Reality check: Most people will never see, understand, or appreciate all the hours of administrative work that go into making a festival run smoothly. Even other folks on the organizing team who have more hands-on roles will not fully comprehend the number of hours the admin-folks have spent at the computer or on the phone before the festival happens. These are the million unseen tasks that must happen.
Most of the “admin” work falls into two broad categories:
I’ve mentioned before that most Pagan festivals are running on a shoestring budget. There’s no shame in that. One of the ways we see this impacting festivals, though, is that it is absolutely imperative that there are clear expectations and boundaries in place regarding how money gets handled at every step of the process.
When you only have $1000 in the coffers to get the fest off the ground, and you know from the start that you owe a minimum of $500 to the venue, it can be a death sentence for your event if an enthusiastic fellow organizer hires a band at $600 because no clear lines have been drawn about how those decisions are made. Yes, your ticket sales are going to recoup some costs, but you’re now “in the hole,” and you still need to pay for: trash, potties, sound equipment rental, printing (gate forms, programs, wristbands, etc), and supplies of all sorts.
Most festival planning committees have one of two arrangements. Either all financial choices go through a single individual, or else they are discussed and approved by a (sub)committee. Often, if an organizer commits to an expense (like hiring a band) or makes a purchase over a certain amount (say, for a piece of equipment) without going through the proper channels, it is that organizer who is financially responsible for the choice. They may likely end up eating that cost or considering it a donation to the event, paid back only if the event clears agreed upon expenses via their revenue streams — and has enough to spare.
Aside from these budgetary concerns, there are other aspects of money-handling and financial management that your event will need to plan for.
- Registration/Ticket Sales — Will you use a payment app like PayPal, CashApp, Venmo, etc? Does it make sense for you to use a ticketing platform like EventBrite or TicketLeap? Make sure you know the costs involved — sign-up fees, monthly fees, transaction fees, etc. You’ll also want to have a good understanding of how refunds and cancellations work on the app/platform. Will you allow some/any at-the-gate registrations/ticket sales? What data do you need to collect from your attendees? (Legal name, email address, phone, etc). Finally, who is managing this info? Someone will need to keep tabs on your pre-event sales so you can maintain your budget and make adjustments, if needed. But also, the person in charge of running your gate will need to have a list of attendees, fees still due, etc. (In an ideal situation, this is all handled by the same person, that way when gate staff has a question, the Gate Organizer already has insight into the issues.)
- Barters/Volunteers — Since staff for an event is often attending at a reduced cost, someone will need to keep an accurate list of who is paying what (and when). A copy of that list will also be needed at the gate so that gate staff can get volunteers checked-in and settle any balances owed. Volunteer Organizers often have to collaborate closely with both the financial decision-maker(s) and also the organizers of specific areas to balance festival costs and needs.
- Vendors — Many events charge a fee and/or require a donation item (to be sold/auctioned/raffled by the event) in order to sell goods and services during the event. A Vendor Organizer can help keep track of fees, assigning vendor spaces, collecting donated items, preparing promotional vendor info for the program, and communicating with vendors. They act as a liaison between vendors and the planning committee.
- Swag/Merch — Whether you are using a platform like RedBubble or Cafe Press to create on-demand swag that folks can access online, or you engage a print shop for a run of t-shirts to be sold on-site, someone will need to oversee the sales and provide accounting info to the team. If you have physical items that are being sold on-site at the event, a little time and attention will need to be given to maintaining an accurate inventory. (Otherwise, at the end of the event, you’ll have a stack of cash and some leftover shirts hanging out of a box, but no clear idea how many you sold, how many were given as freebies to special helpers/guests, etc.) Some events also sell author merch out of the Info Booth or Book Shop, as a benefit to presenters. Accurate accounting/inventory will be vital if you offer this.
- Auction/Raffle — If your event decides to host an auction or raffle, you’ll need someone in charge of this who can generate interest, sell tickets/maintain sales records, and speak to the assembled crowd to run the auction/raffle. It is wise to keep detailed records regarding items, winning bids (or number of tickets sold and total revenue), etc, if at all possible.
- Cash Drops — There are several places at your event that have the potential to collect cash, and it isn’t wise to leave large amounts of cash spread around in relatively unsecure spots. Any organizer in charge of an area where cash is handled should have a lockable cash box (that may need some bills/change as the “starting till” to kick-off the event). I also recommend stashing a couple of pens, index cards, and envelopes in these boxes so that notes/receipts can easily be written and “deposits/drops” can be made to a more secure central location. Festivals who see a lot of cash tendered at the gate, for instance, might make 3-5 drops on busy days just from that location. You’ll probably also want an end-of-day deposit from all areas, and most should be able to turn in their box for the night (and check it back out in the morning). Whatever system you use, I recommend having a consistent method so folks handling cash know what to expect.
If you start with a comprehensive budget, have systems in place for making financial choices, and use some basic cash-handling savvy, you and your event team can feel confident in the money-side of administration.
Some people are comfortable with showing up to an event without knowing what’s happening, what’s expected of them, or when things are scheduled. Those folks have their own plan, which may mean they’ve given themselves a weekend without any plans, and they are happy to float on the tide. Maybe they came for the people and some time in nature. If things are happening near them, they’ll get involved, if it fits their mood. Basically, they are a leaf in the stream.
MOST folks, though, will experience a bit (or even a lot) of anxiety if there is little or no communication regarding schedule, facilities, expectations, etc. The ability to mitigate this information-anxiety vortex is squarely in your (planning committee’s) hands.
Let’s look at the methods of communication you will need to consider — and who might be in charge of each.
- Social Media — People expect to see updates, reminders, and announcements on social media. These can serve as informational communiques with attendees, in addition to being part of your overall marketing strategy. (We’ll talk about marketing as its own topic.) You don’t have to be on every social platform, but you might consider one or two. Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok — these are currently the biggest. If your event doesn’t already have a Social Media Manager/Organizer, recruit one — and make sure they have the info to be able to help answer the inevitable questions that will come through this platform.
- Group/Forum/Online Community — You can create a Facebook group, Discord channel, or utilize a community/forum platform that can be integrated with your website. This is a great way to foster ongoing interactions between attendees, while providing you with a ready-made venue to disseminate event-related news and notes. You’ll need at least one person (or even a small team) to act as a moderator — approve membership requests, remove disruptive folks/spammers, answer questions (or direct queries to resources like website, specific organizers, etc).
- Website — This is the clearinghouse of information for your event. Don’t skimp on the details. You can save yourself an extraordinary amount of time answering questions if your website has pages/sections dedicated to your schedule, presenter bios, volunteer expectations, common registration questions, event facilities, community standards, and other FAQ’s. Not that having a thorough website will prevent folks from asking questions. (Let’s face it. Some folks will never go in search of the info like this. They will come straight to you. — These folks also don’t do Google searches.) But you can answer by directing them to the relevant page or even copy/pasting language from your site. (And some folks will read every word that you post!)
- Email — Collect emails from everyone who will be (or was) at your festival. Download them from PayPal during the pre-registration process. Have a line on your registration/waiver form for email. Use a Google Form to collect email along with other details from volunteers/staff. Any important information (registration/volunteer confirmation, pre-fest reminders, etc) should be communicated directly to your participants via email. You can make a copy of some things to your Facebook group or post a reminder on Instagram, but the surest way to reach folks is through direct email. More than one person may be responsible for sending emails. Perhaps the Registration Organizer will handle ticket confirmations and pre-fest reminders, but the Volunteer Organizer will be responsible for staff confirmations and pre-fest instructions, while the Vendor Organizer might have their own standardized messages for merchants.
- Program — Some small events don’t create a multi-page program, and that’s fine. A half-sheet schedule of activities can be great. A full program is useful, though, for larger events where schedules can get tricky, there are lots of presenters/performers/vendors to showcase, and/or you want to make sure everyone has been given the same message. I recommend making the program available in PDF form and posting it to your website, group/forum, and email so folks can download it to their phones. If you provide printed versions in addition to this, you might be able to print fewer. Or you could consider maintaining only a couple of copies at easily accessible locations — front gate, info booth, etc.
That’s a lot of communicating. At smaller events (and even some larger ones), you’d be surprised how many of the above duties fall to a single person. (I have been that single person! It can be very overwhelming.) As your team grows, you’ll be able to delegate these tasks to different organizers.
Of course, I feel like I ought to offer a few tips and special considerations, as well.
- Use form letters whenever you can. I know that sounds impersonal, but do you really want (or have the time) to create a fresh confirmation for every ticket-holder or volunteer? I have a few go-to form letters that I have created, including:
- Registration Confirmation Letter — This letter notates the names of everyone included in the registration, the amount still owed (if any), how that amount can be paid (in cash at the gate, or via PayPal before the event begins), the address of the venue, dates of the event, and a reminder to bring a photo ID. I also alert folks to be on the look-out for the Pre-Fest Reminders about a week before the event, and I provide contact info for our Vendor Organizer.
- Barter/Volunteer Confirmation Letter — Includes all of the info above, PLUS the volunteer/duty area, the arrival & departure days/times indicated on their application, and a note regarding the importance of communicating changes with us (since we are now relying on them to help us run the event).
- Presenter/Performer Confirmation Letter — Looks pretty similar to the two above, but it also includes the titles and time requirements of each contracted presentation/performance, as well as details regarding compensation (free/reduced festival entry, stipend/honorarium, meals, travel, etc — whatever was negotiated).
- Vendor Confirmation Letter — This letter confirms the point of contact for the merchant, booth space needs, and contact info. We also provide instructions for where to check-in after arrival to start setting up, rules about vehicles, etc. This would be the place to indicate fees paid/owed, if applicable.
- General Pre-Fest Reminders — I include the address, dates, and ID reminders again, as well as tips and tricks specific to the event/venue, locations of services on-site, some basic rules, etc.
- Barter/Volunteer Pre-Fest Letter — Includes everything in the “general reminders” but it also lists the points of contact for each work area, reinforces expectations set elsewhere, and details the consequences for failing to meet expectations (ie, repayment of registration for skipped shifts, inability to barter in the future, removal from the event — depending on the nature of the problem).
- Presenter/Performer Pre-Fest Letter — Sent in addition to (not instead of) general reminders. This letter reminds presenters of their schedule, their point of contact, and any amenities that we have in places for them.
- Vendor Pre-Fest Letter — Also sent in addition to general reminders. This note is generally a restatement/reinforcement of information provided in their confirmation — where to find the Vendor Coordinator, how to get set up, where vehicles need to be parked, etc.
- Google Forms and Survey Monkey are your friends. Don’t rely on people to provide you details just because you stated your need for them on your website. Capture the details you need using a structured online form. It is a huge time-saver. (Some of my early frustrations revolved around having to track down details through a series of 1-on1 emails with 20-80 different people.)
- Understand that about 80% of the questions people have will get asked in the week leading up to the event. You will probably be doing 10,000 other things at that point, and may already be on-site (and out of communication range). Try to make sure that some other folks are empowered to answer questions, and do yourself the favor of checking in at times you schedule for yourself. (If you try to answer every question as it pops into your email/DM, you will feel like you are playing whack-a-mole. It saps your energy and attention, too.) However urgent the question is to the person asking it, they can wait a few hours until you have a chance to reply.
- In a Covid-swept landscape, folks are going to need to know your policies and procedures. If you require proof of vaccine and/or recent testing to attend, make sure that is posted clearly (everywhere). Are you requiring face coverings? What can you put in place regarding physical distancing, handwashing, sanitizing? Are temperature scans going to happen? Will refunds be offered to folks who have to cancel due to Covid exposure/infection? Are you taking any other precautions that are specific to your event? These are all points that people want and need to know.
- Cloud-based project management can save your sanity. I use Google Drive to collaborate with folks a lot, but I’ve also tried and liked Microsoft Teams. There are others out there, but both of these have free options, and most folks are familiar with Google and Microsoft. You will (of necessity) have spreadsheets and docs to plan your schedules, communications, budget, and resource allocations. Having them accessible to the other stakeholders is just an incredible time-saver.
- Capture notes (ideas, suggestions, stray inspiration) at the event. I carry a spiral notebook with me on-site, where I scribble problems/solutions, items for follow-up, flashes of genius, and suggestions from attendees/presenters. A digital tablet or phone could also work. (I like the lo-fi method when I’m at an event because I struggle to keep my phone charged in the woods, and I don’t have Internet connection most of the time anyway.) Whatever you do, don’t kid yourself into thinking you’ll remember everything once the event is done. You will not.
- Once you’re at the event, adopt this mantra: “Relax! Nothing is under control.” However meticulous you are in your planning style, snags and problems are going to arise. Do your absolute best to keep people safe, stay on schedule, and keep track of the money, and take everything else in stride. You can find a solution for whatever happens.
Those are the basics! As with everything else, you will develop procedures and have concerns that are unique to your event or your team.
[Laurelei Black is a TradCraft Witch and Aphrodisian with 25+ years experience in event and program planning. Getting her start during her freshman year of college, Laurelei has been involved in campus programming, alumni events, campouts, retreats, and festivals. She is the Co-Director of the Babalon Rising Pan-Thelemic Festival and the Director of the Women’s Goddess Retreat, in addition to being a Director and lead festival organizer for Camp Midian in Southern Indiana.]