Event Planning Toolbox


River Events such as racing for prize money,
or donations to the charity of your choice, are
community development tools helping us to enjoy
and celebrate our greatest natural resource - our
life-giving rivers.

Design Challenges
with Local Schools

Logo for the 1st Bi-national River Festival on the
Rio Grande, moving to Laredo in spring 2012.

Generate advance publicity and get top notch design assistance by creating design challenges with local schools.

The Big River Ruckus logo concept was generated by 5th graders at Komatsu Elementary School in Mission, Texas.

First place winner Jacob Padilla won the opportunity to work with Del Rio Advertising's award winning creative team.

Jacob was included in a series of afternoon design meetings where he watched his winning entry go from draft to camera ready design. Newspaper features about the collaboration functioned as early advertising for the festival.

An article about the student-private sector collaboration in the business section of the local newspaper was a great conversation piece when subsequently visiting with potential sponsors.

10-year old Jacob Padilla and creative directors
of Del Rio Advertising, McAllen, TX

A Compelling Vision

There's a reason that advertising is a billion dollar industry. Creating a vision that addresses a widely felt human need—and makes it fun—will draw quality exhibitors, vendors and performers. Get them, and the crowd will follow.

River-Themed Events

The Frio River Song Festival near Concan, Texas in
northern Uvalde County features an open-to-the-
public, multi-artist, band show.

Visit websites of existing river festivals and watershed events in South Texas for ideas.

March Buffalo Bayou Regatta
April Neches River Festival
June Texas Water Safari
July Regata del Rio Nazas
August Frio River Song Festival
Sept Colorado 100
October Rio Grande Dia del Rio, and
Laredos RioFest

Other Festivals Might Welcome River-Themed Events...

February El Charro Days/Sombrero Festival, and Laredo Birding Festival
March Borderfest, and Winter Texan Appreciation Day
October Narcizo Martinez Conjunto Festival

... or Ask Us to Help You Create Your Own Event!

A River Appreciation Event can be as simple as
clean-up with a Riverside Community BBQ.


  1. Meet with your event team and conduct event debriefing to determine success or ways to improve in the future.

  2. Send thank you notes to staff, volunteers and vendors; include a survey.

  3. As you attend other events over the next 6 months, make notes for your next event.

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So you want to create a river festival or watershed event? Bravo! We are here to help. Contact us for a list of potential sponsors; we have one ready to go for you.

Here are the initial points your event planning team should address:

  1. Who do you want to attend, what do you want participants to gain from attending each year, and what will be the value to the community at large?

  2. Brainstorm your event's primary message and themes and decide which speakers will best speak to your communication strategy. Get them on board early, especially the MC.

  3. Get a champion on board.  Preferable a city council member or county commissioner, someone who can represent you at the highest levels of decision-making, who has a web of influential contacts and who can assure you don't overlook basic permitting requirements such as parade permits and traffic plans.
  1. What is the best date and location for this event?  Why? Have you checked for conflicts?  Your local Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureaus are good places to check.  If your river includes bi-national races, check for conflicts with the Mexican Canoe Federation and Texas Canoe and Kayak Racing Association for historic races on those days.

  2. How will you promote your event beginning with invitations, an event website, flyers, advertising, and press releases to local and out-of-town media.

  3. Which organizations can you partner with?  Besides school districts, churches and municipal government, who are the non-traditional partners that might have an interest in co-sponsoring your event?  Who in particular can benefit from a river-themed festival?  Is there a local charity hospital, or social services organization that needs a fundraising or outreach opportunity?
After addressing these initial areas, you are ready to create an event timeline, beginning 6 months in advance...

From the Wall Street Journal article Racers Stream
Down Rio Grande
about the first Laredos RioFest

6 months in advance

  1. Continue building your event's organizing team and create a budget.

  2. Consider event insurance to cover all partners to the event.  For river races, the American Canoe Association offers event insurance for $5/competitor for events hosted by ACA members; consider ACA membership.

  3. Agree upon the location, theme, speaker and guests lists, and organize your primary contacts database.  Once those are set in stone, issue a ‘Save the Date’ announcement.   Get a hotel sponsor if you plan to pull in attendees from outside day-trip range. 

  4. Organize your food and beverage plan.

  5. Select and order recognition items (award, honor, citation) if you plan to celebrate anyone's accomplishments related to your event's theme. If you will be awarding prizes, ask local art teachers to make event awards art class or shop projects.  Our quarterly kayak races used old paddles which were painted as trophies winners mount on their walls.

  6. Seek donations or special rates for rental equipment such as tables, chairs, tents, podiums, musicians or DJs.

Riverside fire dancer at the Dia del Rio Awards
Banquet for Laredo Paddlers who raced kayaks
on the Rio Grande.

4 months in advance

  1. Invite VIPs to save the date, especially speakers and reporters.

  2. Design your promotional materials.

  3. Create your event schedule; include speakers' biographies and photos.

  4. Confirm presenters, entertainers, the event photographer/videographer, and vendors.  Are permits for any of them required?  Such as food handlers? Make sure all vendors have the proper Health Department licenses.

  5. Make a checklist for all issues and include columns for date due and responsible party.  

  6. Consider special needs peculiar to a river festival and races, such as a bull-horn for the start and for communicating with people on the water, two-way radios for race marshals, plan for a Fire Department or Border Patrol rescue boat in case of emergency on the water.

This poster is for an interstate celebration of the
Rio Grande. Join RGISC by adding a local event in
your community on "Dia del Rio".

2 months in advance

  1. Send invites.

  2. Decide your facilities layout and how sponsors will be represented and acknowledged. One common method is with event T-shirts.

  3. Confirm hotel and transportation arrangements for out-of-town VIPs and send their itineraries.

  4. Schedule helpers such as registration desk volunteers, greeters, clean-up crews.

  5. Make direction and welcome signs

  6. Ramp up publicity (issue press releases, announce a logo design contest, stage pre-race trials on the river, offer familiarization trips for the press.  Select a news-worthy element for press releases; consider making them bilingual to increase your reach.

Details, such as confirming this floating dock in
the Dia del Rio race, help bring it all together.

2-weeks in advance

  1. Send all VIPs a briefing package including the entire guest list with biographies and schedule.

  2. Re-confirm the schedule for everyone who be delivering anything to the event, and the media.

  3. Rehearse with the MC to make sure he/she is ready to properly introduce each person/activity

  4. Prepare your event kit with office and other supplies that will be needed, tools, etc.

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This flyer is for a river-themed community fundraising
event involving kayaking. For those not ready to plan
a full festival, smaller events are also excellent ways
to celebrate your local river.

1 month in advance

  1. Prepare registration desk materials such as the schedule of events, sign-in sheets, welcome gifts for children, etc. Sign in sheet should include where people have traveled from. Demonstrable success at putting "heads in beds" is the essential criteria for receiving hotel and motel tax funding for your follow-up event.

  2. Count your RSVPs, adjust publicity plans accordingly.

  3. Finalize details with vendors.  Make sure they comply with city/county licensing and permit requirements.

  4. Make a list of phone numbers and contacts in both English and Spanish for all emergency responders

  5. Write speeches and introductions, and get them approved.

  6. Create a schedule outlining all deliveries, cues, and timing for the event.

  7. Do you have enough signage?  If your festival access is off the beaten track, which is often the case on the Rio Grande for example, plan to make roadside signs for placement the morning of your event, or one day prior to the event. Consider email maps with directions to all participants.

“We all live downstream!”


  1. Leave early and bring help - no matter how well you prepared, there will be last minute issues.

  2. Place signs leading to the event if you didn’t do so the day prior.

  3. Meet your event team onsite to go over pending logistical issues, discuss the schedule, and send everyone to their stations with everything they need.

  4. Set up event venue and conduct sound and equipment checks.

  5. Set up registration and make sure greeters are there before any early birds.

  6. Enjoy your success!!

  7. As people leave, have your event team ask guests and presenters what they thought, what they liked best, and what you could improve next year.

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Rio Grande Plaza, One South Main Avenue, 14th Floor, Laredo, TX 78040-5935 USA | (956) 209-1879 | Eric Ellman, Executive Director, Eric@BigRiverFoundation.org
Sueños del Río, Cerca del Puente, Boquete, Chiriqui, Panama | (507) 6966-2691 | Stephen Kaczor, Chairman, Steve@BigRiverFoundation.org
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