In a busy, corporate society, the ability of events to bring communities together and inspire greater good is often overlooked. One of the many things we love most about the Bay Area is its refusal to subjugate its sense of community to a corporatized "big city mentality". Uniquely, San Francisco uses its wealth to preserve the strength of communities and unite them to support local causes- and have fun!
But when it comes to promoting events in a way that reaches multiple communities in a large, diverse metropolis can be challenging- especially in a niche-oriented market. Event planners are taught to track and personalize their marketing strategies toward highly specific audiences. So it's not hard to understand why so many event businesses have yet to take on what seems like such a simple task: planning community-oriented events that bring people together by celebrating shared interests.
Yet mastering it with an event that brings communities together and celebrates diversity is an exercise in inclusive marketing that benefits you as a business. As both an event planner and community member, planning a great community event is an opportunity you won't want to miss. Here are some creative community event ideas that bring everyone together!
1. Host a Film Screening
You'll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't love to watch movies on a big screen with a side of popcorn (and perhaps a few vegan, gluten free options so everyone can enjoy). But hosting a film screening is about more than getting together for the sake of entertainment. Films spark new perspectives and ideas. They stimulate interest and conversations between community members who wouldn't normally have in-depth discussions or even socialize together.
You could opt for a cult classic or popular new film that you know a majority of people will be interested, or you could take another route. Indie films that spark awareness about a topic that affects the general community inspire people to start talking about things that matter. Thought-provoking films give people a reason to connect about issues that affect them, and offer new perspectives.
You can also host a charity film screening that gives to a cause people in your community care about. Was your community was recently affected by a natural disaster or been deeply impacted by specific world issues? The latter covers everyone, and in today's world, it's not hard to find a charity to sponsor. Your film doesn't have to be a documentary or in any way related to the charity (although linking the two can have a powerful impact on the community). But choosing a film that's purely entertaining or enjoyable can still earn money toward a charity that brings people together.
If your community is passionate about supporting local artists, consider organizing a screening for an independent filmmaker in the area. If profit go toward an organization that supports local artists in any way, it adds even more meaning to the event. Who knows- you or others might even be inspired to start a community cinema or film club that make your event into a quarterly tradition.
Make your community members feel like VIPS by rolling out a literal red carpet at the entrance. It's a special Hollywood touch that doesn't require a Hollywood budget, a cute, Instagrammable way to make your whole community feel like the stars of the show.
If you can get a PR buzz going, that's great- but as with most events, you don't really need the press to get news of your screening circulating. Post it on all of your social media platforms with links to your website, send it to everyone on your email list, and make regular updates to keep everyone in the loop. Promote it as a community event with a purpose- to get people together and keep them connected through film, art, and creativity.
2. Plan a Trade Party
A trade party, sometimes aptly dubbed a swap shop, is a free local event in which people give away items they no longer want in exchange for things they do want. Anything that isn't traded can be donated to community members in need. The benefits for the community and environment are plenty. Trade parties reduce the amount of items people throw away, most of which go to landfills. This kind of gathering is also a big help to people in need. Yes, we're talking about people living in extreme poverty. But in today's world, many of us need more than is outwardly apparent.
For example, let's say you're moving into a new unfurnished apartment, but your school loans are so high you won't be able to afford furniture for months. Well, you may have other valuable items you're not using- such as books you no longer have time to read, clothes you outgrew when you put on that freshman fifteen four years ago, or literally anything you need less than furniture to survive. You get the drift. One person's garbage is another man's treasure, and communities that support each other fare better economically and socially.
For a more creative spin on the trade party idea, ask everyone to bring at least one unwanted item and hide them in clever places around your event space. Then have a scavenger hunt, and give away one item to every participant at the end of the game. Encourage people to bring homemade lunches and bakery goods to fuel the fun. With this idea, everybody wins.
3. Celebrate an Internet Holiday in Real Time
We've all been heartened to sign into Instagram and see that it's "National Daughter's Day", "National Pet Day", or be reminded about more momentous milestones such as International Women's Day. Recently, we've even come across #GetToKnowYourCustomersDay, an annually observed event that falls on the third Thursdays of each quarter. The objective is to encourage businesses to reach out to consumers and get to know them better.
Other holidays that inspire events include Pay It Forward Day, which is a worldwide kindness celebration that encourages acts of kindness; International Day of Families; National Donut Day; and Earth Day. The list could go on and on- and so could the possibilities for events. You could do something as simple as get local vendors together for a donut fest on National Donut Day. (Who doesn't love donuts? And for goodness sake, include vegan and gluten-free options on the menu).
For Earth Day, host a gardening gathering in which people plant flowers for spring and compost their lunch. A block party for International Family Day is a great way to start a community tradition that brings people with a diverse range of interests together. Pay It Forward Day presents an opportunity to host a swap shop or a charity brunch in which people give to a charity of their choice. (Let people know that literally every dollar counts- this will make even people who can give $5 or less feel welcome).
You can also host an event based on a popular theme on social media and in society. For example, diversity and inclusivity are becoming more and more relevant to businesses and daily life. Why not host an inclusive fashion show in your community that celebrates all body types? You might also want to tap into a universal love- food. Plan a food festival that features international dishes and desserts. Or hire a local chef to host a class on how to make delicious meals from around the world, or one special, traditional meal from a specific culture. An event like this adds to the culture and unity of your community in a memorable way.
4. Take the Community on a Staycation
Everybody adores a vacation- but few can up and take one whenever the whim arises. In this case, desperate times call for not-so-desperate measures. Use your creative license to design an experience that lets people get away from it all without leaving the comfort and convenience of their own city.
There are a couple of routes you could take on the journey to the ultimate staycation. Consider the fact that most people are too busy to treat themselves to a remotely adequate level of self-care- which is why holistic-themed events are becoming more and more popular. To pamper your attendees, you can plan a massage and facial day at a spa or in the comfort of your home (depending on how much and what kind of space you have, of course). You could also rent a local loft or cozy studio space to have a "wellness day", complete with massages, facials, juices, and meditation.
You don't have to break the bank to plan a luxurious spa day, either. Most pharmacies have an array of standard, organic, and hypoallergenic facial and cleansing products. Most feel super luxurious and not store-bought at all. You can also have a sustainable beauty day. Hire a make-up artist who uses natural products teaches guests how to create an inexpensive, organic beauty routine.
Holistic events emphasize the importance of self-care in a busy world that prioritizes productivity over wellness. Communities become stronger when they adopt more holistic practices- when you take care of yourself, you have more energy and resources to give others, and you set an example for the next generation.
For a family-oriented staycation, collectively indulge the inner child by planning a family fun trip. Invite your community to a local arcade, roller rink, indoor rock-climbing excursion, or sports game. Or channel your inner grown-up, dress up to the nines, and treat your community members to dinner at the most iconic luxury spot in the city. (Think the Rainbow Room in NYC, Universal Studios in Hollywood, Napa Valley wine country in the NorCal.
5. Be A Local Tourist
There's a lot to be said for local tourism, especially in diverse, bustling cities like San Francisco with a plentitude of culture and history to explore. If the weather and season permits, take a guided tour through historic sites in your city or ride bikes past the best street art in town. (Unsurprisingly, street art tours are absolutely a thing in San Francisco). You could also host a hike around your city and give it a "hidden gems" theme. The agenda? Discover novel places in your city that few people know about, and explore them together.
Experiencing the subcultures in your city and seeing it from new perspectives together creates a strong sense of community. It also creates an enjoyable learning experience for children and younger adults, showing them from an early age that learning can be fun- and community is just as important to big cities as it is in smaller towns. Feeling connected to one's community doesn't have to be something they heard about from their parents, who heard about it on Little House on the Prairie. And local tourism gets bonus points in cities because you'll never run out of new ways to explore it.
If you're not up for a hike, take a crawl. We're not just talking about traditional pub crawls, although those are a lot of fun, too. Pick any theme and run- er, crawl- with it. Okay, enough with the puns. If you really want to build a sense of community, choose a local theme (think locally owned bakeries, boutiques, coffee spots, book and novelty stores, fashion outlets- you name it. By doing this, you're creating an opportunity for your community to learn more about its local businesses, their practices, and any events or projects they may be involved in.
If the event is a hit, why not make it a regular thing? Create a monthly or quarterly meetup in which a new member chooses the destination each time. For ideas, check out the local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) or view your local library's list of upcoming community events.
6. Indulge Your Inner Artist
As is the case with self-care, many people don't have enough time to dedicate to art as a hobby. Whether you're latent Picasso, love to crochet on your days off, or just have an innate appreciation for art, you'll enjoy creating an event that nurtures the inner artist. And your community members will love you for providing them with an affordable creative outlet that doesn't require too much time or commitment.
Treat your community to a film, cooking, painting, sculpting, or even master makeup class. Create ceramic or mosaic art at a local fire arts shop or for attending a painting and wine glass doesn't require any skills. Some studios even combine the best of both worlds with pasta and painting nights. You'd be hard-pressed to find a community that doesn't collectively harbor a love of pasta and wine, if not painting by itself.
7. Have a Traditional (Or Not So Traditional) Block Party
There's a reason traditional block parties are so beloved in American history. They're totally still a thing, and for good reason. Not only do they get people out of their houses and out on the streets, but they bring a multitude of people with diverse interests together. Block parties give people a chance to do what they love together.
While most block parties can be held in a neighborhood on the streets, sometimes there isn't enough room or a permit issue arises. In these cases, block parties can be held in parks, event centers, or community centers.
To choose a theme, consider the season or any approaching holidays. Even if your region is cold during the holidays, you can transform your neighborhood into a tiny holiday village, strung with twinkling lights and cozy decorations. You could create pop-up style shops that sell holiday-themed food, drinks, novelty items, and gifts. Be sure to include games that are fun for all ages, such as a scavenger hunt or gingerbread house craft.
If your block party is happening in the fall, nature has practically handed you quite a few themes- think "Everything Fall", featuring autumn classics like lattes, cozy hoodies, bonfires, marshmallow roasts, and so on. These fall traditions have become clichés for a reason- because people love them. Of course, there's also the option to hold your own min Oktoberfest. Traditionally, this one tends to be more adult-themed, featuring an abundance of beer tastings and hearty German foods. However, it can easily be made kid-friendly by simply adding games or activities such as scavenger hunts, face painting, cooking activities for children, or even virgin beers for older kids to feel included!
For spring, you can get even more creative. The weather is warm but not too hot, so if you live in the suburbs, try hosting a sustainable-themed party with gardening or compost activities and food made from freshly grown fruit and vegetables? A "spring awakening" type theme celebrates the growth and renewal of the earth each year, and the bounty it brings us. When it's summertime, the living's easy! A "summer in the city" theme could include a huge variety of family fun activities. Think face painting, inflatables for younger kids, fireworks, karaoke, bike races, water balloon tosses, arts and crafts, framed photo booths, music, dancing, and more. To entertain kids of all ages and interests, host a chalk art contest, Nerf battle, or storytelling.
For rural or suburban areas, celebrate the great outdoors with tents and campfire stories. If it's not reasonable to give people the option to sleep outdoors in a tent, sell or trade outdoorsy items underneath large tent spaces. People can wander from tent to tent in search of a variety of interesting camping or seasonal outdoors items. This is another ideal opportunity to pull off a trade party or swap shop. Unless you're leveraging the party as a way to make sales or launch a new product, you might want to save money by hosting a Great Outdoors Exchange. You'd be surprised at how many people have seasonal staples like bicycles, parkas, ski wear, various sporting goods, camping essentials, and more. Many times, we buy these things in mint condition but simply don't use them, or use them
so little that they're still practically new when we realize someone else could use them.
For more seasonal block and holiday party ideas, check out our archives and keep your eyes peeled in 2020. We regularly put our own unique twist on iconic seasonal event ideas.
8. Host a Meet Your Neighbors Party
In most cities and towns, the days in which we have time to get to know our neighbors and feel personally connected to them are over. Society is just too busy- many people are juggling careers, families, continued education, and various other responsibilities. So if you want your neighborhood to feel and function more like a community, party in the name of getting to know each other. Play games geared toward learning more about each other and breaking up into teams throughout the event.
We recently heard about a neighborhood that hosted an utterly magical annual Southwest-style luminaria display. Why not host an art party in which all of your neighbors engage in a creative art or craft together? And keep the wine and/or cocktails coming to break the ice and get everyone socializing. For those who are brave enough, karaoke can be a seriously powerful icebreaker.
Or you can start a game of "Two Truths and a Lie". In case you've been living in a cardboard box and haven't heard of it, it's when each player makes three statements, and the others have to guess which is the lie.
If your neighborhood is home to a lot of families with children, hosting a regular moms-night-out where moms can decompress with relaxing activities- or let loose with music, dancing, and cocktails.
Some children's icebreakers? Try Icebreaker Bingo, Charades, or a game of Show and Tell in which kids share items, pets, or other things that are important to them. Then they get the opportunity to tell all about what they shared, and why it's so special. You might also put a creative spin on a game of beach ball. Here's how it works: You take a large beach ball and write different questions on each patch. When a child catches the ball, he or she will answer the question their pointer finger or thumb is touching.
Getting to know each other keeps communities safer, more productive, and generally happier. So even if you don't live in a community in which people seem outwardly friendly, don't shy away from the idea. When getting to know each other involves fun, food, or drinks- and conveniently happens right outside their backdoors- getting everyone all in one place is easier than you think. Once everyone is present, they leave their responsibilities behind (well, except for their children and cell phones, which connect some people to work virtually all the time). Still, being in a fun, community setting with not much else to do tends to put people in relax mode. Once they get into the mix, they forget a lot of their reservations, open up, and get to know each other. And icebreakers go a long way toward, well, breaking the ice.
Hopefully, we've given you some helpful starting points for planning your community event. One of the most exciting parts of planning an event like this is that you get to put your own creative spin on almost any idea you read about. While many events, such as networking parties and conferences, have concrete goals, community events allow a little more breathing room. The main objective of any event like this is to bring people together for a good time and allow them to get to know each other. Anything else is just a bonus!
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