Lessons from a Festival


On October 1-2 in Columbia, MD, my church will be holding its fourth annual Multicultural Festival.

Many people know about the “Greek Festivals” held by local Greek Orthodox Churches as a fundraiser. Our church is a multi-ethnic Orthodox Church. Our festival includes Greek, Romanian, Slavic, Lebanese, Ethiopian and Hispanic food. We have entertainment from a wide variety of cultures.

We hope you will join us and enjoy the food and entertainment.

It is fun to go to one of these events, but many lessons about the economy are learned in putting on the event. If you want a “crash course” in how American Capitalism works on a small scale, come help us in getting the festival ready.

The first lesson is about risk-reward. Our purpose is to raise money for the church. We put in a lot of effort and expense and, while previous festivals have been successful, there is always a weather risk.

We tried to raise funds for the festival by participating in a community festival in July. We put out effort and money only to see that event cancelled when the temperature went over 100 degrees.

We have been blessed with good weather for our festival and hope, and pray, that will continue.

Many of our expenses have to be paid before the first dollar comes in. We have mini-fundraisers, get donations and sell advertising in our program books.

The next lessons deal with logistics. We start with an empty parking lot as our site. We have to determine the layout of the booths and the tents. We also had to get electrical boxes installed and, of course, deal with all the health and fire code requirements and permits.

We have to advertise. That includes dealing with local papers and radio and TV stations. We also have to pay for the ads before they run.

We have to arrange for entertainment and schedule their sequence. We need to have MC’s to keep the show moving. Our MC’s also have to know what sponsors to thank and what events are happening so they can encourage people to check those out. We discuss our church tours and the Silent auction held in the church building.

We have to determine the menus and prices. Most of our items are made in our church kitchen by church members. We need freezers to hold the prepared items. Some items are purchased. Baltimore has large ethnic communities and good stores for their foods. In some cases, the effort or equipment in making an item is such that we choose to get it from the specialists.

Pricing is always a question. We want to keep the prices low enough to keep people coming, but we are trying to raise money for the church. The pricing discussions help us understand how pricing decisions are made in the economy.

We also have a major profit center in our beer and wine garden. People like to sit near that booth where they can see both the entertainment and the children’s play area.

That play area is our “loss leader.” We under-price that so the parents are encouraged to stay and get another meal, or dessert, or …

After all this effort, we have to be able to bring in money and determine what people wanted to buy. Our cash registers have to be programmed so that sales happen quickly and reports can be made after the event. Each year’s sales of an item help us to know how many to have for next year.

And, of course, we have meetings and conflicts. We have to work through a mountain of details and some people (not me, of course) can be pretty opinionated about some things.

There are many other things I could cover, but that’s the idea.

In the end, everyone wants to know “How did we do?” But that overlooks something major that happens during this process. We all learn a lot about each other and how the world works. We have young people in the church who, year after year, take on larger roles and learn more about how things work.

One thing I learn is to not take it for granted when I walk into a grocery store and see items from all over the world brought to the store for me to choose. There is a phenomenal amount of effort spent by a large number of people to make it easier for me. My festival experience helps me appreciate it all the more.

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