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Fall Festival Ideas: An Ultimate List of Ideas for Throwing a Fall Carnival

An ultimate list of ideas for throwing a themed, budget-friendly festival for the whole family.

Fall Festival Ideas: An Ultimate List of Ideas for Throwing a Fall Carnival

When the air turns crisp and cool and pumpkins grace the stoop of every home in town, families are excited to partake in fall activities. This is the perfect season to throw a fall festival for your nonprofit, church, club, or team. Whether you've thrown a fall fest before or you need a few fall festival ideas, we're excited to share this ultimate guide to throwing a successful event your community will rave about.

Throwing an exciting fall festival might seem daunting, but all you really need is a strong team of volunteers, a fun theme, and a venue. Fall might be the easiest time of year to throw a themed event since nature does most of the decorating for you and people are already excited to celebrate Halloween. Don't feel discouraged if your budget is small or even non-existent. Fundraising and sponsorships are valuable options for throwing a fall festival and DIY decorations have never been more popular.

Planning Your Fall Festival 

After deciding to throw a fall festival, you’ll need to set a date and book a venue. Look for a date deep enough into fall that the weather will be nice and crisp and the leaves will have changed color. This will put your guests in the mood for all the fun fall activities.

Once you have a date in mind, start looking for a venue. Depending on the activities you plan to include, you’ll want a venue with plenty of space for your vendors. Fall can still pose a risk of rain, so consider a venue that has an indoor option, just in case. Some of our favorite fall venue ideas are:

  • School parking lot/football field
  • Pumpkin patch
  • Corn maze
  • Church
  • Public park
  • Local farm or orchard

Fall Fundraising Ideas 

Throwing a fall festival isn’t without expenses, so don’t hesitate to fundraise before the event. Start by calculating the cost of the venue, entertainment, restrooms, and any other expenses. Once your budget is established, brainstorm the best kind of fundraiser for your event. Be sure you share with your community that you plan to use the funds to throw a fall festival. They will be glad to donate! Some simple ideas for fundraising are:

  • Raffles
  • Cookies or popcorn sales
  • Silent auction
  • Movie night
  • Restaurant night
  • Merchandise sales

Checklist for Fall Festivals

After the funds are raised and the venue is booked, it’s time to get to work on the rest of the festival. Here’s an essential planning checklist to get you started:

  1. What is the venue?
  2. What is the date/time of the fall festival?
  3. Who are the food venues?
  4. What is the theme?
  5. What kind of games/activities will you have?
  6. Will there be entertainment (band, DJ, performers)?
  7. Does the venue provide restrooms or do you need to rent porta-potties?
  8. Who will set up/tear down the event?
  9. How will you advertise?

Exciting Fall Festival Themes 

One of the most fun aspects of any festival is the theme. While autumn can be its own theme, don’t hesitate to be more specific and get creative.

Fall is the perfect time to throw a harvest-themed festival, especially if your festival will be at a local farm, orchard, or pumpkin patch. At a harvest-themed festival, you can display and sell your fall bounty. Invite your guests to pick apples, pumpkins, and squash. Sell food made from your crops. Design games that fit your harvest theme.

Halloween-inspired festival is a classic theme that no one gets tired of. Encourage guests to dress up in their favorite fall costume and host a costume competition. You could have a spooky haunted house alongside creepy Halloween games and apple bobbing. For entertainment, you could show a Halloween movie on an outdoor projector.

If you want a truly unique theme for your fall festival, consider hosting a bonfire night in honor of Guy Fawkes Day on November 5th. Also known as the Gunpowder Plot, Guy Fawkes Day commemorates a failed attempt to assassinate King James 1 of England. Build a bonfire under the stars, sell delicious time-period food, and hire historical reenactors or storytellers to entertain your guests with the tale of the Gunpowder Plot.

Church Fall Festival Alternatives

Many churches host fall festivals as an alternative to traditional Halloween parties. Church fall festivals are a great opportunity to bring the community together for a safe and fun event for the whole family. You can utilize your church parking lot and DIY decorations to save money and host a fall fundraiser to fill in any financial gaps you may have. Some of our favorite church festival ideas are:

  • Hayride
  • Pumpkin carving
  • Fall photo booth
  • Bobbing for apples
  • Fall festival games (ring toss, sack race, bean bag toss ect.)

DIY Decoration Ideas 

You don’t have to break the bank decorating your fall festival, but you still want it to be on theme and enticing to your guests. Before you hire a professional decorator, consider making your own decorations.

If your festival is outside, nature will do most of the decorating for you with crisp grass and trees dressed in burgundy and orange. Follow nature’s lead by adding hay bales and mums to your entryways. Invite local students to contribute carved pumpkins to the event and let guests vote on their favorite pumpkins.

Themed garland is easy to make with scrap fabric or construction paper. Host a garland-making night for your team and hang it on booths, archways, and stages at the event. If that sounds too overwhelming, consider asking local businesses to donate decorations (like mums, pumpkins, baskets, straw, ect.) and advertise for them at the event.

Setting up Carnival Booths and Stalls 

Don’t wait until the day of the event to think about how you’re going to set up food vendors and activities. If your budget is tight, you can set up simple folding tables and tents and decorate them with fun DIY decorations.

If you have a handyman on your team, consider building booths out of pallets or scrap wood. Handmade, wooden booths and stalls will add character and authenticity to your festival and will match perfectly with the natural fall ambiance.

If budget is not an issue, you could go all-in and purchase tents, booths, and stalls for your carnival. Purchasing colorful, themed stalls would be particularly helpful if your carnival is Halloween-theme and could be saved for future events.

Lights and Sound

Whether or not your fall festival will have live entertainment, you will need to arrange for lighting and sound equipment. When the sun goes down, you’ll need lights to illuminate the paths and attractions for your guests and speakers for announcements and music.

Utilizing a church or school parking lot for your festival will take care of the lights, but if that’s not an option consider renting lights. You can also rent speakers to place throughout your event so guests can enjoy music and stay informed about upcoming attractions.

Engaging Activities and Games 

No matter your theme, games are an important part of any festival, if only for the children. Here are a few of our favorite fall game ideas to consider:

  • Cornhole. Cornhole is a fun activity the whole family can enjoy. Set up a few sets of boards near your food tables and let people toss beanbags back and forth while they enjoy their apple cider.
  • Bobbing for apples. This is a great way to utilize local apples, especially if your event is at an orchard. Set up a few barrels with clean water and fresh apples and designate a team member to oversee the event. Make sure to have a prize ready for the winner!
  • Fall scavenger hunt. A scavenger hunt will require a bit of strategy and planning, but it’s sure to draw a crowd! You could even get local businesses on board and take the scavenger hunt off carnival grounds.
  • Sack race. Those oversized burlap sacks are good for more than just hauling apples and squash. Set up a sack race for the kids and let them hop their way to the finish line.
  • Hayride. Recruit a local farmer to pull families on a hayride behind their tractor. This is an activity for all ages!

Some games are better off held in a booth or stall. For these games, you could require an armband or ticket to be sold at the door for extra profit. Some of our favorite interactive booth ideas are:

  • Ring toss. Everybody loves the challenge of tossing a tiny ring at glass bottles!
  • Stuff the Turkey: Similar to a bean bag toss, Stuff the Turkey is a game where kids toss stuffing (balled-up newspaper) at the opening of a paper turkey.
  • Face painting. Recruit artistic members of your team to paint the faces of younger guests.
  • Fall bingo. Here’s another fun idea for the whole family. All you need for fall bingo is a festive bingo sheet and a team member to be the caller.

Contests and Competitions 

Everybody loves a good competition, especially when there’s a nice prize to be won. Make sure you announce your planned competitions in advance so guests can be prepared. Here are a few fun competition ideas to consider for your festival:

  • Halloween costume competition. Invite guests to wear their best costumes to the carnival. Offer each guest a number and designate a time for everyone to vote for their favorite costume. Consider having separate competitions for kids, teens, and adults.
  • Pumpkin carving contest. There’s no better time to carve a pumpkin than at a festival with friends and family. You can sell pumpkins at the event or invite guests to bring their own. Then, set an allotted time for everyone to carve their pumpkins and vote on their favorite.
  • Pie-making competition. Now here’s an idea that will warm everyone’s belly. Advertise for guests to bake their best pie before the event and appoint a panel of judges to taste-test the competition. You aren’t limited to just pies, though. You could do chili, jam, or any fall-themed food!

Seasonal Food and Beverage Ideas 

While many of your younger guests will be excited about games and activities, everyone else will come hungry in anticipation of wonderful, seasonal food. This is the perfect time to let local bakers and farmers showcase their season’s bounty. The menu may differ between festivals depending on each community’s favorites, but here are a few seasonal traditions you should consider offering.

  • Apple cider
  • Chai tea lattes
  • Hot chocolate
  • Apple turnover/cake
  • Chili or warm soup
  • Pumpkin pie

Beverage stands are a fun twist on the classic lemonade stand. They can be as simple as a folding table and sign, or as nostalgic as a wooden booth made of barn wood or pallets. Most of your guests will be craving a warm beverage this time of year, so invest in a few insulated decanters and stock plenty of cider, tea, and hot chocolates.

Catering and Food Safety 

When serving food to the public, you can’t be too careful. Before the event, check your state’s requirements for serving and selling food. You may need special permits and licenses and could face steep penalties if you do not comply with your state’s regulations.

Entertainment and Performances 

Food and games might be the main attraction for most people, but it's still important to provide some kind of entertainment for your party-goers. If your budget is small, consider hiring a DJ instead of a band. You could also extend a platform to local artists and performers as a way to showcase their talents and entertain your guests. Hosting local talent is a great way to support community members and you can take up donations for the artist's time.

Between musical acts, consider offering an attraction just for the kids. Skits, clowns, and musicians who perform silly, kid-friendly songs are great ways to draw in younger families. Some performers even interact with the kids during their shows. This kind of attention will have families coming back to your fall festival year after year.

Marketing and Promotion Strategies 

Once plans for your fall festival are underway, get started with advertising for the event. Advertise as early as possible so folks can buy tickets and put it on their calendars. Between school, sports, and holidays, fall is a busy time of year and you want to have the best turnout possible.

Social media is one of the best ways to advertise for local events. It's free, quick, and reaches a large audience. Designate one or two team members to create Facebook and Instagram pages for the event. Use a graphic design app to make online fliers to share. Make sure to advertise for the vendors and entertainment you plan to include. If you've hosted a fall festival in the past, share those pictures so folks know the fun that awaits them.

We may live in a digital age, but not everyone has social media. Paper fliers are still a great way to advertise your event. Ask local businesses, restaurants, schools, and libraries to display fliers. Ask the local newspaper and news station to run a story about your event. The more community engagement you can generate for your event, the better!

Safety and Accessibility Measures 

Any time you host a large number of people, you have to consider safety. Work with local law enforcement to ensure the safety of your guests. You may be required by law to hire off-duty police officers to provide security. Depending on the location of the carnival, law enforcement may also have to re-route traffic. This may seem over the top for a local fall festival, but you can never be too careful with the safety of your community.

Local law enforcement should also be able to help you make emergency preparedness plans. In the case of           a fire, natural disaster, or other tragedy, it's important to have a plan in place. Mark your exits clearly for all               guests to see. Station fire extinguishers near all food vendors or any attraction with a motor. Provide first aid           kits and trained personnel in case of an accident.

 Finally, make sure your entrances, restrooms, and attractions are accessible for all attendees. Wheelchair ramps, railings, and handicapped parking spaces are simple ways to make sure all people feel safe and welcome at your event.

Evaluating the Success of Your Festival

A crowd of smiling faces will give you a feeling of satisfaction, but that's not the best way to gauge the success of your fall festival. Gathering feedback from your guests is a great way to know how they really feel. Consider handing out feedback fliers or posting them online after the event. Ask attendees:

  1. -What was your favorite part of the festival?
  2. -What did we do well?
  3. -What could we improve next year?
  4. -Would you come to the festival next year? If not, why?
  5.  

Take your guest's feedback seriously. It's the best way to know what you did well and what you can improve for next year. When your guests return the following year to see you took their suggestions, they will feel heard and valued and will be more likely to return in the future.

Another way to gauge the success of your event is by analyzing attendance and tracking sales. Vendors should record every sale so you know how much revenue they've brought in and which vendors to include next year. If a vendor doesn't do well, they may not be a good fit for your fall festival, and that's OK.

FAQs 

How can I throw a fall festival on a small budget?

t's OK if you don't have a large budget for your fall festival. Fundraising and donations can cover a large chunk of your financial needs. Ask local vendors to donate food to the event and make your own DIY decor. Your community will see your heart behind the festival and will be none-the-wiser of your financial limitations.

Do I need a permit to host a fall festival?

Yes. Before throwing any event, you will need to apply for the proper permits with your local government. You will also need the proper permits to sell and serve food to the public.

Where is the best location for a fall festival?

That depends on what you're hoping to do at your festival and what venues are available to you. School and church parking lots, local orchards, and pumpkin patches are a few of our favorite venues for a fall festival.

Should I charge admission to my fall festival?

There are several ways to make money at a fall festival without charging an admission fee at the door. Sell tickets for all rides and allow each restaurant vendor to charge for food.

Now is the Perfect Time to Throw a Fall Festival

We hope this guide to fall festival ideas has given you all the tools you need to throw a successful event. Remember, autumn might be the easiest time to throw a festival because nature decorates itself, the weather is cool and inviting, and seasonal foods like cider and apple turnovers are sure to draw a crowd. Once you have picked a date and venue, all you have to do is coordinate seasonal food vendors, DIY decorations, and a few games and your community will be raving about your event until next year's fall festival.

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Jordan Thompson

Jordan is an author and copywriter in the home and family niche. Connect with her on Instagram (https://instagram.com/jordanthompsonauthor?igshid=MzNlNGNkZWQ4Mg== ) and Indeed (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jordan-thompson-0916a1262). For copywriting inquiries contact her at jordanthompsonwrites@gmail.com.

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