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Pagan Event Planning: Recipes for Disaster Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts on event planning. First, I'm going to outline some really bad event planning processes, and then I'll go into some event planning strategies and methods that are a bit more helpful. When I'm teaching leadership workshops, a lot of Pagans ask me, "Why do our teams have such problems working together?" I can tell you that poor event planning processes accounts for a lot of group blow-ups.

I've planned a lot of grassroots events. Some Pagan, some in the scifi-fantasy fandom community, and now some as a fiction author. I've seen a lot of things go wrong. Heck, I've contributed to some of those things going wrong. A lot of how we humans learn seems to unfortunately be through making mistakes of our own. Recently, I've had a few people asking me for advice on event planning. And as it happens, I've been part of a few online event planning processes that have reminded me of some sure-fire recipes for disaster. 

Here's an overview of an event planning process that is pretty common when it comes to Pagan events. It's also a pretty clear road to an event team eventually blowing up. Maybe they pull off an event. Maybe they pull off five, but it's not going to be pretty.


An intrepid group of people comes together to plan an event. I’ll call them Team Intrepid for this article series. They are so excited, they just start planning the event without talking at all about details like, how will we decide things? Do we have one core leader who makes the final call? Is every decision democratic? Are we deciding things via consensus?

In fact, the event planning often starts with a tactical decision, vs. a strategic one. Or for that matter, without any identification of the mission/vision for the event, or any goals the event should fulfill.

I'll be using words like tactical and strategic, and many people mistake the words for each other. Strategic means a high level plan to achieve a goal. Tactical means minutia, technical details. Tactics are often logistics and minutia. Strategies are plans.

Tactical decisions should follow strategies, strategies should support your goals, and goals support your mission and vision. So when you're deciding on tactics before you have a strategy in place, you're going at it backwards.

Here's an example of a tactical decision. "We'll all get t-shirts with the group's logo on them so people know we're staff!” “Oh, neat, we can use that printer I’ve worked with, ABC Printers."

Now, that can be a tactical decision that supports a strategy of long-term branding and marketing, or a strategy of ensuring solid customer service at the event, but choosing a t-shirt printer is still a tactical decision. The problem with making tactical decisions before you have a strategy in place is that it’s hard to figure out what a “good” decision is if you don’t have goals or strategies to guide you.

Another tactical decision is, "We'll hold the event at Green Tree park!" 

Now, this one's tricky, because with grassroots event planning, often the venue is the hardest part. In an ideal world, you choose your venue based upon the strategic goals of your group/event/initiative. However, Pagan event venues are usually chosen because it's the only one we can afford.

Thus, sometimes a tactical decision on the event has to be made before the event goals can be solidified, because the event goals have to be tailored to what the group can actually accomplish/what the event venue can sustain. That being said, if you are going to make a tactical decision about a venue before you solidify some of your event goals and strategies, you’ll want to know the reasons you’re doing it.

For instance, I sometimes host Pagan concerts in Chicago, and I might want a venue with a stage and good lighting for the performers. However, those types of venues haven't so far been in my budget, so instead, I go for the venue that is in my price range.

So in those instances, making a tactical decision is part of a strategy, even if it's a little backwards. 

Thus, you might decide, "Let's do the PPD event at Green Tree park!" because it makes strategic sense. 

  • You know how much the venue is and that it's in your price range, 
  • You know how to get a permit there, and 
  • You know that all the local Pagan regulars know where it is because ABC group has hosted rituals there for the last decade. 

Those are all good reasons to choose an event venue. The important part is that you ask those questions up front, that you know those are the reasons you're choosing the venue.

Jumping to Tactics

Let’s get back to Team Intrepid. They haven’t decided how they are making decisions, but they are already getting into the nitty-gritty tactical decisions right off the bat.

They’ve decided on a park and then, “Let’s send out invites to vendors!”

“Yeah, we’ll want to get vendors involved as quickly as we can, we need to have enough money to rent the park.”

“How much should we charge for vendors?”

“Fifty bucks sounds good.”

“OK, I’ll draft up the invite form!” And then the send it out to a few people they know.

Hold up.

Do we know that vendors are even allowed in the park? Do we know if that increases our fees for rental? Some venues (like parks) are available for free if you aren’t selling anything. Some venues have a reduced rate if you’re a formal 501c3 not-for-profit. However, the reduced rate is also often only available if you aren’t selling anything. Do we even know if the weekend we want is available? Do we know how many vendors we can fit? Do we know how much vendors expect to pay for an event like this?

In early event planning there’s often a massive excitement that tends to overshadow the important questions that will bite you in the butt later on. Worse, the person who asks the questions often gets slammed by the other team members.

Let’s say someone asks, “Hey guys, have we talked to the park yet to secure the date?” or “Do we have a limit on what products vendors can sell, like crafters and artists only?” or a more damning question, “I’m curious how we’re going to make decisions as we go forward, are we going to talk about each decision and vote on it?” Or worse still, the person who asks about the goals of the event, or who asks if anyone there has ever planned an event like this before.

Those are all reasonable questions, but in the heat of event excitement it can feel like a buzz-kill.

I’ve been part of events that jump into decisions without having any kind of a plan. I’ve been part of events that started inviting people before we had a venue secured, or events that announced we’d have a certain type of featured programming, but we hadn’t yet secured the people who would offer that programming. And then it turned out it was going to cost us money to hire people to do that piece of programming, which we hadn’t budgeted for. 

Want bellydancers, a Pagan band, or Pagan authors at your event? Cool. You might have to pay them. And you want to know that before you make event announcements promising those things to your potential event attendees, or you look pretty bad.

Jumping the Gun

I was talking to one event in Kentucky about teaching at their festival, and they got excited and announced I’d be teaching there before I had agreed to do the event. I pointed out to them that I was really unhappy that they did this, and I opted to not teach at their event for that, and several other factors. The event organizer had me blocked on Facebook for a while because I’d “scolded” her, as she put it. 

But really—it’s not a good idea to make assumptions about who will be at your event. Or, assumptions in general. In project management, there’s an entire section of any project plan called “Assumptions,” which is often a place where you put anything that needs to be in place for the project to be successful, and the consequences if that is not in place. Essentially—it’s all the things that could go wrong with your project, and a little bit of how you might handle those things via contingency planning.

With Team Intrepid, there’s obviously been no contingency planning. We’re doing Fire, Aim, Ready. 

Pagan Event Planning: Recipes for Disaster Part 2

Pagan Event Planning: Recipes for Disaster Part 3


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An artist, author, ritualist, presenter, and spiritual seeker, Shauna travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and personal growth. She is the author of The Leader Within, Ritual Facilitation, and Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path. She’s a columnist on ritual techniques for Circle Magazine, and her writing also appears in several anthologies. She’s also the author of several fantasy and paranormal romance novels. Her mythic artwork and designs are used for magazine covers, book covers, and illustrations, as well as decorating many walls, shrines, and other spaces. Shauna is passionate about creating rituals, experiences, spaces, stories, and artwork to awaken mythic imagination.  


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