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How to Host a House Party or Screening Event

By Cliff Allen, SureToMeet.com

Many of the marketing successes you would like to achieve require raising awareness of your project before people will be supportive, or become involved. This is true whether you are raising production funds or selling DVDs...or developing raving fans!

The challenge is how to best share your movie project with your friends and acquaintances....first! While forwarding an e-mail to friends is one way to share your progress, frequently that's not personal enough to motivate people to take action or be able to pass the word along. Role playing ... telling the story (or slogan) several times... is a powerful tool that empowers word of mouth.

A more effective way to influence people is to gather a group of people together who want to experience your completed movie, and then share your excitement, your mission and how they can benefit from supporting the project. And sharing the memorable tag line (several times)!

In other words, it's time for a house party or screening. We'll call it a "house party" because it's that personal contact, that personal outreach that develops "buzz".

Hosting a house party is a great way to bring together friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers in a comfortable environment to talk about an important cause that you support with your movie or to encourage involvement.

Some production companies -- especially for documentaries -- encourage their volunteers, cast and investors to hold house parties to raise awareness and recruit other volunteers. Some organizers also have a guest speaker attend and make a presentation. The director or key actors can make good speakers.

At many house parties the host or the presenter asks for donations, investments, or volunteer sign-ups, toward the end of a house party. Whatever the format, the main goal is to help your guests understand and adopt the excitement presented about your movie project.

An additional benefit of hosting a house party is that you have an opportunity to introduce friends and associates to each other, which strengthens your network in the community.

Planning Your House Party

House parties are very simple to hold, but a bit of planning helps ensure that guests are comfortable and receptive to the purpose of the house party.

Start planning about four weeks before your event. Once you've decided on a timetable, plan the agenda or schedule for the house party itself.

Timetable

The first step is to choose a date and time for your house party.

When choosing a date be sure to consider holidays, local events, and traditions such as sporting events and celebrations.

If you are collaborating with a non-profit organization or sponsor, see if the organization can provide a guest speaker for your house party. If they can't provide a speaker in person for your house party, see if a representative can call in and talk to your guests over your speakerphone.

If so, you'll need to consider that person's schedule when choosing the date for your house party.

Also, ask how much support the organization can provide. Ask if they have an outreach planning guide and promotional materials, such as a DVD, that you can use. The more materials they can provide, the easier it will be for you to host a successful house party!

It's best to schedule a house party for a two-hour time slot. Commonly chosen times include weekday nights from 6-8 or 7-9 PM, or Sunday afternoons from 12-2, 2-4, or 4-6 PM.

Four Weeks

  • Write your invitation
  • Make a list of people to invite

Three weeks

  • Ask a couple of friends to be "greeters" to help people sign in or resister

Two weeks

  • Plan the food and drinks you will serve
  • Call people who were sent invitations via postal mail
  • Send e-mail reminder to people who received invitations via e-mail
  • Set the agenda for the event’s presentation
  • Decide who will introduce the topic and who will make the appeal for support

One Week

  • Purchase and prepare all food and drink items
  • Remind your greeters of the time you need them to arrive
  • Prepare or finalize information packets
  • Print sign-up sheets
  • Decide who will give the introduction
  • Prepare and practice the introduction
  • Read and highlight brochure information so that you’re able to answer questions
  • Call people who were sent invitations via postal mail
  • Send e-mail reminder to people who received invitations via e-mail

One Day

  • Send final e-mail reminder

Building an Invitation List

It's a fact that not everyone you know will be interested in your issue or movie project. Even those who are supportive may have schedule conflicts and be unable to attend. This means you need to invite 4 to 5 times as many people as you would like to attend.

When preparing your invitation list gather all of your directories, committee lists, holiday card mailing lists, stacks of business cards -- anything with contact information about people who will recognize you.

Here are a few sources of invitees:

  • Family and friends
  • Neighbors and members of your homeowners association
  • Co-workers and former employee
  • School alumni and parents groups
  • Social clubs, hobby groups and community organizations
  • Holiday card list

One of the side benefits of sending invitations to a house party is that you have a great reason to reconnect with people you've not talked with in a while.

Creating Your House Party Invitation

There are several ways to send invitations to your house party.

If you decide to send invitations via postal mail you can send a formal invitation, a simple postcard, or a full-page flyer. However, there are several challenges when using postal mail beyond the obvious problem of timely delivery. Since people need to hear about your house party as many as 4 or 5 times, you will need to telephone each person 3-4 times after mailing the initial invitation, manually track RSVPs, and probably send individual e-mails with follow-up details.

A better way to send invitations is to use a free invitation and RSVP service such as SureToMeet.com. Services like this automatically e-mail invitations and reminders to your list, track who received and viewed your invitation, and track the RSVPs so you'll know who's coming to your house party. In addition, SureToMeet.com creates an "online community" for your event that allows your guests to see who is coming. Attendance increases when they see that several people they know are coming, too.

Another benefit of using an invitation service like SureToMeet.com is that you need to make fewer follow-up telephone calls. This can save you a lot of time, especially the day before your house party.

Don't forget to include the following details in your invitation:

  • The date, time and location of your house party
  • The reason you are hosting the house party
  • Donations are greatly appreciated
  • The type of food or meal you will be serving
  • Name and role of your special guest speaker
  • Description of the DVD you’ll be showing
  • Directions to your home, including a link to a map service (or a large printed map if you're using printed invitations)
  • Phone number so guests can call you

Arranging the House for the House Party

As you plan your house party, think about how to make people who have not been to your home feel comfortable and enjoy learning about the organization you're supporting:

  • Is parking clear and easy?
  • Is it easy to find your home?
  • Will it be easy and obvious how to move from the registration table to the food and refreshments table?
  • Do you need to serve food in more than one location?
  • Can the food be eaten with fingers or while standing up?
  • Are there places to set food and drinks?
  • Are there enough chairs?
  • Will it be easy for everyone to dispose of their plates and glasses?
  • Should drinks be on a separate table away from the food table to encourage people to move around and mingle?

Event Agenda

It's helpful to have an agenda of what is supposed to happen and when. As your house party gets going you'll find this planning makes things go more smoothly.

Here is an example of a house party agenda:

  1. Registration - 30 minutes
  2. Introductions - 20 minutes
  3. Presentation - 30 minutes
  4. Discussion - 20 minutes
  5. Call for Action - 10 minutes
  6. Wrap Up - 20 minutes
Plan for fun! Foster excitement. Real enthusiasm is infectious. And infectious fun is catching ;-)

Registration

As your guests arrive they should be welcomed by your greeters and escorted to your registration table.

Each guest should be given a name badge, packet of materials, and shown where the food and other refreshments are located.

Be sure to have guests register on the sign-in sheet so there will be a record of who attended. Many organizers keep registration sheets from house parties so they can follow up with party attendees.

On your sign-in sheet ask for each person’s name, addresses, phone number, and e-mail addresses. Also, ask guests if they'd like to be added to your organization's master mailing list to receive postal mailings and e-mails. It’s important that there be a place on your sign-in sheets where they can "opt-in" for these mailings.

Introductions

Having each person introduce themselves is a great way to build a sense of community among your guests.

  • Introduce yourself
  • Have all guests introduce themselves giving their name and how they know you and any co-hosts
  • Thank people for attending
  • Explain the purpose and agenda of the party
  • Let them know why you decided to host a house party

Presentation

The presentation is when you provide educational information about the theme -- the project theme, non-profit organization or political candidate.

Your sponsoring organization may provide a DVD to show or a speaker to present. Or, you might present the case for the issue or candidate using materials provided by the organization.

Your speaker might like to take questions during the talk, or if there will be a discussion period afterwards it might be better to hold questions until after your speaker finishes. When the speaker is introduced, it is helpful to let people know if they should hold their questions until the end of the presentation.

Discussion

During the discussion you (or your speaker) ask open-ended questions that encourage your guests to share thoughtful, detailed answers.

Your goal is to help people learn about and become enthusiastic about your organization or project! At the same time you will want to identity guests who still have questions that need answering before they get involved.

Here are a few questions you can tailor to your situation:

  • Did the material presented change how you feel toward the organization's mission (or project)?
  • Do you have unanswered questions about the organization (or project)?
  • What did you see (or hear) that you agree with?
  • What did you see (or hear) that you don't agree with?

Call for Action

This part of the house party is sometimes called “the pitch" or "the ask" because this is when your guests are asked to take action to help the organization or project being featured.

It's important that your call for action be specific so your guests will know exactly how they can help.

For non-profit organizations this is frequently a request for money. If raising funds is their current priority let your guests know how the money will be used (e.g., “Tonight we're raising money to provide production funds for a television pilot that will focus on homelessness."). And, let them know what your financial goal is for your house party.

Instead of asking for money, some hosts prefer to start a relationship with a new supporter by asking them to volunteer a few hours of time so the recruit can actually see the good work done by the organization.

This is usually followed up later with opportunities to contribute financially, perhaps by mail or at investor screenings.

In the case of a production project, the need for funds may be more important than volunteers, so the "call for action" may emphasize donations over volunteering.

Whatever the organization's needs are, they also need more people holding house parties to spread the word. So, be sure to mention this as a way your guests can become involved right from their own home. Let them know how easy it was and how much fun or enjoyment you are having. Make a special note to let the organization know who is interested in hosting a party.

If you're asking for financial donations at your house party, you will probably want to provide donor envelopes for checks.

If you are seeking volunteers, prepare a sheet that lists all of the opportunities to donate time. Pass out individual sign-up sheets, or pass around a single sign-up sheet and encourage guests to mark all of the areas they might be interested in volunteering.

Encourage your guests to take action by either becoming members of your team, making a financial investment or contribution to your project, or something else of value to your project or sponsoring organization.

Wrap Up

Following the pitch and a short period for people to write checks or complete volunteer sign up sheets, the host should thank everyone for coming and encourage them to stay, have more to eat and drink, and enjoy themselves.

Follow Up

After your house party, be sure to send the donation envelopes, contributions, and attendance sheet to the organization for processing. If your sponsor is a tax-deductible nonprofit, all funds need to be processed through the organization's bookkeeping department to qualify as tax-deductions for your donors.

Send every guest a note, thanking them for attending your party and taking whatever action you asked them to take. Be sure to send your thank you notes within two to three days after your party.

Enjoy the party — you are helping both your guests and your cause build a stronger community — one person at a time!


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