, because they have gorgeous vistas of Lake Buchanan, cabins, and RV camping. By the time July 2011 came around, Texas was experiencing record heat, the drought was in full swing, lowering lake levels, and burn bans were in effect. We rolled with it, opting out of the rented ski boat for safety reasons, and choosing to rent kayaks and canoes instead. We found ourselves gathering poolside instead of swimming in the lake, and a lot of the chili cooking happened in crock pots instead of over a burner.

So, if you’re the brave one who’s planning your next reunion, my advice is to take your time, enjoy the experience, and don’t get caught up in a quest for perfection.

Chili Hat

The goal is to spend quality time together, make a few new memories, and maybe capture a few embarrassing photos that can be used against your relatives in the future. If you’ve accomplished those three things, your reunion is complete!


~  Elaine

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