How to Host a Coffee Party

Why host a meet-and-greet/coffee party?

Hosting a meet-and-greet/coffee party is an excellent way to help Lily with her campaign and encourage the communication engagement and exchange of ideas. While helping a candidate with his or her campaign will not guarantee the candidate’s support of every issue that’s important to you, it does build trust and will make it much easier for you to make your voice heard if that candidate wins the election.

Planning the party

Hosting a meet-and-greet/coffee party is relatively simple, but does require some planning. The following steps will guide you through the process.

1. Schedule a time with Lily Cheng

In general terms, think through:

  • Who you are planning to invite and about how many people you expect to attend;
  • Your preferred dates (try to offer several alternatives); 

Meet-and-greets/coffee parties should last no more than 90 minutes. Although candidates do most of their campaigning between Labour Day and Election Day, there is no rule that says you must wait until then to hold your event. In fact, if you hold your party before Labor Day, it would be easier to organize for the date you prefer (not to mention that you’ll probably have better weather if you want to hold the event outside).

2. Pick a location

Private homes are the most frequent sites for meet-and-greets/coffee parties, provided you have enough space to entertain a group. If you live in an apartment complex or condominium with a community room, that could be an option. Your office might also work if it is more convenient.

3. Prepare the invitation list and try to include one or more opinion leaders

Candidates will be most interested in meeting potential constituents, i.e., people who live in their ward, especially if those constituents are opinion leaders. Opinion leaders are people who are active in community affairs and are thus in a position to influence the opinions of others. This doesn’t mean that your entire invitation list needs to be drawn from Who’s Who, but it does mean that you should try to invite at least a few people of prominence in your community. By all means, invite your friends and neighbors, but don’t forget colleagues, clergy, your dentist or family physician, your lawyer, the chair of your PTA, the president of your homeowners’ association, members of your service club . . . the list is limited only by your imagination and the boundaries of your electoral district.

Do not worry about whether your guests are Conservatives or Liberal or NDP - municipal elections are not related to a party. 
Meet-and-greets do not need to be huge gatherings to be effective. A group of 15 to 30 is usually a good goal, provided your home can comfortably accommodate that many guests. You may have to borrow folding chairs, but make sure everyone has a place to sit and that at least one room of your house is large enough so that the entire gathering can see and hear the candidate during the presentation and Q&A. And even if your home is built for entertaining crowds, remember that you are hosting a meet-and-greet, not staging a rally. The purpose is to give everyone a chance to actually meet the candidate, and an overly large group may hinder that goal. As a rule of thumb, you should invite twice as many people as you want to attend. If you want 20 people to show up, plan on sending out at least 40 invitations and make sure you ask for an RSVP.

Invite people who are receptive to intelligent discussion of public policy and let the event develop of its own course. Let the candidate know who has been invited and offer to meet with the candidate beforehand to discuss the issues that are important to you.

4. Select the refreshments

You should entertain in a manner that is most comfortable for you. If you would like to serve coffee and a light snack, do so. If wine and cheese are more your style, go with that. 

5. Send out invitations

After you have set the date and finalized your guest list, send out invitations (with an RSVP) at least three weeks prior to the event. Invitations need not be elaborate and they can be emailed, although emails should be supplemented by a written invitation, telephone call, or personal contact for maximum effectiveness.

6. Put together an agenda

Keep control of the time by having an agenda that outlines who will speak, when they will speak, and what they will cover. You should discuss the agenda with the Lily's campaign manager (Alfee) prior to the event. Alfee will be more than happy to provide you with the candidate’s biography. Use this to prepare a short introduction and make sure you rehearse it.

If your event is scheduled to last from 6:30 - 8:00 pm, your agenda might look something like this:

6:30-7:00: Meeting and greeting
7:00-7:15: Candidate introduction and remarks
7:15-7:45: Q&A
7:45-8:00: Wrap-up

Make sure you have some questions prepared in advance to get the ball rolling for the Q&A session. Q&As may take a little time to build momentum, but once they start, they are usually hard to stop. Lily may have several events scheduled on any particular day, so be mindful of the time and stick to the agenda as closely as possible.

7. Remind your invitees to attend

Never assume that someone will attend just because they accepted your first invitation. A reminder phone call a few days before the event and a brief email the day of the event are your best bets for securing attendance. Even with those reminders, you can still figure on at least some of your “confirmed” guests being no-shows.

8. On the day of the event

Make sure you have enough name tags for everyone. These can be simple write-on labels (available at any office supply store), and your guests can write them out themselves as they arrive. Fresh permanent felt-tip markers (“Sharpies”) are good for this because they don’t smear and the ink strokes are bold enough to be read from a distance. You or a designated person should help Lily circulate through the crowd and avoid being monopolized by just a few people. Recognize that not everyone is equally comfortable at these kinds of events; one of your jobs as host is to encourage involvement from all of your guests.

9. Follow up

After the event, send or email thank-yous to your guests and be sure the candidate receives contact information for everyone who attended.

10. Keep it simple