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Learn why celebrating the work done by your members is a vital part of the health of any organization.


  • Why is this section in the Tool Box?

  • When should you throw a party?

  • How do you throw a party?

Imagine yourself as the leader of a coalition. You have been working all year only to decrease the rate of teenage smoking in your community. After concerns surveys, town hall meetings, focus groups, creating youth leadership teams, and direct interventions, you get the results back. Teen smoking has decreased! What do you do? You celebrate your accomplishment!

Now, imagine you are the leader of that same coalition, only it is in its first year of existence. You have worked to assemble a leadership team, made connections in the community, held town hall meetings, and found what you believe are the interventions necessary to reduce teen smoking. After all of that work, the school year ended without one intervention successfully completed in the schools. What do you do? Celebrate your hard work!

If your imagination can take it, let's examine one more scenario. This time, you have been working to decrease the rate of teenage smoking through the same concerns surveys, town hall meetings, focus groups, leadership teams, and interventions as the first scenario. The results came in, and teen smoking increased! What do you do? Celebrate your effort!

No matter the outcome, it is important to step back from the work and pat yourself on the back. It's important to reward yourself and your colleagues for what they have accomplished. Celebrations should never be reserved strictly for accomplishing incredible goals. Any time people put time and energy toward improving their community, it is worth special recognition.

Why is this section in the Tool Box?

Celebrating the work done by its members is a vital part of the health of any organization. Too often we treat celebrations like our good china, only dusting it off once a year for a holiday. Rather than rare occasions, rewarding hard work should be an integral part of any community effort. So, if you're looking for an excuse to throw a party, here are a few:

Arranging celebrations strengthens relationships in your workplace

It fosters communications between different members of an initiative. Have you ever heard of one of those offices where the accounting department has no idea who works in marketing? Perhaps you have worked in an office like that - hardly an ideal situation. Having regular social gatherings takes working relationships beyond simple business partnerships and into friendships, which improves the functioning and level of happiness in the office. Let's be may also provide much needed fun in a n office that can sometimes get a little TOO serious.

Arranging celebrations rewards hard work

It is a chance to recognize volunteers who are often taken for granted and to acknowledge the effort of co-workers. It is also a time to include people not normally present inside your organization, such as community members who helped with the initiative but are not committed volunteers or workers. Celebrations are also an opportune time to invited grant-makers and influential others to view the success of your organization. Parties are a great way to gather everyone involved in community change and revel in the strength and success of the organization.

Arranging celebrations provides a moment to stop for reflection

It is structured time to discuss the accomplishments of the group, and to see what could be done in the future to improve success. It is also beneficial to throw a party when things have not been 100% successful. Gathering and sharing what successes have stemmed from in an initiative, even in the case of increased teen smoking, is very powerful. For example, even though teen smoking increased, a youth leadership organization formed that can have impact the next school year. Connections have also been made with influential others that will further change. Celebrations in a time of perceived failure are an excellent way of pointing out how far the organization has come. It is also a time for honest reflection about where the group can go to improve their results over the current year. Often times, discussing problems in a formal boardroom setting only adds to the tension. In a laid-back, celebratory atmosphere it is easier for people to be frank about what they perceive the problems are and how they feel the organization can improve.

When should you throw a party?

  • After reaching an important goal. It is important to recognize achievements in every stage of the organizational process, including brainstorming, planning, organizing, and implementing. The goals could pertain to employees, fiscal matters, completing a project, beginning a project -- you get the picture. Some goals to recognize include the hiring of a new employee, the completion of a grant proposal, the creation of a new task force, testifying in front of the city council or school board, and more.
  • At the end of the year
  • When you don't quite reach a goal. It's great to gather everyone together to boost morale.
  • Moments of transition. When employees leave, or when they begin work, the promotion of a co-worker or new leadership on a project -- all are great times to have a celebration. All of those events are important to the ones most directly involved, and it is nice to include everyone else in the excitement.
  • Anytime! Sometimes, it's great to celebrate for no real reason at all. Not having an agenda can be the best agenda because it allows people to sit back and enjoy themselves, getting to know the people around them in the process.

How do you throw a party?

Check the budget

The amount of money you have to spend on a party changes the celebration tremendously. That's not to say, however, that you can't have a blast on a small budget! Here are some ideas for all sorts of celebrations catering to all sorts of budgets.

Low budget

  • A casual park retreat with brown-bag lunches
  • A swimming party at the local pool (with water volleyball, of course)
  • A potluck at the office during lunch, or directly after work
  • A basketball tournament at the local community center
  • An office talent show
  • A BBQ at the boss's house
  • TGIF at a local restaurant
  • A Superbowl party with a Super Fan contest
  • Coffee and doughnuts on a really cold Monday morning
  • Birthday celebrations for every employee's birthday (even if it is just a card and "Happy Birthday" sung off-key)
  • A Halloween costume contest, with the winner receiving a pumpkin

Moderate budget

  • Have lunch catered for all office employees
  • Host a community coffee to discuss current achievements
  • Buy tickets to a community theater production for office workers
  • Have an ice cream social for all volunteers
  • Throw a winter party complete with food and drinks
  • Cater a BBQ at the local park
  • Have high tea for community influentials
  • Turn the office into a Haunted House for the local children to trick-or-treat
  • Take everyone miniature golfing
  • Have an old-fashioned party on tax day complete with pin-the-tail-on-Uncle Sam
  • Have a pie-eating contest
  • Buy a case of Girl Scout cookies for the office and run a flavor-of-the week until they run out
  • Have an office tennis/volleyball/soccer/softball/flag football tournament
  • Challenge City Hall to any of the above tournaments
  • Have a pizza party for teens who helped out the organization
  • Take the afternoon off of work as a group and invade a karaoke bar

Robust budget

  • Rent out the city pool for an evening and have a party for everyone who has helped the initiative
  • Turn the parking lot into a community carnival
  • Hire a local band or DJ for a party at the community center
  • Have a banquet
  • Take all office workers to an amusement park
  • Hire the local bungee jumping expert and his/her equipment for the day
  • Go on a weekend camping trip
  • Take the group horse-back riding
  • Cater a sushi dinner for important contributors, with office staff dressed the part as servers
  • Fly a group to Broadway to catch a show
  • Take the group sailing
  • Go to an improv comedy show
  • Take everyone to the zoo
  • Rent out a facility with racquetball courts, basketball courts, climbing walls, etc. for a lock-in
  • Go to a paint-your-own ceramics place and let everyone make their own coffee mugs
  • Sponsor a community prom
  • Buy everyone tickets to a local concert
  • Sponsor a check-point at a charity walk/run

Decide the scale

Now that you have ideas in mind for what type of celebration you should have, it's time to think about who to invite.

  • For a small gathering, focus on the purpose of the party, and then form the guest list from there. For example, if this celebration is to reward office productivity, the staff should comprise the bulk of the invitation list. In general a small gathering will have guests from one category in your organization. Some of those categories include office personnel, funders, city officials, key youth leaders, community leaders, the media, church leaders, school officials/teachers, etc.
  • A medium-sized gathering is composed of a mixture of groups that are important to the organization. For example, after successfully reducing teen smoking, it might be a good idea to invite youth leaders, school officials, funders, and office personnel. This provides a way for different parts of your organization to become acquainted.
  • There are some times when you have to have BIG celebrations. In this case, invite everyone you can think of who has ties to your organization. For example, if you just successfully completed the largest blood drive in the state, invite hospital officials, nurses and doctors who participated in the drive, all the donors, your staff, the volunteers who were in charge of recruitment, everyone's families and friends. At that point, you might also invite the fire marshall to control the number of people at the party!

Pick a place

Do you want to be in the office for that business-like feel, or do you want to see the boss hanging upside down on a roller coaster ride? The place you decide to have the party dramatically influences the type of interactions your invitees will have. The office is a great low-budget place to have a party, but so is a park.

Here are a few suggestions of places to have a celebration:

  • The office
  • A restaurant
  • The community center
  • A pool
  • A person's house
  • An amusement park
  • A park
  • An indoor gym
  • A banquet hall
  • A school
  • A church
  • A ball room
  • A camp site
  • A baseball field
  • Tennis/basketball/volleyball courts
  • Miniature golf course
  • A lake
  • A shopping mall
  • A bar
  • A tea room
  • An ice-skating rink
  • A bowling alley
  • A movie theater

Invite the people

This is crucial. Without people, a party just doesn't have the same ring. Seriously, though, it is important to think carefully about your guest list. Do you want to invite the media to attend? Is this going to be strictly for co-workers? Are your volunteers going to be there? Will they receive special recognition? Do you want to invite people you would like to impress (like city officials)? Are you going to invite people whom you would like to have join your initiative in the near future? If you are going to turn your celebration into a formal affair, it is important that your guest list reflect the nature of your party.

Get food

Food and drink are essential for a gathering. Sharing food is probably humankind's oldest and most basic expression of friendship and common ground. It creates the mood of celebration and relaxation that you want a party to have. Food gives people something to comment on, a way to entertain themselves, and a central gathering point (around the table). It also provides guests with a clue as to the type of party they are attending.

Here are a few suggestions of the types of food you could have at a party:

  • Picnic theme: fried/BBQ chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, fruit, fruit pies
  • BBQ (a close relative to picnic)
  • Movie theme: popcorn, Milk Duds, Twizzlers, M&Ms, fountain drinks
  • Ball Park: hot dogs, pretzels, peanuts, cracker jacks, chocolate malts, beer, soft drinks
  • Tea Party: tea, finger sandwiches, cookies, little cakes
  • Vegetarian Delight: any dish sans meat!
  • Appetizers: chips & dip, veggies & dip, little sandwiches, shrimp cocktail, and anything else that is easy to grab
  • Confections: cookies, cakes, pies, and anything else with the first ingredient sugar
  • Breakfast of Champions: eggs, bacon, waffles, pancakes, omelets, French toast
  • Tropical Paradise: specialty drinks, fresh fruit, kabobs, and anything with a tiny umbrella
  • Catered anything!
  • Potluck!

Get entertainment

  • Entertainment is important because it adds flavor to your gathering, even if its purpose is only to provide background noise for the conversations taking place at the celebration. Most anything can be entertainment, from an old stereo to Elvis impersonators!
  • A few ideas to get you started:
  • Have a theme party - 60s, 70s, 80s, Halloween, sports, animated heroes - anything that will bring your group together with a common idea in mind
  • Have a talent show
  • Bring in musicians
  • Have a DJ or bring your own stereo
  • Decorate the place you are hosting the gathering
  • Hire Elvis impersonators
  • Bring in a karaoke machine
  • Rent/go to movies
  • Hire a Mariachi band
  • Rent inflatable sumo wrestler suits for people to wrestle in (also available human bowling, Velcro wall, and other games)
  • Zoo animals (if going to the zoo)
  • Amusement park rides
  • Set up a dance floor
  • Fireworks
  • A string quartet
  • A swing band
  • A performance by the local elementary school (vocal, plays, etc)
  • Art (if hosting in an art museum)
  • Beach balls, volleyballs, basketballs, tennis balls, footballs, etc.
  • Board games, card games, drawing games, guessing games
  • Making arts and crafts
  • Costume contests, baking contests, eating contests
  • Stand-up comedy

Get organized

A good party is planned by the skilled organizer in the office, the one who can simultaneously deal with guest lists, food, timing, logistics, and all of the other things that will inevitably go wrong at the last minute. Organization is the key to a good party because a party that flows smoothly won't interrupt the festive mood that a celebrations supposed to put everyone in.

Thank everyone!

The party should focus on the people who gave the organization a reason to celebrate. It is important to recognize the volunteers, community members, youth, co-workers and influential others who made creating a reason to celebrate easy. Also, don't forget to thank the people who put the celebration together!

In Summary

Celebration is an important aspect of any community initiative. People are proud of the work they do for your organization, and want to have a venue to express that. Sharing feelings of celebration with the community is powerful, showing others what you have done and how happy you are to be doing the work that is vital to the community. Finding reasons to throw a party boosts morale and increases social ties inside the workplace. Volunteer recognition, crucial for attracting and maintaining an active volunteer population, is a natural in a festive atmosphere. There are a million reasons to throw a party, so create one and go have fun!

Online Resources

Better Homes and Gardens - Entertaining offers tips for everything from food to decorating.

The Entertaining section of Martha Stewart's website offers a wealth of tips for hosting the perfect event!

The International Society of Meeting Planners serves as a medium for meeting planners to communicate not only on a national basis, but on an international basis as well. The international Society of Meeting planners is currently represented by members around the globe. The primary objective of the International Society of Meeting Planners is to provide professional recognition and a method to easily network with recognized professionals both internationally as well as within your own nation.

Party411 provides ideas for themes, dishes, invitations, banners, and everything else you need to make your celebration a success.

Print Resource

Vineyard, S. (1989). Beyond banquets, plaques, and pins. Downers Grove, IL: Heritage Arts Publishing.