Powwow Committee Tips Part 1

Powwow Committee Tips Part 1


Putting on a powwow can be a very daunting task for a committee, especially for the first time, requiring a lot of planning and hard work. First time powwow committees and even established committees might consider these suggestions, based on our own experience on powwow committees and as vendors. You want your powwow to be successful and you want to keep vendors, participants and attendees coming back. Our experience and observations have culminated in the following points that we believe would be helpful to committees, especially new ones.

PART 1: VENDORS. Vendors in particular need to be treated with respect because it is usually the funds from their fees that finance the powwow either 100% or generate a large portion of required funds.

  1. Be Organized! Nothing worse than a vendor showing up and it’s a free for all scramble for booth space. Having a first-come-first-served scenario can have pitfalls, including creating bad blood between vendors and uneven distribution of booths. Taking the time to layout and assign booth spaces in advance makes for easy set-up for the vendors, plus if given a time zone for set-up, they don’t feel they have to race to set-up at the crack of dawn to secure a space. Everyone gets their designated space and it all goes much easier.
  2. Have Volunteers Available for Set-Up. Many vendors are alone, some are elderly and some have physical limitations. Always have at least 2 or 3 people to help these vendors unload, set-up canopies and load up at the end of the day.
  3. Don’t Demand Donations of Merchandise. Most powwows have raffles and it’s unfair to expect the paying vendors to provide the prizes. Better to have the committee approach local businesses prior for donations than burden the vendors with another expense. Donations should be presented as voluntary. Keep in mind that vendors have a lot invested in having an art/craft booth at a powwow. In addition to their booth fee they have transportation costs, usually lodging expenses, investment in merchandise and the physical effort and time to unload, set-up, dismantle and pack-up at the end of the day. Vendors are completely exhausted at the end of a powwow. It is our opinion that committees should not demand vendors donate merchandise, but rather make it an option. A donation is something freely given as a gift, not a demand or requirement! Some committees actually put a dollar value on what must be donated and this does not sit well with most vendors who feel it to be inappropriate. Remember, the vendors are already paying for the space in addition to their other expenses to get there. And, if it has not been a profitable powwow for the vendor, having to give away valuable merchandise adds insult to injury. Also, it is unfair to allow individuals, who have not paid for the right to sell, to walk around to vendors selling their wares from a box. This is disrespectful to the vendors who have paid for the right to have space and sell. Why this is allowed all the time is a mystery to us.
  4. Don’t Oversell Booth Space. Vendors, who provide the bread and butter of a powwow’s costs, don’t do well if they have to compete with an overabundance of other vendors. It’s a numbers game; if you have 100 other vendors it really spreads the spending dollars of the shoppers very thin. A formula should always be used to determine the number of booths allowed. If a powwow has a history of thousands of visitors, then maybe there are plenty of buyers for a lot of vendors. If a powwow is a first time event and it is not known if attendance will be good, have fewer vendors if you want them to come back. A committee must balance the number of vendors to the size of the crowd.
  5. Keep Booth Fees Reasonable. The cost of a booth fee is only relevant to the size of the crowd. If you are a first time powwow and you have no idea how many people will show up, charging vendors over $100 for one day is too much. Established powwows with huge crowds can get away with higher fees. If your first time powwow ends up with a huge crowd, then increasing fees for the next year will be reasonable.
  6. Thank Your Vendors. Very few powwows that we have attended or participated in thank the vendors. Have a committee member make the rounds of all the vendors and personally thank them for coming. If possible, gift each vendor with sage, sweet grass or tobacco. We had a booth at a powwow earlier this year where the committee had spent months collecting cigar boxes. Each vendor was presented with 1 or 2 cigar boxes which contained tobacco. This was a pleasant surprise and a very gracious gesture. At another powwow, the committee gifted each vendor with sage. Rather than demand donations of merchandise to a vendor who has already paid for their space, give something back and they’ll come back and may well offer a donation of merchandise.

Categories: Powwow Committees

About Author

Becky Olvera Schultz

Becky Olvera Schultz is an artist and photographer whose background includes journalism, advertising and marketing. She has been in involved with the powwow circuit for several years, participating as a vendor and as a member of powwow planning committees. For more information on Becky, visit her art site at www.native-expressions.com