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Although it takes a lot of planning and hard work to run a festival, the reward is reaching people who may not normally be involved in a project. With hands-on awareness-raising activities, new environmental stewards are cultivated and new volunteers may be recruited. Festivals can also be a way of starting a community tradition that promotes a projectís mission for years to come.

Festivals can be planned as a one-time event or to be an annual affair. They can last anywhere from one to four days, just during the daytime or extend into the evening with special music or entertainment. Since the purpose is to raise awareness about a resource, the best location to hold the event is outdoors near the resource. For instance, a river festival should be held on the banks of a river corridor so that people can see it and perhaps even touch the water. There may also need to be a stage and grassy seating areas depending upon the type of programs planned. Because a festival should reach all sectors of the community, activities should have broad appeal. Individual activities can be targeted for children or adults, but the overall attraction should be something all community members will all enjoy. If the festival is to run over several days, availability of camping sites or lodging needs to be considered. When planning a festival, keep in mind the following:

  • Start planning at least a year in advance of the event.
  • Have a specific purpose and make sure activities all relate to and support it.
  • Expect large crowds: a first-year festival could draw over 1,000 people, depending upon the area. Each year the numbers will grow; so develop a long-term plan for the future of the festival and suitability of the chosen site.
  • Get maximum media coverage.

1. Form an organizing committee

This group will develop goals and themes for the festival. They will also head all of the subcommittees. It is key that this committee stay organized, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities from the chairperson on down.

2. Develop a Budget

Costs need to be estimated for such things as printing for invitations and banners, equipment rentals (e.g., stage, audio equipment, tables), travel expenses for performers, purchase of merchandise that will be sold (e.g., balloons, event mementos) and other expenses. Be sure the committee chairs know their budget and stay within it. Always include a contingency fund for unexpected bills and keep detailed records for following years. Some local businesses may be interested in donating products or their services. Performers may also offer their help in exchange for travel costs and publicity. Each sponsor should be recognized on flyers and banners and publicly thanked the day of the festival.

3. Set a Date

Consider any schedule conflicts including holidays, school calendars or other local events. Also factor in the weather and time of year. Consider linking to any national efforts such as National Trails Day or National Rivers Day to help with promotions. Once the date is set, announce it, even before invitations or flyers are ready.

4. Planning the Event

Develop a detailed timeline working backwards from the festival day. Post tasks with responsible personís name for easy reference. Here are some of the steps necessary:

  • For first-year festivals, research other area festivals and contact their planning committees to see what can be learned from their experiences. If this is the second, or greater, year, review notes from the previous year(s).
  • Identify your volunteer needs. Recruit volunteers from the community and other organizations. Be sure to include an appeal for volunteers in press releases.
  • Recruit performers, speakers and vendors with as much notice as possible. If need be, find out the names of entertainers who have performed at other similar festivals in your area. Give speakers a time limit and possible outline; you want speeches short and to the point.
  • Generate creative ideas and interactive activities that support your mission and create a schedule of events. Recruit leaders for the activities providing them with a simple contract to confirm their role. Prior to the event, gather all of the leaders together to go over the schedule.
  • Decide a course of action for inclement weather: Will the festival be held rain or shine? Should you rent tents?
  • Contact emergency services to be available during the festival.
  • Secure any necessary permits.
  • Determine how attendees will be invited: either develop a mailing list of names or plan for advertising in papers and through posting flyers or banners.
  • Be creative!

5. Promote well in advance

  • Develop a strong proactive publicity plan that includes flyers, posters, banners, radio, TV, newspaper, magazine and Internet promotions.
  • Use free opportunities as much as possible, but donít overlook the value of business sponsorship to help finance paid advertising.
  • Keep in mind that many publications have a long lead time between deadline and printing.
  • Name a single spokesperson to be available to the media for interviews.

6. The Big Event

Most important is to keep an overall positive attitude and good sense of humor to smooth whatever bumps you encounter.

  • Allow ample time for set-up.
  • Take good care of VIPs, musicians and volunteers.
  • Encourage people to take photographs. Consider providing a disposable camera for several volunteers. Also use video.
  • Track any concrete success indicators such as number of attendees, dollars raised, etc.
  • Have fun!

7. Follow Up Tasks

  • Clean up the site and store, or return, equipment.
  • Pay bills and prepare complete financial report.
  • Write a press release about the success of the event.
  • Thank every volunteer, performer, speaker, vendor and contributor with a written note.
  • Hold a debriefing meeting with organizers to make a list of lessons learned.
  • Celebrate your success with a party for everyone who made the festival possible.
  • Take a week off then name a planning committee to start on next yearís event.
Wednesday 6/05/02 2:00.00
Fun, educational special events that focus attention on important places such as a river, park, historic site, or trail.
  • You want to generate a lot of excitement and awareness for a resource and/or project site.
  • You need to reinvigorate interest in a project and highlight accomplishments.
  • You want to involve more people in your cause and reach underrepresented groups. Do this through volunteer recruitment and planning activities that have broad appeal to all community members.
  • You are trying to raise funds quickly. The first year, breaking even should be considered a success.
  • You do not have a leader and a strong volunteer committee committed to planning and doing the extensive amount of work.
  • There are already several festivals in your area. Consider joining their efforts by having a booth, speaking or sponsoring an interactive activity to raise awareness about your project or topic.  
  While festivals can occur throughout the lifespan of a project, because of the resources required, both monetary and human, festivals may work best if they come at the end of a project when there are tangible successes to share and educate community members about.