Fine-tuning family reunion plans: preparation is the to key a successful and memorable celebration

It's that time of year, again--time for you and your loved ones to get together with your extended family for that long-awaited annual or semi-annual reunion. It's a tradition and a trend that has increased greatly over the past few years, as family members look to connect or reconnect with their people from near and far.

And if you've been charged with ensuring that your family's reunion is one that will be remembered for generations to come, then it's not only important that you make sure that the big picture is complete, it's also important that you attend to the smallest details.

Reunion organizers say the key to fine-tuning family reunions is to have a sound overall plan that foresees and accounts for potential problems, and leaves nothing to chance. Once the overall plan is in place, it's easier to focus on and fine-tune the details.

For your family's reunion, no matter if it's for 20 or 200, preparation is one of the most important keys to success.

"We start preparing for our reunions about a year in advance--as soon as we're finished with one, we start preparing for the next" says Marie Fox Burton of Chicago, who has helped plan her family's Simon & Idell Hines Fox Family Reunion that has been hem since 1973. "At each annual meeting [during the family reunion], we decide where the next reunion will be held. Whichever city is hosting, it will form a committee and begin organizing next year's events."

Once a location and committee are established, organizers must make sure they have a firm handle on the dates, finances and events. You may also consider a calendar with to-dos, due dates and deadlines, counting down to the date of your reunion. The Fox Family utilizes a practical, yearlong calendar with photos and birthdays to remind family members of important dates.

The best way to clearly communicate is to put together a database of all family members, says Robert D. Anderson, a Bowie, Md., computer specialist who has helped organize the Hunter Family Reunion. Another helpful idea, Anderson suggests, is to hold the reunion around the same time or weekend every year, perhaps even on a major holiday. The Hunter family, which started its reunion in North Carolina in 1932, holds the annual event during Father's Day weekend.

"That way," Anderson says, "everyone always knows when the reunion will be held."

Family Reunion Planning Tips

Start big, with a complete overall plan, and then work down to the details as you get closer to your reunion date.

1 Form a reunion planning committee at least 12 to 18 months in advance of your reunion date. The earlier you start, the more time you'll have to check out sites, raise money and locate your relatives. Try to include family members who have experience with reunion or event planning.

2 At your first committee meeting, write down a planning schedule with dates and deadlines and stick to it.

3 If your family has not selected a location, now's the time do so. Decide whether your reunion will run over a weekend or a week, then select dates. Be careful not to clash with other family events, such as weddings and graduations, or even other family reunions. You may also want to contact the tourism bureau in your reunion city to get advice on dates to avoid.

4 Establish a reunion budget and set reunion dues and fees. Remember to include items such as mailings, stamps, programs, signage and rental fees for buses, hotel ballrooms, photographer and DJ.

5 Put together a family database, complete with home and e-mail addresses, phone numbers and birthdays or ages so that you can plan activities for each generation. Ask family members for their help in locating long-lost loved ones.

Once you've laid a great foundation, it should be easier to follow-through and have your best reunion ever.