Planning Decorations and Program for Your Activity
by Clark L and Kathryn H. Kidd

In these days of minimal budgets, the food chairman is the person who is most responsible for pulling rabbits out of hats.The adults who attend your party will expect to be fed the best in terms of quality and quantity ,and if children are involved they’re going to want to eat mass quantities of whatever you serve.

Future columns will give you ideas for feeding large numbers of people on a shoestring budget.  As food chairman, however, it will be up to you to decide how much food will be prepared by your committee, and how much will be provided by volunteer ward members.  You’ll also need to know how many committee workers you’ll want in the kitchen on the day of the event, and what each of them should be doing.

As you make your preparations, don’t neglect the things that are easily overlooked.  Chief among these are salt and pepper, butter, and ice.  Napkins, dishes, cups, and cutlery may also come out of your budget and be your responsibility to provide.  You may also need to have utensils brought from home, because most ward kitchens don’t come equipped with exotic items such as a melon-baller, unlimited rubber spatulas, or muffin tins.  (If utensils are brought from home, make sure they go home with the people who brought them.)  Remember – everything that has anything to do with food is your responsibility.  If you forget something, it will not be on hand when you need it.The Food Chairman should always come to an event prepared to mark the dishes and utensils brought by other ward members.(This is a great job for an older child who may be tagging along with a parent.)  Usually just a roll of masking tape and a marking pen will do.  As people bring their food assignments, make sure their name is somewhere on each dish or utensil where it will not come off, and use your handy marking equipment if necessary.  You don’t want to make an enemy for life because Sister Jones never got her temple-shaped Jell-O pan back after the last activity.

Another huge responsibility of the food chairman is to know your budget and stick scrupulously to it.  You may think the amount you’ve been allotted isn’t nearly enough to do whatever you want to do, but you don’t have the authority to override that decision.  Any extra money you spend will be used at the expense of somebody else’s ward activity.  Don’t even consider exceeding your budget unless you’re willing to make up the difference from your own checkbook – and that practice is usually frowned upon as well.  You should also resist the temptation to ease your budget burden by asking ward members to bring expensive items.  Asking for a salad or a plate of cookies is reasonable, but it isn’t reasonable to assign someone to pay for a roast beef or a ham.  Doing so will simply transfer the budget burden from your activity budget to the family budget of that poor family.  

Decorations Chairman

Although the food chairman may complain that he or she doesn’t have enough money to do a creditable job for your ward activity, your lot is even worse.  People have to eat, but they don’t have to be surrounded by decorations.  (At least that’s the viewpoint of the men, who know where the real priorities are.)  When money is handed out for decorations, the decorations committee chairman may get a minimal amount or nothing at all.  This means that creativity, rather than a checkbook, is going to have to be the basis for everything you plan.

When you’re in the process of decorating, remember your audience.  For example, you don’t want to put cunning little porcelain figurines on the tables if children are going to be invited to the event.  Frilly decorations may not be the most appropriate (or most durable) if men are part of the equation.  If you have handicapped people who have trouble navigating, you may want to avoid lots of little knickknacks on the floor.  Look at the theme, look at the participants, look at your budget, and then go from there.  Much can be done with few resources, if you’re willing to expend a little creativity.

Even though decorations aren’t considered important enough to get the lion’s share of an activity’s budget, the overall enjoyment of that event will be greatly influenced by the decorations that are in place.  You are an artist, and the location of your party is your palette.  You can create a thing of beauty, even in a ward cultural hall.  But work with the other committee chairmen to make sure your decorations enhance their plans rather than provide a logistical nightmare.

One other piece of advice is to make sure you know your budget and adhere strictly to it.  Just as you wouldn’t want somebody writing an unauthorized check on your personal checkbook, the ward doesn’t want you skimming money from its meager account in order to enhance your decorations.

Program Chairman

It is virtually impossible to predict how much work you’ll be required to do as the program or entertainment chairman for a ward.  Sometimes a program chairman is asked to provide a small postscript to a sit-down dinner; other times the entertainment is the highlight of the event.  But whatever the case, you’re not going to have a lot of money to spend to entertain people.  In most cases, the entertainment for your ward activity will be provided by your own ward members.

There are many different opinions about what constitutes “talent” in a ward population.  We’ve all sat through ward talent shows where an earnest ward member performed his heart out, while the audience bravely tried not to laugh or cry. There are times when people come to a ward activity to let their hair down, and in some cases a demonstration of Susie’s musical knees may be a show-stopper.  But there are times when ward members should be able to come to an evening of entertainment with the expectation of being uplifted.  As program chairman, you’ll be the person who sets the tone for the event.

As program chairman, it’s your job to carefully plan the entertainment around people’s expectations.  In all likelihood you’ll have a “cheat sheet” for doing this.  That cheat sheet is the theme of your party, which was probably determined before you came on the scene.  In future articles, we’ll have many ideas for how to build a party around a theme.  Don’t limit yourself to those ideas; rather, see how you can work on them to make them your own.

When you’re doing your job as program chairman, don’t overlook the things that are always overlooked.  One of these weak links often seems to be the sound system.  The best play or road show in the world isn’t worth the time it takes to put it together if nobody can understand the words that are spoken.  Lighting is another thing you’ll have to consider.  And if you’re using a stage, don’t forget props and curtains – a few inexpensive props can go a long way towards making the results look more professional.  And don’t underestimate the enhancement you can make to a ward dinner by piping in classical music or having someone play classical selections on the piano as background music to people’s conversations.  Again, this is something that will cost you next to nothing, but will greatly contribute to the mood you are trying to set for the event.

Here’s a piece of advice that program chairmen should engrave in stone:  Not all people want to be the center of attention.  Don’t ever plan an activity where ward members are cajoled or otherwise forced into taking part on the program without their knowledge or consent.  You may think it’s hilarious to drag the gawky financial clerk out of the audience to hula with the Relief Society president, but the financial clerk may be so humiliated that he’ll never return to church.  There is absolutely no piece of entertainment that is worth the loss of a person’s human dignity – unless, of course, that person volunteers to sacrifice that human dignity on the altar of the evening’s festivities.  Make sure everyone has a chance to be the center of attention for a few moments if he wants to be, but don’t force people to do things they are unwilling or unable to do.

As entertainment chairman, everything involved in the entertainment falls under your jurisdiction.  If there are any warm-up activities, they should be your responsibility.  Contests (complete with rules, judges, and prizes) are up to you, too.  If there are written programs or other printed materials, these are your responsibility – at least until you delegate them to somebody else. But no matter what you do, stick to your budget.  Rely on donated materials and prizes, or give prizes that don’t cost a lot of money.  The most perfect evening of entertainment will not end well if the bishop realizes the ward has gone into debt because of your extravaganza.

Diplomacy is also a talent that must be cultivated by those in charge of coordinating the entertainment for an event.  While it should always be your goal to provide a professional level of entertainment at any event, you must also realize that most of your performers will be amateurs.  People also have different levels of commitment to an assignment – Sister Brown may practice all week for that song she is singing, while brother Johnson may not even glance at the music until the night of the performance.  The poor entertainment chairman must walk the fine line of trying to encourage the best performances possible without causing any offense to the participants.  Although we would all hope the entertainment at ward events would be the best possible, it is more important that no one ends the evening feeling hurt, embarrassed, or unappreciated.  Part of the responsibility to plan entertainment is to work with other people and be sensitive to their feelings.  Even the best activity will be forgotten within six months, but hurt feelings can last for decades