How do you plan a Retreat?
The key to planning a retreat is to give yourself plenty of time. While various retreat experts have many opinions on when you should begin planning a retreat, a general rule is that unless the retreat is going to be something done on a small scale, you need about two to four months to plan the entire thing. You may have to reserve a site earlier than that. Here’s a step-by-step guide to planning your retreat.
Table of Contents
FOUR MONTHS AHEAD OF TIME:
- Start looking into retreat facilities.
- If you’re having your retreat at a campground, resort, hotel, or retreat facility, start calling around and asking places to send you brochures or other information on their facilities and prices. Talk to other groups like yours who have recently held retreats to get their recommendations on facilities.
- Decide who will attend.
- Start looking into possible speakers/presenters.
THREE MONTHS AHEAD OF TIME:
- Decide how long the retreat will be.
- Pick a date (or dates) for your retreat. Having a few backup dates is important because your location may not be available.
- Make a preliminary budget.
- While you don’t necessarily have to nail everything down right now, you need to have an approximate idea of how much you can afford to spend and on what you’ll be spending it. Come up with a rough budget for things like site fees, accommodations, meals, transportation, recreation, speaker or consultant fees, audiovisual aids, and so on.
- Assign planning duties.
- Depending on the scale of your retreat, you may decide to have just a handful of people handling organizational tasks. If it’s fairly small, one person may very well be able to handle the entire thing. However, if it’s a large-scale retreat, you may wish to delegate planning duties to a few individuals, or you might even decide to form committees. Whatever the case may be, decide now who will oversee what and get that person or those people started on those duties.
- Carefully think through what kinds of activities you’re planning. Interactive, participatory activities are far more likely to build group spirit and a sense of mission than lectures, not to mention doing more to keep people awake. Mixing things up can help keep people fresh; try doing different things during a session like combining individual, small group, and large group, etc. with socializing and quiet time. The longer the retreat, the more important this becomes.
- Come up with a rough schedule.
- This is the time for you to make some decisions about what sort of activities will be planned, when each of those activities will be held, and how much time will be set aside for each. Sketch out a rough schedule, starting with some sort of icebreaker if most people don’t know each other well, or a team building group activity if people do know each other. Be sure to include lots of breaks and free, unstructured time in your schedule. Do not forget to schedule your meals and allow enough time for people to eat and mingle.
- Reserve a location.
- Choosing a good site may be the most important step in planning your retreat. It’s a good idea to choose one–and only one–member of your group to be the contact person with the facility. This avoids any confusion (“I thought you confirmed our reservation?” “No, I thought you did it!!”).
- Below are a few questions to ask yourself when selecting a retreat site:
- What kind of accommodations do we want? Dorm rooms, cabins, hotel?
- Do we want to cook for ourselves or have meals provided? If we cook for ourselves, are kitchen facilities available and is there an extra charge?
- Are the facilities accessible to people with disabilities?
- If camping, do we want bathrooms or outdoor showers?
- What are the meals like?
- How many meeting rooms do we need?
- Do we mind sharing a facility with other groups, if necessary?
- Is there any extra charge for use of meeting facilities?
- Do we need to provide your own audiovisual equipment?
- What sort of recreational opportunities are available?
- Are linens available or do we have to bring our own?
- Before making a final decision, try to talk with other groups that have used that facility if you haven’t already. Ask them about the quality of the facilities, the service, and the hospitality. Facilities should be willing to give you references to former customers.
- If possible, have several date options that would work for your group in case the facility you really want isn’t available on a particular date. Be sure to find out specifically what is and what isn’t included in their charges. If you’re not a nonprofit organization, be sure to ask how much tax they charge to come up with a realistic figure for your budget. Get a written contract–with the price on it–signed by your group representative and the camp representative. Most retreat facilities expect a non-refundable deposit of 10 to 15 percent.
- Depending on what kind of facility or site you’ll be using, you may have to do this step earlier than 3 months before the retreat. When in doubt, call around and ask facilities how much lead time they need for a reservation, or reserve a tentative date that you can change later on.
TWO MONTHS AHEAD OF TIME:
- Finalize the retreat schedule.
- This may seem like a long time in advance to have a final schedule but finishing that part of your planning up now will help you finish all the other details in plenty of time. Again, be sure to include some free time. You might want to have some organized activities planned during free time for those who are interested–like a group volleyball game or a nature hike–but don’t make these activities required.
- Find out about the needs of your consultant if you’re using one.
- If any presenters you’re bringing in from outside the organization have any specific needs, now is the time to find out what they are. Do they need audiovisual equipment, or do they have any specific requests about how the room is set up?
- If this is a large-scale retreat, send out invitations or notices.
- Of course, if your retreat is only for five or ten staff members, you can just give out the info to each person individually. However, if you are holding a retreat for a fairly large number of people, you will want to send out written information to them all. Doing it this far ahead of time gives people plenty of time to plan the retreat into their schedules and make any arrangements necessary for them to be able to attend.
- Make any final decisions about accessibility.
- Do you need to schedule a sign language or foreign language interpreter? Do you need to make large-print handouts for participants who have visual impairments? Are there any further special arrangements to be made with the facility with regards to service animals or wheelchair access? Now is the time to finalize any plans regarding these things.
- Make travel arrangements.
- Chartering buses, organizing carpools, and so on should be done at this point. Again, be sure to consider any special needs for people with disabilities in your transportation arrangements.
ONE – TWO WEEKS AHEAD OF TIME:
- By now, you will have done almost all your planning!
- Check with retreat site to see that all arrangements have been made
- Round up any needed equipment or supplies (nametags, slide projectors, etc.).
- Make final arrangements for meals if you must bring your own
- Do any needed photocopying (agendas, worksheets for group activities, etc.).
- Go over your agenda one last time and make sure you’ve got everything ready.
- If you used committees, check with committee heads for last-minute problems
- Most importantly, relax and get some rest! You want to be clear-headed and energetic when the retreat begins tomorrow.
AT THE END OF THE RETREAT:
- Evaluate the retreat.
- It’s important to find out how satisfied participants were with the retreat and how well you were able to meet the goals you set for it. It’s best to set aside some time in the schedule at the end specifically for evaluation. This way, you’re not only gathering information on how participants felt about the retreat; you’re also giving the participants a chance to understand what they’ve just been through (this is especially important if the retreat involved any emotionally intense issues).
- Depending on the scale of the retreat itself and how much depth of information you want from participants, you may simply distribute a short evaluation questionnaire, or you might split people up into small groups and have them engage in a discussion.
- Some questions to ask:
- Did you meet your objectives for the retreat?
- How did you feel about the facilities?
- How did you feel about (specific activity)?
- What did you like or not like about (specific activity)?
- What parts of the retreat do you think will be most useful to you in advancing your organization or initiative’s cause? Why?
- What parts of the retreat were least helpful to you? Why?
- Was there a good balance between free and structured time?
- If your retreat was held at a campground, public park, or anyplace else where facility staff doesn’t handle clean-up, be sure that you and your staff have cleaned up the entire area
- If the facility you used worked out well and your retreat is going to be an annual thing, go ahead and reserve it for next time.
- Forming a relationship with a good facility can be mutually beneficial for your organization and the facility. Of course, if you find a good facility and stick with it every year, it saves you the trouble of shopping around for a place to hold your retreat, but that’s not the only reason to consider using the same facility every time. Getting to know the staff at a facility and giving them your business repeatedly makes them more likely to go out of their way to accommodate any special requests you might have and offer you discounts or special packages.
Whatever reason you have for planning a retreat for your organization or initiative, the key to a successful retreat is to plan carefully and plan well ahead of time. Since a retreat is supposed to help you step back and take a refreshing, new look at your work, it’s important to go about it in a way that doesn’t stress you out or drain your resources. Retreats that are thrown together at the last minute rarely accomplish what they’re meant to, and advance planning can keep you from becoming overwhelmed and overworked with the details.
Feel free to reach out to us here at Liebenzell for your Retreat Center needs.
Patrice M. Schaffer
Guest Relations Manager