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Festival or Event Planning Guide

Planning a Festival - Organize a Birding or Nature Festival

Nancy S. Millar

This manual is being used and distributed by American Birding Association.
The complete resource on one long page is here - Planning a Nature Festival

A step-by-step organizational manual for promoting and implementing a nature festival in your community

Biographical Information, Nancy Millar

Nancy Millar is Director of the McAllen, Texas Convention and Visitors' Bureau and Vice President of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. She is a recognized authority on nature festivals and has written a text, "How to Organize a Birding Festival," which is used and distributed by the American Birding Association, as well as several articles on nature tourism product development, the value of community buy-in to nature tourism and nature festivals and their economic impact. Her expertise is in marketing, an area in which she has worked for 20 years.

Nancy has created and overseen the implementation of highly successful nature festivals in Texas' Rio Grande Valley in the past ten years. She conceptualized, developed and managed the nationally acclaimed Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Harlingen its first three years and is currently overseeing her ninth Texas Tropics Nature Festival and sixth Wild Walk in McAllen. In addition, she has created and consulted on many projects and events in the region that highlight nature tourism including an internationally broadcast television series, a regional magazine and several educational programs for schools and the general public.

She has presented at numerous regional, national and international conferences, has instructed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 3 ½ day course "Developing Festivals and Special Events" at the National Conservation Training Center in Sheperdstown, West Virginia since its inception 5 years ago, and offers individual training for communities interested in developing or enhancing nature festivals. Many of her presentations emphasize the value of partnerships between all levels of government, and local business leaders and organizations, to foster community support for wildlife watching and its benefits.

Among other tourism related activities, she sits on the board of directors of Texas Travel Industry Association (www.tourtexas.com) and is Chair of Texas Nature Tourism Council (www.tourtexas.com/tnta). She is a former board member for Watchable Wildlife, Inc. as well. Nancy is also president and founder of Nature Festivals of America. Locally, she is president of the Rio Grande Valley Nature Coalition (www.rgvnaturecoalition.com) and immediate past president of the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor (www.corridorfriends.org), the support group for 2 local national wildlife refuges, and sits on the board of directors of Valley Nature Center, on the Marketing Committee for World Birding Center and on the Paseos Verdes/Rio Trails Committee.

For more information on scheduling a customized presentation, contact Nancy Millar at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 790, McAllen, Texas 79505-0790, or call at 956-682-2871; Email: nmillar@mcallencvb.com.

Her topics include:
  • Nature Tourism Development of the Rio Grande Valley
  • How to Develop Nature Tourism in Your Community
  • Developing Consensus/Finding Support in your Community
  • The Political and Economic Benefits of Nature Tourism
  • “How to” Basics of Festival Development
  • How to Find and Keep Volunteers
  • Fundraising and Sponsorships
  • Effective Advertising and Marketing Techniques
  • Customizing your Festival
  • Secrets of Successful Festivals
  • Developing Committee Timelines and Budgets
For more information on scheduling a customized presentation, contact
Nancy Millar at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce,
P.O. Box 790   McAllen, Texas 79505-0790
call at 956-682-2871 or Email

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • The Vital First Steps
    • Gathering your core volunteers
    • Finding a niche
    • Covering the fundamentals
    • Compiling the notebook
  • Selling the Concept to Your City, Board
    • Key players you need
    • Sell the economics
    • Be prepared
    • Solicit support from your city
  • Vital Partnerships
    • Identifying partners
    • How to sell them on the festival idea
  • The Importance of the Media
    • Communication with the media
    • Media conferences
    • Publicity
  • The Festival
    • Structure
    • Starting off on the right foot
    • 9 Main areas to remember
  • 7 Areas to avoid
  • Volunteers
    • Make the planning fun
    • Be organized
    • The importance of bonding
    • Finding the best volunteers
    • Keeping them once you’ve got them
  • Money- How to Get It
  • The Education Issue
  • Plant!
  • Winning With Public Relations
  • After the Festival- You’re Not Finished Yet
  • Timelines
    • Executive Committee
    • Seminars
    • Trade Show
    • Field Trips
    • Registration
    • Novelties
    • Publicity
    • Volunteers
    • Transportation
    • Hospitality
    • Communications
    • Signage
    • Sponsorships
    • Technical
    • Education
    • Planting
    • Historian
    • City Signage
  • How the Pieces Fit Together
    • Emcee
    • Staff
    • Chair
    • Treasurer
    • Executive Committee
    • Headquarters Layout
  • A Special Note to Organizers
  • Available Resources


Organizing and hosting a nature festival, if done properly, is a huge undertaking. It is tiring and can be almost overwhelming. But it is also fun and incredibly satisfying. Making a difference in one’s community is what we all want to do, and if you can have an economic impact AND help the environmental conservation cause at the same time, it can be one of the most rewarding moments in a lifetime… and one of the most memorable.

A festival can be an amazingly effective way of shaking up a community- of awakening it to the value- and potential of nature tourism. I know. I’ve seen it work more than once. A festival- if organized well and publicized effectively- can turn things around in your city, too.

This text will explain, step by step, how to organize and host a nature festival in your community. It will list necessary partnerships and steps for planning and organizing the event, as well as pitfalls to avoid. It will also offer tried and true techniques for organizing, for working with volunteers, and for getting community buy-in.

This system works. Many festivals throughout the nation have used this framework, customizing as they went, to host successful festivals. Your community can, too. This is a step-by-step instruction manual that can take the fear of the unknown out of the process and still leave you with plenty of opportunity for creativity to mold the process to fit your needs and your situation.

Let me also add that a festival can have unexpected long-term results for your community. Based in very large part to the success of the first festival to use this program, the Rio Grande Valley of Texas has seen an explosion of nature tourism product development and a marked turnaround in the perception of the value of the natural resources among the residents. Anyone who knew the Rio Grande Valley a dozen years ago and knows it today can attest to the vast difference of the awareness in the area of the value of the birds, land and other natural resources. Now there are seven annual wildlife-watching festivals, educational programs by many nature organizations, and habitat being preserved.

And it all started with one festival.

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