6 minutes read

How to Plan a Fall Festival

Scarecrow in front of old farm truck.

Autumn is an exciting time of year, full of new beginnings. Children go back to school, families get back into their routines, and we all begin preparing for another holiday season.

Across the United States, schools, communities, and churches celebrate this time of year with fall festivals, also known as harvest festivals. Autumn festivals are traditionally held to express appreciation for the harvest as well as wish for a good crop in the coming year. For schools and community centers, a fall festival is a way of ringing in the new season and enjoying traditions like hay rides, corn mazes, and apple cider. 

Harvest festivals are fun for the whole family, but elaborate traditions come with elaborate challenges. Here are some tips for staying organized, overcoming common pitfalls, and hosting a wonderful fall festival.

Here are 9 steps to planning the perfect Autumn Festival

Based on our users’ ideas, we’ve created these 9 steps to help you plan your Fall Festival.

1. Create a site map showing everything you need

Planning an event is a project management feat for anyone. If you’re on a tight budget, hiring a professional event planner may be out of reach. More often than not, fall festivals are planned by teachers, church staff, or volunteers. 

If planning a major event is new to you, it is extra important to have a detailed site map to help you stay organized. In OnePlan, you can easily build a site map, placing all elements (tents, food vendors, corn mazes, signs, restrooms, etc) onto the map. 

County Fair in OnePlan

Use your map to illustrate your plan to local authorities when applying for permits or share it with volunteers so they know where they’re stationed. OnePlan will automatically generate an inventory management report making it easy to see how much of everything you need. It can also help you manage staff. 

OnePlan has all you need to stay organized and take your harvest festival to the next level.

2. Establish a Planning Committee

With so many major elements like food, activities, volunteer management, and marketing, it’s great to establish a planning committee for your autumn festival. Having a small group of dedicated volunteers, each with their own element to take care of, can make planning a festival much more manageable.

With OnePlan, each committee member can edit the site map for the entire committee to see. The map will be your single source of truth, always up to date so that you’re aware of the planning committee’s progress on all of the elements of the festival.

To share your plan with your team or stakeholders, simply click the “Share” button in the top right-hand corner of your event plan.

Then add the email address of the person you’d like to share your event plan with and give them either view-only or edit access. Done! Your plan is now shared.

3. Apply for Permits

Aligning with local regulations, applying for permits, and ensuring your event isn’t interrupted by unhappy authorities, is one of your most important – and most tedious – tasks on your list. There are temporary event permits, food vendor permits, and many more depending on where you’re hosting the festival.

One of the worst mistakes you can make is to delay applying for necessary permits for your event. In most cases, the first thing you need to do when planning any public event is to provide your local government with a detailed event plan, risk assessments, and proof of public liability insurance. Allow plenty of time for these to be processed (we recommend submitting them several months before the event). Connect with your venue and local government to make sure all the boxes are ticked. 

Event Management Form

Your easy-to-share OnePlan site map will come in handy when ensuring your event map complies with regulations.

You can find a full permit and licensing checklist in the free OnePlan Event Management FormTo access it within the OnePlan studio, click on ‘Templates’ in the top menu. 

4. Make Critical Decisions

There are lots of decisions to make before you can really dive into planning a fall festival. Here are a few to consider:

  • Will tickets be all inclusive or will guests pay per activity?
  • Will food be cash only, included with entry, or will you need a system for accepting credit cards?
  • Will you rent games or ask volunteers to build them?
  • Will you have some paid staff or solely volunteers run the event?
  • Where will the profits from the event go? 
  • Will you get event sponsors?
  • Will you rent tents and other elements? Where will you rent them from?
  • What food and beverages will you serve?

Make these decisions and let stakeholders know any updates as soon as possible. With OnePlan sharing your event plan which will have answers to these many questions is easy. It’s as simple as entering an email and stakeholders or colleagues can get either edit or view-only access.

5. Get Ahead of the Weather

Since harvest festivals are almost always held outdoors, it’s important to stay aware of the weather forecast and decide on a rain date early. 

With a rain date decided early on, you can prepare volunteers, staff, and patrons for the possibility of moving the event, and ensure the festival still draws a crowd.

6. Recruit Volunteers Early

Autumn festivals are usually staffed in part or completely by volunteers. Whether you’re a school, church, or independent planner, start recruiting volunteers early. It’s not uncommon for volunteers to back out with insufficient time to find a replacement, so ensure you have more than enough volunteers ready to help out. 

You’ll also want to make sure volunteers are well-managed. If they feel that you are disorganized, they might not come back to volunteer next year! OnePlan’s dot planning functionality can help you create a comprehensive plan to handle everyone from volunteers to vendors. Each ‘dot’ can be allocated a code and notes added to their profile for their role, equipment, shift times and more. The report can be exported to create sign-in sheets and health and safety documents.  

It’s also a great idea to plan something nice for your volunteers. Allow them to bring their family to the festival for free or offer a goody bag of fall treats at the end of their shift. Happy volunteers will bring that energy to their role at the festival, and they’re likely to step up again in future years. 

7. Establish Safety Measures

Autumn festivals are usually geared towards children, so you’ll need to consider their health and safety when planning. It’s important to have enough volunteers/staff to keep an eye on children. While their parents will be there, it’s not uncommon for a child to wander off or get lost in the corn maze. Prepare volunteers with a process on how to handle a lost child. It’s also essential to have first aid equipment on site, the numbers of local emergency services handy, and to ensure volunteers know what to do in case of an emergency. 

To keep all guests safe, including children, you’ll need a crowd management plan. Good crowd management ensures there’s sufficient space for crowds to move around, wait in line, or rest, and that the public’s experience and safety are supported by event staff. The result is a free-flowing, comfortable space, staffed by a knowledgeable and responsive workforce.

OnePlan allows you to fully plan out your event site in just a few minutes for free. You can test out different event layouts and space configurations, ensuring you have adequate space and the best layout possible for fluid and functional crowd management. OnePlan’s crowd management features include capacity calculators where you can chart or map out a precise area and it will calculate the capacity allowed. You’re even able to change density, from 1 person per square meter to 5.

With lots of people comes lots of traffic, so don’t forget a traffic management plan either. In OnePlan, you can create a traffic management plan that plots the precise location of signage, stewards, temporary traffic signals, road closures, contraflows and diversion routes.

8. Develop a Marketing Plan

Marketing your event is the only way to ensure that your efforts don’t go to waste. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but make sure to consider all of the ways you can market your event and take advantage of as many as possible. Post on social media, hang flyers around the community, send flyers in the mail, and encourage volunteers and other stakeholders to spread the word.

9. Solicit Sponsorships

Offset the costs of the harvest festival (and maximize profit) by identifying sponsorships. Local businesses are often looking for ways to gain exposure at community events. With a sponsorship program, in exchange for cash or free product, you can offer companies signage featuring their logo or a booth where they can give out merchandise and talk to community members. It’s a win-win!

OnePlan’s award-winning software makes planning fall festivals so much easier. Book a demo with our team if you’d like to find out how you can plan events using OnePlan!

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