How One Piece of Paper Transformed an Entire Event

CPL’s Open House has always been the organization’s biggest event and one of the few days during the year that the public is allowed to explore the property. Past Open Houses revolved around a free lunch, craft vendors, a cow bingo, and two hour long demos about the organization. CPL’s mission to raise and train service dogs for individuals with disabilities is very complex. I wanted to find a way to break up CPL’s mission into smaller pieces in a way that was fun and educational.

The Passport System

open house 1

As with most of my ideas, the concept of a passport popped into my head on the ride home from work. I came up with the idea of breaking key elements of CPL’s mission into physical stations at the event and introducing a passport system. The stations were The Breeding Program, Community Puppy Raising, The Kennel, The Training Program, The Harness Shop, The Home Companion Program, Life with a Service Dog, and the Development and Education Department. 

Since the passport would be a new element to a longstanding event, I introduced the concept in email newsletters and social media two weeks before the event. As instructed in the email newsletters, guests were given a passport with a map, schedule, overview of the organization, and social media info as soon as they arrived at the welcome booth at Open House.

The stations were spread all around campus, in between local and craft vendors, sponsor booths, kids’ games, and food vendors, to ensure every station received traffic. Visitors could go in any order and spend as little or much time as they wanted in each booth.

 

The Stops

CPL Open House Passport R3-2
A few months prior to Open House, I met with all of the staff in charge of their station to create programming and assess their volunteer and supply needs. I instructed staff members to come up with quick, fun ways to explain their jobs and departments. The results were a myriad of activities: demos, mini-lectures when a crowd formed, panels, and games.

Guests learned about the breeding program and puppy evaluation program at The Breeding Program booth. They received kisses at the puppy kissing booth and met CPL’s volunteer puppy raisers at the Community Puppy Raising area.

Visitors held our lightweight harnesses at The Harness Shop, watched CPL Training Demos, toured The Kennel and learned the ins and outs of Development and Education Department. Recipients told tales about their life-changing partners at The Home Companion Program and Life with a Service Dog booths.

After a guest participated in the programming at each station, a volunteer would stamp their passport. If participants collected all eight stamps in their passports, they could return to the welcome booth and enter their name into a raffle for a CPL prize pack.

 

The Results

Everyone loved the passport this year. Adults had just as much fun collecting stamps as the kids. The staff loved talking about their jobs and commented how they received so many new and great questions. Historically, long food lines were always an issue, and the extra stations cut down significantly. The passport also made it easier for our amazing photographers to capture the day. Each photographer was given a passport, schedule, and shot list and the results turned out great.

 

Next Time

  • I’d bump up the size from 8.5 by 11 and add more FAQs about the organization and event to the passport.
  • It was tough to get all 862 visitors to go the welcome booth. Each station will get passports, and a brigade of volunteers will be in charge of dishing out passports.
  • Even though I put a hashtag and social media handles on the passport, there was very little social media action. Next year, I would introduce a specific social media campaign or social call to action to drive more engagement.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the passport system and plan to make it an Open House cornerstone. It added structure to our largest event, let staff talk about their jobs in a new way that they enjoyed, made it possible to educate most of our event attendees, and added a new element to one of the organization’s signature events.

Photo by Robert Buzzard Photography. Passport by Christina Link.