Here are some thoughts we often share with Yale Club leaders who are looking for new ideas in planning Club events. In some cases we’ve listed examples of what other Clubs have done that illustrate a certain type of event.
Why organize events at all?
Many Yale Clubs seem to think that their primary reason for existence is to organize events. They tend to measure their success by how many events they can do every year, and how many people attend.
Certainly a broad range of well-attended events will always be evidence of a healthy Yale Club. But remember that an event should be a means to an end, not the end in itself. The primary goal of any well-planned event should be to reconnect the members of your local Yale family — to each other, to your community, and/or back to Yale.
A secondary goal in planning a Yale Club event is to cultivate fresh blood in Club leadership. The qualities of ability and enthusiasm in organizing a good event can be strong indicators that someone should be considered for a future leadership position in your Club.
Do you know who you are?
If you haven’t done a self-study in awhile, now would be a good time to do so. Your Club’s roster can provide a wealth of demographic information, helping you decide where you should focus your energies. Periodically survey your membership as well as compare your constituency with other local alumni associations and neighboring Yale Clubs. Track attendance and create opportunities for feedback. Consider having open planning meetings. Click here to see sample surveys.
Reinventing the wheel
It’s far too easy to burn yourself out thinking of new ideas all the time. Tag onto existing events such as local art and theater festivals, museum exhibitions and public lectures. Build in an educational component to the event such as a private tour or talk. Make a habit of checking community and university calendars. Periodically ask your board and constituency for ideas, and learn what organizations they may be a part of…i.e. World Affairs Council.
How did you get that venue?!
Restaurants, bars, hotels and private clubs are fine places to hold events, but there are many other venue options out there. Try to find venues that are unusual and often overlooked. What's new and interesting? What's old but unknown? Where are people dying to get into? Is there a Yale connection? Hidden treasurers are all around you.
You don't have to use expensive venues, either. Don’t overlook local businesses with interesting auditoriums and reception spaces, area schools and universities, libraries, nonprofit organizations, parks, houses of worship, community and cultural centers, art studios and galleries, laboratories, historic homes and sites, etc. One Yale club held an event on a decommissioned battleship and another at a historic cemetery. Look into after-hours opportunities too.
Talented is as talented does
While Yale University speakers are excellent, don’t overlook local Yale talent. Review your club roster, especially the career/industry information, for speakers and event ideas. Talk with neighboring Yale clubs about their constituencies-perhaps an alumnus would be willing to travel to your club and give a presentation. Consider inviting local alumni professors and graduate students to discuss their current research.
In your own backyard
Volunteer work is not only rewarding but also a wonderful way to bring alumni together. Many Yale Clubs participate in community service projects: literacy programs, Adopt-A-School, Habitat-for-Humanity, blood drives, soup kitchens, conservation projects (cleaning a local park), etc. Make it interesting by challenging other alumni associations to compete for the greater number of volunteers or volunteer hours.
The Big Event
For Clubs with larger memberships, a large, formal event is an exciting way to bring alumni together. Though labor intensive, a dinner dance, live or silent auction, all day seminar or scholarship fundraising extravaganza, can be a huge success, attracting alumni from across the generations. We recommend holding events such as these every few years to keep attendance high and volunteers from burning out.
Life of the mind
You can’t go wrong with continuing education. Successful activities include book clubs — especially with alumni and Yale faculty authors — discussion groups, panels, faculty forums (informal mini classes with readings and final lecture with instructor), and speakers (Yale as well as local). Contact local bookstores for book tour schedules. Consider an informal “Masters Tea” on a Sunday or a dessert discussion group. Other ideas include potlucks or breakfasts with book groups or local speakers as well as lecture series (“Hot coffee, hot topics” or “Lunch with a View”).
A little culture never hurt anyone
There are bound to be wonderful Yale connections with your local arts community-board members, directors, curators, actors, artists and gallery owners, writers, musicians, etc.-alumni who can help you organize a splendid event around a performance or exhibition. Ideas include a program of readings from Yale authors, film series, tours of local artists' studios or an evening of music showcasing local talent whether professional or amateur.
The Great Outdoors
Consider a hike or snow shoeing/skiing trip, nature walk with a botanist or geologist, hilltop lecture on local environmental issues, stargazing out in the open or at a local observatory, and conservation projects such as maintenance work at a local state park.
Bulldog, bulldog, bow wow wow
Though the Yale-Harvard Game telecast is always a draw, consider outings at local sports games, especially if there is a Yale connection to the team, perhaps someone who can give a behind-the-scenes tour. Some clubs have also organized "Ivy Challenges," informal athletic events such as races, mini-regattas, and golf and tennis tournaments.
Boy, those Yale students seem to get younger every year...
Alumni love interacting with current students and performance groups and visiting athletic teams are a great way to bring the two together. Make an effort to keep in touch with current students. (Remember, today's student is tomorrow's club volunteer.) Consider sponsoring an AYA Community Service Summer Fellowship and encourage alumni to sponsor Externships. And don't forget Yale parents!
The Young and the Restless
If you have young alumni, you need to organize events specifically for them (defined usually as 10 years out and younger). Ideas range from social events and athletic/outdoor activities to networking and mentoring opportunities. Consider reviving some Yale student traditions such as Feb Club. Appoint a Young Alumni Coordinator, and make sure that he or she is a member of your board.
Fun for the whole family
Busy families, especially young families, are too often the lost demographic. Bring them back into the fold with family centered activities. Some clubs have even developed a self-sustaining "mini club" for Yalies with children, providing activities which specifically appeal to Yale parents: educational outings (children's theater, science museum), speakers on trends in medicine, education, technology as well as chilhood development issues. Also, consider providing babysitting at your largest functions such as an annual dinner or offering dinner as a separate option after your speaker so parents can leave early to be with their children.
Let’s make a deal
Networking events are always popular, especially with recent graduates. Some clubs have had great success organizing networking luncheons, receptions, forums, panels and/or seminars with topics ranging from current business and technology trends to the film and theater industries.
Many Yale Clubs/Associations, especially small clubs, periodically organize joint activities with other alumni associations, ensuring a full calendar and strong turnout for events. Some Yale clubs rotate responsibility with other alumni associations for annual speakers. Meet with other alumni association club leaders periodically to share ideas and discuss possible opportunities such as networking, volunteer and fundraising “challenges,” athletic competitions, singing groups, etc.