A special event such as a movie night, carnival or block party can be a great way to get your neighbourhood together and build community spirit. This section can help you organize and run any type of special event.
It’s a good idea to form a committee – this is a group of people with specific responsibilities for the event. Creating a committee ensures the work is shared and everyone feels included. Committees also help you get to know your neighbours, their strengths and interests.
Read the City of Ottawa’s Special Events By-law to learn about your responsibilities and rights.
Volunteers can help complete tasks for the event. Build a diverse, well-rounded team so you can benefit from different skills and perspectives.
For example, seniors often have more time to give, and young people may have technology experience and energy that can be very valuable.
Committee members can oversee volunteers to organize the work and make sure it gets done. Remember to thank and recognize volunteers at the end of the event.
Set a budget
Create a realistic budget for your event. Here’s how to do it:
- Assign one person to manage the budget to make sure it stays on track.
- List all the items your event will need and how much each will cost. Include food and drinks, equipment, entertainment, marketing, prizes, decorations, space rental, permit fees, thank-you gifts, etc.
- Consider what you might raise through donations or sponsorships.
- List the organizations or people you want to approach for donations and sponsorships. Decide who will approach them, how and when.
- Decide what items you might like your guests to contribute. For example, you could create a list of all food items needed, send it out to your neighbours and ask them what items they would like to bring.
- Figure out how much you may need to charge people attending the event to cover your costs.
- Leave room in your budget for last minute expenses that might come up.
Create an event timeline
Once the committee has selected the event idea and date, create a timeline. It should outline activities to be done before and after the event, such as picking up supplies, or returning rental equipment. Assign responsibilities and deadlines for each activity.
Many committees also include a run schedule for the day of the event. This helps you ensure that each activity (e.g. set-up, speeches, awards, tear-down, etc.) happens on time and in the correct order. The more detailed this document is, the more smoothly the event will run!
Get local sponsorship
Local business owners are often willing to donate funds or products for a community event. Before approaching a local business, decide what you need and what you can offer the business in return (e.g. advertising or promotion). Saying thank you to generous donors is the key to future support.
You can also contact your local Business Improvement Area (BIA) to ask if they would like to be involved in your event.
Plan food and drinks
If you are serving food and drinks at your event, make sure you have enough garbage and recycling bins. Consider listing any allergy-inducing ingredients, like nuts, so your guests are aware of what they’re eating.
If you’re planning to serve alcohol at an event on City property (like a park) you must obtain a Special Occasion Permit from the City. There are rules and regulations for setting up a space to serve alcohol, and who can serve it.
Apply for a permit
If you’re planning to have over 500 guests use streets or sidewalks, you’ll need to complete a special event application. Events with over 500 attendees also need a draft emergency plan and a site and/or route plan.
You must submit your permit application at least 30 days before your event. The deadline may be earlier in certain circumstances, for example, if you’re selling alcohol or putting up big structures.
There are specific guidelines for hosting events in rural areas, such as parks and sports fields.
Invite special guests
Representatives from Ottawa Police, Fire Services and Paramedic Service sometimes attend community events. This is a great way to foster community relationships with essential services.
People, especially children, often enjoy visiting fire and police vehicles and ambulances. Similarly, you can invite your local councillor.
You might want to contact:
- The Ottawa Fire Service at 613-580-2424 ext. 15376 or email email@example.com
- Your local Community Police Centre to invite an officer to your event
- The Public Education Information Officer for Ottawa Paramedic Service, at 613-580-2424 extension 22483, to invite a paramedic to your event
- Your Ottawa city councillor to request their participation
You can also invite local politicians or celebrities to events as speakers or special guests. Inviting provincial or federal politicians can be done through their local constituency offices.
Promote your event
Local media will often promote community events. The may even cover the event if you get in touch, which can help your neighbourhood get positive attention.
You can also ask for your event to be listed on relevant websites, such as Ottawa Tourism.
If you plan to serve alcohol at your event, you’ll need insurance before you can apply for a permit. Insurance may be necessary for other types of permits, and is recommended if there are activities or sports planned where people or property may be hurt or damaged.
Contact your insurance broker to discuss your insurance options. If you plan to hold your event in a City of Ottawa facility, you can book insurance when you sign your contract for the space. You can buy a User Group Liability insurance program – with a $1,000,000 limit – directly from the City at an affordable cost.
Otherwise, contact an insurance company like PAL Insurance (1-800-265-8098) that specializes in one-time coverage for special events.
For more information
- Planning an outdoor special event: City of Ottawa
- Event guide: City of Ottawa
- Guide to serving alcohol at your event: City of Ottawa
- Rural events guidelines: City of Ottawa
For help with your event, call City of Ottawa’s Event Central at 613-580-2424, ext. 14613 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.