On September 26, 2009, the town of New Windsor, located in Orange County, N.Y., had its first Community Day. The event had limited funds, which meant limited attractions. Approximately 2,500 people attended; they were greeted by live music, a small fireworks show, two food vendors, two bounce houses, and around 40 to 50 craft/retail vendors.
Fast forward to August 23, 2015, for the sixth annual Community Day with a slew of attractions: 200-plus craft/retail/promotional vendors, 20-plus food vendors, two entertainment stages with live music, including a performance by Tim Urban from American Idol, a dance demonstration, a clown, a juggler, a magician, three matches of professional wrestling, a car giveaway, a zipline, a stunt jump, a climbing wall, a pie-eating contest, pony rides, 10 bounce houses, a Tumble Bus, a carousel, an arcade trailer, a traveling petting zoo, a mechanical bull, various characters, including super heroes and princesses, and a huge fireworks show. More than 30,000 people attended the event, making it the largest crowd to date—an increase of 10,000 people from the previous year. The event is virtually free—no charge for parking or admission. In fact, there is no charge for any of the attractions except for the zipline and stunt jump. People attending only have to open their wallets if they want to buy something from one of the vendors or to purchase food. It is truly a great event that also generates a profit every year; the money goes right back into a fund that finances special events such as the summer concert series, Memorial Day parade, Easter egg hunt, Halloween party, summer camps etc.
Running a successful event is not easy, and much can be learned from the previous year’s mistakes. I hope this article can be of assistance to other professionals who would like to run such an event; learn from our mistakes instead of having to make your own, and learn from our success as well.
One key component that makes New Windsor Community Day most successful is sponsorships. It is important to keep sponsors happy so they want to return year after year. New sponsors are added every year, which allows the event to keep growing. Opportunities start at $250 and go to $5,000 and above. Sponsorships come in a variety of ways. The first is financial, which obviously is a key component. Without money, you won’t get very far.
The second type is trading equipment for different sponsorship levels, which is a great way to keep expenses down. Some of the things we receive in return for the trade of equipment are bounce houses, tables, chairs, tents, generators, golf carts, hand-held radios, stages, advertising signs, light towers, and prizes for raffles.
The third type of sponsorship is trading services for different levels, which is another way to reduce expenses. Some of what we get in return are towing services, shuttle-bus service, a magician, a doctor, hotel accommodations, clean-up services, landscaping services, and volunteers.
The higher the level of sponsorship, the more benefits are offered to sponsors. When meeting with potential sponsors, don’t just ask for money, but instead indicate what they will receive in return. Remember, many businesses are continuously asked for money for all types of events, so separate your event from the pack. Some of the prominent features we offer major sponsors are advertising on the town LED sign, large color signs at the event—including when people are arriving at the park, exiting the park, and even on the entertainment stages—VIP food passes, VIP parking, and sponsorship of other town events, such as the summer concert series, etc. Sponsorships will make or break an event, so do it right from the beginning.
Costs are not the only items that keep growing with a successful event. Problems that arise during the event keep growing as well.
One problem was not having enough parking. Offsite parking was added at a local high school with shuttle service that runs all day. When parking at the event location fills up, cars are redirected to the offsite location.
Another problem was the difficulty for handicapped or older visitors to move around to all the areas of the park. We began offering several golf carts to shuttle people to different parts of the park—including parking lots—which has helped tremendously.
Another problem was the lack of enough electrical power. Adding four large trailer generators in different locations of the park solved that. The generators are quiet and don’t generate nasty fumes, like the smaller, louder ones.
The largest problem with the growth of this event is added safety concerns because of the number of people who attend the event in one day. For this reason, a Community Day Safety Committee was formed to include event organizers, the police chief and a sergeant from the New Windsor Police Department, the chiefs and assistant chiefs of the two fire departments that service the town, the chief and assistant chief of the New Windsor Volunteer Ambulance Corp, and a coordinator from the County Department of Emergency Services. An Emergency Action Plan was developed to cover items like crowd control, a lost child, storm evacuation, a lighting strike, an errant firework that might go into the crowd, a ride failure, a suspicious package, a bomb threat, an active shooter, drug/alcohol abuse or incident, fights, fire/explosions, etc. The committee met seven times in the months leading up to the event. People may assume a disaster will not happen at an event, but if it does and you are not prepared, it will be much worse. Last year, there were five lost children during the course of the event, and the plan worked flawlessly. Additional safety measures will be added as the event continues to grow.
Running an event is no easy task, but it can be done successfully with a good plan. More importantly, if you can learn from the mistakes of the previous years, the event will only improve.
Matt Veronesi is the Director of Parks, Recreation, Buildings & Grounds for the town of New Windsor, N.Y. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.