If you’re going to throw a block party, you want to get the most out of the time and effort that you put in to the event. Here’s some things we’ve learned from doing them over the past five years.
Set the big items up first: We have bounce-houses for the kids at our block parties. They are a magnet for families. If the location of your block party is in a high traffic area, people who didn’t get any of our event promotional materials will see it being set up and call their friends to come. The second thing we set up are three or four 10’x10′ easy-up canopies. Put a few of those up along with the inflatable jumpers and people will start asking questions about your event. There’s something about those easy-up canopies that can make your event look like a big attraction. So bottom line, you want those things up as soon as possible. We try to have them set up 1-2 hours before the event begins. By the time we start, there’s often a line of kids waiting for the block party to begin.
Have a registration table near the entrance: We have everyone who comes to the event register. When they register we either stamp their hand of give them a wrist band. Registering for the event gives them access to all the things we have for them (food, games, inflatable bouncers) and enters them for the door prizes. We also have a wavier form on there. [Click here for a sample] Commercial places in our area that have bouncers for kids use the same kind of form so people are used to filling them out. It also gives us another reason to ask them to register. We ask for name, kid’s names, email address, and sometimes a mailing address. If you’re not planning on mailing them anything, I wouldn’t bother asking them their address. If you just want to know what community they live in you can just ask for zip code. I never ask for phone number, it seems kind of intrusive and once again, if I’m not going to be calling everyone who registered for the event, there’s no point in asking for it. The volunteers working at the games, bouncers, and food tables know to check for the hand stamp or wristband and send people to the registration table if they don’t have one.
Have Door Prizes: For all our events we have had door prizes. What this does is give us an excuse to get on the PA system every 15-20 minutes to draw a name for 1-3 door prizes. When we do the door prizes, (1) we thank people for coming, (2) let them know about who sponsored the event [if you have businesses that have helped out you can mention them or just share about the church] and (3) share with them why we are doing the event. If you are looking to gather people for a core team, this is a great time to share that. If you’re beyond that point and just doing the event to serve the community, then share that as well. I usually just say one sentence about how we want to bring our community together and give you an excuse to spend time with your kids. And then we do the door prizes and we announce that you must be present to win before we pull the first name. That’s an important part, cause you’ll have some odd situations if you don’t announce that. Then we pull a registration form from the box we collect the registration forms in and give them a prize.
For door prizes we’ve done a few different things. One of the easiest is to put together a “(your church’s name) Kids Prize Bag”. They’d have candy and an 1-3 items from the dollar store or something like that. Once a name has been pulled we put it in a separate place so they can’t win again (but don’t loose it, that happened to us once, we lost all the winner’s forms). Other door prize give-a-ways have been other church’s left over VBS prizes, stuff from Oriental Trading, stuff from Target’s dollar aisle, frisbees, church t-shirts, candy bars, and so on. People like to win and just hearing their name called is great.
Recruit a Data Entry Person: Also on the planning side of it, arrange ahead of time for someone to do data entry after the event. We shared that need ahead of time and had someone gladly jump at the chance to contribute by doing this. Give them a template that has columns for name, address, city-state-zip, & email. I know that sounds micromanaging to give them the template in Excel, but our first set of volunteers entered all the info from the registration forms in one cell making it unusable.
Pre-Plan Your Follow Up: After the event is over, often you and your team will be wanting a break from all the hard work that went into the event. If you don’t have your follow up plan prepared ahead of time, chances are you won’t get it out quick enough. The first follow up for the event for us is an email thanking them for being a part of the block party, hope you had fun and met some of your neighbors, then I put something in there about why our church sponsored the event and let them know where we meet and what we’re doing.
Have this email written before the event and figure out how to load the email addresses into it to send it. Then all you have to do after the event is get the info from your data entry person and send it out. Keep in mind that you normally can’t send a mass email using a regular email account. You need something like Constant Contact, MailChimp, or in our case, our website hosting package comes with a free mass email service.
Get Business Sponsors: Having sponsors for the event can make the event more credible and feel more a part of the community. To further make the event feel less like a “church event” and more like a community event that our church is sponsoring we normally come up with a name for the event that doesn’t include our church’s name. Something like “[Your Community Name] Summer Kick Off Party” or “St. Patrick’s Kid’s Fest”. And then on the second line it says, “sponsored by [Your Church Name]” and then we list other sponsors or partners. One of the easiest sponsors you can get is a homeowners association near the park. They will often help you promote the event and sometimes provide volunteers. Having their name as an event sponsor or co-host can make the event more credible in the community.
With some of our events we have businesses that will donate a gift certificate. Church members have been a good source for these. Often they have a relationship with a local business owner. Also if you’re doing the event near a shopping center, one of the businesses might donate something. I tell them that 100-500 people from our community will be coming to an event one block from their location and often they’ll give me something use for a door prize. If they do, we mention them during the door prize give-a-way to promote their business. One block party we do at the same time every year has become a community event with 15-20 sponsors at it.
Have a Photographer: It’s easy to forget about this one, but it’s a huge oversight. Block parties provide great photo opportunities for your website and other future promotional videos. We use photos from past events to get business sponsors for future events. We also send photos to the businesses who sponsored the event. Several of them then post the pictures in their store or business. It’s pretty neat to walk into your community restaurant and see stuff with your church’s name on it. Gotta love free advertising.