[10 on Tuesday] 10 Tips for Organizing a Community Tour

Posted on: March 12th, 2013 by Sarah Heffern 4 Comments

Two days of sunny, 60-degree weather this past weekend has me thinking about one of my favorite warm-weather activities: playing history detective in my hometown. Washington, D.C., where I live, offers an amazing variety of tours, from the neighborhood-centric Capitol Hill House and Garden Tour to citywide Walkingtown DC, and pretty much everything in between.

These kinds of historic tours can be a great way for local history-lovers and preservation groups to bring a community together around beloved places (or the desire to sneak a peek inside that big house on Main Street). Are you interested in coordinating one for your town? Here are 10 tips to get you started.

1. Know your goals. If you’re planning a tour on behalf of an organization, make sure your planned activity ties back to your organization’s mission and has a clear focus, whether it’s fundraising, awareness-building, or inspiring action.

2. Decide on a format. Most communities offer myriad options for historic tours: homes, neighborhoods, gardens, etc. Each comes with a unique set of challenges -- including timing and staffing -- so being specific early on will help keep you on track.

Tip: If doing an organized tour seems too daunting, consider the “If this house could talk” model pioneered by the Cambridgeport neighborhood of Cambridge, Mass., in which homeowners shared their history on handmade signs.

"If this house could talk" tour sign in Cambridge, Mass. Photo courtesy Cathie Zusy.
"If this house could talk" tour sign in Cambridge, Mass.

3. Identify partners. A homes tour can be a massive undertaking requiring many volunteers and supporters, and partnerships can help ease the burden. Consider reaching out to your local government, civic organizations, schools, and cultural groups for help.

4. Determine oversight. Establish a steering committee with members of the sponsoring organization and partners with the authority to approve budgets (both expenses and projected income), plan schedules, recruit volunteers, and the like.

5. Develop a marketing plan. The only way for your event to be a success is for people to attend, so it’s important to determine who your audience is for the tour, and how to let them know it is happening. Reaching out to local media, preparing signage for participants and local businesses, and getting the word out on social channels should all be part of your plan.

6. Select the homes/gardens/walking tour stops. There are many ways to handle the selection process, but having a theme -- an architectural style, era, neighborhood, or other unifying thread -- makes it easier to choose places. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can solicit nominations or make selections based on appropriate criteria.

7. Research the history of the places selected. Homeowners, in many cases, can shed some light on the story of their house, but a trip to the local library to find additional background on any relevant details (architect, prominent past residents, role in local history) is going to provide a richer experience for tour attendees. (Check out these additional tips on researching a property’s history.)

8. Prepare the tour brochure. Take all those great historic nuggets you’ve unearthed and turn them into a brochure that highlights the theme of your tour. Include a map and any information the tour-taker will need to successfully navigate the tour. Be sure to include a hashtag for the tour to make it easy to find and share photos and tweets about the event during and after the fact.

Men of Main Street: Aledo, Illinois. Photo courtesy National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Volunteers at an event held on Main Street in Aledo, Ill.

9. Recruit and train volunteers. Start with a job description for each of the volunteer positions, including docents (who can either lead formal tours or be available for ad-hoc questions), greeters, ticket-sellers, and any other positions you need to fill. Hold a training session before the tour to make sure everyone is comfortable with their role.

10. Manage logistics. On the day of the tour, be sure to have supplies -- including a cash bank, tickets, a contact list, volunteer assignments, refreshments, first-aid kit, etc. -- on hand in a central location so they can be dispatched wherever needed on short notice. Have a few extra staffers or volunteers on hand to cover any gaps in coverage.

And, of course, the unspoken number 11 -- hope for perfect weather! It’s entirely outside your control, of course, but a pleasant day can make all the difference.

Now it’s your turn! What additional advice do you have for running a terrific historic tour?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the National Trust's social media strategist. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having fallen for preservation in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class. Follow her on Twitter at @smheffern.

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4 Responses

  1. Lisa Wingate

    March 20, 2013

    Set sequential partial deadlines to minimize last minute crunch!

    Practice, practice, practice! Have each guide or docent practice what they intend to tell the sudience to know how long it will take, make sure it fits within the organizer’s time line, and do at least one dry run with the organizer present to ensure the proposed program is relevant, lively, and up to snuff!

  2. National Trust for Historic Preservation

    March 20, 2013

    Excellent tips, Lisa! You sound like you learned through experience … what events has your community put together?

    Julia Rocchi
    Managing Editor

  3. Kiwanus Club of Lombard mb Lynch

    March 20, 2013

    On Friday May 17, 2013 the Kiwanis Club of Lombard will be holding it’s Ninth annual Housewalk featuring two true victorians, two beautiful new constructions and the victorian cottage museum. This event is a community event surrounded by Lilac Time. ?Web page will be fully up by April 1, 2013

  4. Cathie Zusy

    April 2, 2013

    For further information about “If this house would talk…” go to our blog: http://www.ithct.wordpress.com. It includes links to information about Cambridge, MA; Sacramento, CA; and Calgary, Alberta (Canada) programs.