More Questions for Activity Planners
by Clark L and Kathryn H. Kidd
In our last column, we talked about some of the questions that activity planners should ask themselves before sitting down to plan a ward or group activity. The first two on the list included identifying your target audience and knowing the purpose of your activity. But there are other things to consider before scheduling a party for your auxiliary or your ward. If you can answer these additional questions, you’ll be well on your way to planning a successful activity.
WHEN SHOULD THE ACTIVITY BE SCHEDULED?
You’ll soon find that choosing a date for your activity is far more complex than simply pointing to an open spot on your calendar. Every family in your ward uses a different calendar, and the success of your activity will depend on whether the date you’ve chosen is available on all these calendars. More than one ward activity has been ruined because the planners didn’t realize parents would be tied up with a Back-to-School night during the particular event in question, or that the local high school prom would strip the ward of any available babysitters. If your ward covers an area that is served by more than one high school, you may have to take several school schedules into account.
Other things to consider are school vacations, local holidays, possible weather complications, upcoming weddings that could involve large numbers of ward members, stake or regional activities, and community celebrations. We can’t give you a list of these, because they vary from area to area. For example, ward activities in our area come to a standstill during the month of August, because so many breadwinners work for the government, and August is the traditional vacation month for government workers. When August comes, half the people in our area aren’t available because they’ve left for the annual pilgrimage to Utah. Anyone who plans an August activity for a large group is doomed to failure, because the numbers aren’t there to support a successful event. You can avoid such surprises by having an informal panel of “activity consultants” through which you pass the dates of any proposed activity. These should be ward members who are involved with schools, with the community, and with other ward and stake events. You might also try to get a copy of your stake calendar if your stake publishes one. As more wards and stakes start using the calendaring facilities on the new ward and stake web sites, this should be easier to coordinate.
As you’re doing your scheduling, make sure you take the hours of the event into account. More than one ward activity has been cut short because the planners scheduled an event to last until 10 p.m., never considering that babysitters needed to be home no later than nine o’clock on a school night. Try to look at your time frame from all perspectives, and you’ll be less likely to end up with unhappy surprises on the day of your event.
WHERE WILL THE EVENT BE HELD?
The location of your event will be determined by how many people you’re planning to involve. An activity that is planned for ten people can be held almost anywhere. On the other hand, if your activity is open to the whole ward membership, you may be limited to holding that activity in the ward cultural hall or in the great outdoors. If you use any part of the ward meetinghouse, you’ll need to schedule the building to make sure you don’t conflict with others who may also be planning to use the building. The more wards that share a building, the greater the potential for conflict between them. But even if your ward doesn’t share a meetinghouse, you’ll have to schedule the building anyway. Otherwise you may have several groups vying for the same facilities at the same time, with the Relief Society claiming the kitchen for an Enrichment meeting, the Young Women learning how to bake bread, the missionaries trying to organize refreshments for a baptism, and a frenzied mother trying to decorate the cultural hall for her daughter’s wedding reception two days hence.
If you don’t know the name of the person who is in charge of scheduling events in your building, the ward executive secretary should be able to tell you. If several wards share a building, your activities may be limited to a specific ward activity night. It doesn’t do any good to complain if the day you want isn’t available to you. Don’t even think about asking for exceptions unless the atmosphere between your wards is extremely congenial, because messing around with a building’s schedule is a common cause of bad feelings between the members of sister wards.
If you decide to hold a ward activity outdoors, contingency plans should be made in case the weather intervenes. You may think of the ward meetinghouse as being a back-up site in case there’s a thunderstorm, but you can’t use that meetinghouse if someone else has scheduled it first. When you’re trying to decide where an event should be held, never take anything for granted. You can’t have the meetinghouse just because you want it, and you can’t have the activity outside without taking the weather into account. And don’t expect that someone who has a nice house or a great weekend cabin should just give you the keys for an activity you’re planning. Using someone’s home for a ward activity is a privilege, not a right.
HOW MUCH WILL THE ACTIVITY COST?
Back in the good old days, many wards seemed to have an unlimited budget for their activities. If you wanted to serve stuffed Cornish hens at the ward dinner, all you had to do was write a check and spend the money. But those days are as extinct as the passenger pigeon. Ward budgets have been stripped to the barest essentials, and the bishop will probably determine that paying this month’s electric bill is more important than giving you a lavish budget for your ward party. In most wards, it is probably typical for an auxiliary to get a $50 – $250 activity budget for the entire year. So don’t plan to have caviar and prime rib at every activity.
When you’re assigned to organize an event for your group or for the ward as a whole, the first thing to do is go to your auxiliary leader or to the bishop and ask what your budget will be. You may be appalled to learn you’ve only got a $25 budget for a ward dinner, but this isn’t an insurmountable obstacle. Celebrations can be planned on a shoestring. It takes a little more creativity to work within a budget than it does to spend money as if there’s no tomorrow, but there are ways to work around the lack of funds. Just be careful not to overwork your ward members, who already spend a lot of time and money as members of the ward. We’ll explore this subject in greater detail in future columns, but if you’re desperate and need advice now you’ll find an explanation in chapter 10 of Ward Activities for the Clueless.
HOW CAN YOU INVOLVE MANY PEOPLE IN THE EVENT?
In order to have a successful activity, you’ll need to involve as many people as possible. A party with 200 participants may be a wild success in a ward with 250 active members, but it’s not as big a triumph in a ward with 450 active members on the roster.
Here’s a tip for you to remember: No matter how well you’ve planned your activity, people are inherently lazy. Our lives are so busy that by the time we’ve gotten home from work or school, or have spent the day dragging children from one soccer game to another; even the most exciting ward activity may not sound as appealing as a nap in front of the television. You can combat this human tendency toward inertia, however. One thing to keep in mind is that people tend to support events if their participation is crucial to the success of the event in question. Even if you can organize the entire party yourself, you’ll get a wider base of support if other people are involved in the process. Delegate, delegate, delegate . and then delegate some more. If some people are bringing food and others are setting up the decorations and others are helping with the entertainment and still others are ready to clean up afterwards, those people will probably be attending your activity.
There’s one other way to guarantee that ward members will support your activity, and it’s something that is largely overlooked. In order to have a successful ward activity, your bishopric must be supportive to the point that they attend the event and bring their families. (If you’re planning an activity just for a ward auxiliary, you’ll need the same type of support from the auxiliary leaders.) It is impossible to have a successful ward activity, no matter how well you plan it or how excited you are about it, if your bishopric doesn’t support you.
The members of your ward tend to follow the lead of the bishopric in determining which activities are important. This places an unfair burden on the bishopric members, but it’s a burden that cannot be avoided. If your bishopric doesn’t attend ward activities, this sends a signal to everyone else in the ward that your activities aren’t worthy of being supported . and your ward members will not attend. Do not underestimate the importance of this. We speak from bitter experience. If you’ve got the support of your bishopric members, you’re home free. If you don’t have the support of your bishopric, you might as well cancel the activity and save yourself the aggravation and the embarrassment of failure.
If you find yourself with an unsupportive bishopric but have to host ward activities anyway, try issuing personal, handwritten invitations to your bishop and his wife. Or you can delegate a small but crucial part on the program to the bishop or one of his family members. After all, if the bishop’s nine-year-old daughter is singing on the program, the bishop is far more likely to rearrange his schedule to attend the event.
HOW SHOULD THE EVENT BE PUBLICIZED?
No matter what event you’re planning, the answer to that question is, “As vigorously as possible.” A wise man once said that people forget the things they subconsciously want to forget. This may be true, but people also forget a lot of things they want to remember. If your activity has been publicized so extensively that people can’t forget it even if they want to, your event will be far more successful.
Some of the avenues you can use include the ward newspaper, a meetinghouse bulletin board, flyers or invitations, a ward calendar, “telephone trees,” the Sunday bulletin, the Relief Society newsletter, or a ward web site. Word of mouth is another effective means of publicity. If someone has been personally invited to your event, or was called on the day of the event with a gentle reminder, he’s far more likely to attend. Perhaps our experience is atypical, but we have found that trying to use the home teachers and visiting teachers to publicize events almost never works. But there is a real temptation to do this, because it is so easy. If you decide to do this, make sure to use other publicity avenues as well.
Remember – people tend to go where they’re needed and wanted. If you let individuals know that they, specifically, are both wanted and needed at your ward activity, they’re far more likely to attend the event you’ve so carefully put together than they would be if they believed their absence would never be noticed.
One thing that will sabotage even the best of activities is to schedule it on a week following a Sunday when your ward does not meet – for example, the week after General or Stake Conference. People need that reminder on the Sunday before the event, and if they don’t have that, a good percentage of them will forget. You can avoid these problems by not scheduling events on those weeks, or by using tools such as “telephone trees” or post cards to remind people a couple of days before the event.
Pulling off a successful activity is always a gamble, and there is no guarantee that it will be a success even if you follow all the rules. But your probability of success is much higher if you ask the right questions as outlined in these past two columns. Don’t let hours of planning go to waste just because you failed to answer a few simple questions designed to avoid activity catastrophes.
2002Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.