Open houses and site visits can be excellent ways to attract potential donors or partners, and keep existing stakeholders invested in your programming. Whether you’re focused on enhancing your fundraising strategies, community engagement, or family involvement, an open house or site visit may be the answer.
The best open houses require some planning to ensure the logistics run smoothly and that you get your guests excited about your youth program. Let’s look at six important aspects of planning and execution that go into a mindfully managed open house.
1. Start with the big picture.
Before you get into the details, start broad. Think about the purpose of your open house and what you want guests to take away. For instance, you may decide you want to highlight certain outcomes to demonstrate your program’s value to donors, or you want to show potential partners how you get kids excited about music or science through fun activities.
Whatever your purpose is, it should inform the rest of your event planning and overall fundraising strategy.
2. Invite the right guests.
For an open house, it’s safe to assume that only about a quarter of the folks you invite will actually attend, so you can invite several times as many people as you would ideally want to be in attendance. Consider opening the invitation to any stakeholders who may benefit from learning more about your program.
If there are participants you consider VIPs who you especially want to be there, check with these guests early in the planning process to see if your proposed date works, and then work around their schedule if needed to ensure they can make it. (If they can't, consider offering a 1:1 site visit at a later date and give them a private tour.)
3. Identify the ideal day for your event.
There are a few different approaches to choosing a day for your open house. You can set aside a special day and time for activities, learn days to avoid to boost attendance or if your program is in full swing, you can simply pick a day when participants can see your program in action. A slice-of-life approach can be an easy and effective way to share your impact.
You can also choose a special event like a field day to double as an open house. However, keep in mind that you want some staff to focus solely on the open house rather than have their attention divided between it and other activities.
4. Create a schedule and stick to it.
Both your team and your guests will benefit from your open house adhering to a schedule. As you create the agenda for your event, give special attention to the beginning and end. Allow some buffer time at the beginning of the event for guests to trickle in and mingle. Then, share some opening remarks to officially start the open house.
Be mindful of the end time you’ve set and stick to it to show respect for your participants’. If you see you’re running out of time, you can abbreviate your schedule and let guests know they’re welcome to stay longer for optional activities or a Q&A if their calendar allows.
See a sample agenda to help you prepare in our Open House Planning Guide!
5. Involve and prepare your whole team.
It’s great to have a single person or small team responsible for coordinating the open house, but you need to delegate and involve other staff members to help your open house run smoothly and better engage guests.
You may want to have a program leader bookend the event with their remarks, but during the event, your paid staff, volunteers, and even parents can act as tour guides or remain at specific locations to share information with guests. Consider involving kids too. An enthusiastic kid who greets guests as they enter a classroom and speaks about their experience in the program or explains what the group is working on can help open house guests feel more connected to your program.
Even staff who will just be going about business as usual should be given a briefing document before the open house so that they are prepared to have guests observing their activities.
6. Don’t neglect the details.
It makes sense to get the big considerations taken care of first, but don't stop there. The small details matter in making the right impression and ensuring your event goes smoothly.
For instance, having some simple drinks and refreshments available for people as they arrive can set a hospitable tone. Printed information packets can make you appear organized and help guests follow along. Plus, it gives them some literature to take home. Attention to detail in these areas can go a long way to help you feel prepared and to impress your guests.
Time to start planning!
Whether you’re working to secure your donor pipeline or want to get current partners more excited about your programming, a mindfully managed open house can be a powerful tool.
Ready to host an open house? We've got you covered with a customizable and detailed checklist that covers preparation through follow-up to ensure you feel confident, prepared, and ready to make your program shine. Download your copy to get started!