Whether they are planning a first-time celebration or revitalizing an annual fundraiser, hosts are turning to outdoor spaces.

Except for the ubiquitous central Ohio weather conundrum (“will it or won’t it?”), that sounds freeing, doesn’t it? Being outdoors means no confines or venue rules; freedom to choose your caterer; no extraneous regulations. Who doesn’t love a springtime, summertime or fall gathering to celebrate the end of the frosty winter, revel in mid-year tropical temps, or exhale a sigh of relief as crisp autumn air arrives?

All true. Plus, a change of scenery can kick-start or breathe new life into your organization’s premier gala.

But, as an officer or board member volunteering your time, there are many new details to manage as you plan your seemingly “untethered” event. Here are a few of the high points.

Location, Location, Location:

Unless you’ll host on private property, you must contact your city or municipality about permits and rental fees. Many city services are involved in an event on public property, including road closures, traffic control, and police and EMS staffing. Even if the property is privately-owned, there may be ordinances to heed. Also key is the physical structure. Will you use a shelter house or other existing buildings? Will you need to contract with companies to provide tents, tables and chairs? Which permits are needed?

Setting the Table: 

Choosing your sources provides latitude in setting the tone—and budget. Will you host, or will your vendors sell to attendees? Ensure caterers have the appropriate licenses. Will alcohol be served? Again, proper licensing is needed, and you may have to obtain a liquor permit. If volunteers or staff will sell, pour or serve alcohol, police training is required. Schedule that with the local authorities who, no doubt, will visit the party to verify you’re toeing the line.

Power to the People:

It makes the world go ‘round: electricity. Your caterers need it, your tents need it, your exhibitors need it. Even for a simple welcome by the CEO, electricity and sound will be needed. Ask the city reps or property owner for recommendations of licensed, reputable electricians familiar with the grounds. You will need to create maps showing the makeup and layout to assure sufficient generators and power lines are provided.                 

Safety, Convenience & Courtesy:

Despite best-laid plans, things go wrong, people get hurt, or    property is damaged. Consult your insurance broker to cover all bases—for your organization and the property owner. Don’t forget the restrooms! While there may be some in place,  are  they sufficient and accessible for the number of guests expected? What we really take for granted in brick-and-mortar venues?  Trash cans. In a “no walls” setting, trash and recycling collection is critical. How many bins will be needed, and where should they be placed? Who’s responsible for cleanup? Remember the neighbors. At the least, your event will be a minor disruption in their day. Advance notice is courteous and tells them what they can expect—and need not fear. Clear parking for residents, business owners and customers.

Last but Never Least:

 Plan B. Every function needs one, but it’s critical when outdoors. Is there back-up lodging in case of inclement weather? What is the “pull the plug” scenario? What is your method of communication with vendors and guests? Form a plan and share it with employees, volunteers and vendors.

Outdoor socials are lots of fun and put a fresh face on an annual celebration. Start early with the standard venue components and then get on with activity planning. With a little out-of-the-box thinking, you will enjoy a Great Outdoors event.

Karen S. Kaiser is owner of Kaiser Association Management, specializing in association and event management. She can be reached at Karen@KaiserAssn.com.