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Retreat Planning

Retreat Planning
Holding a retreat is an excellent tool to provide information, create excitement, and get your members involved in your organization’s goals and strategies for the semester or year. A correctly planned and executed retreat should not be viewed as a universal remedy, but as a practical leadership development tool that can have a huge impact on the success of your organization.

Step 1:
Assess Needs of Your Organization:

  • What are the current and future needs of your organization?
  • What do you want to accomplish at the retreat?
  • What are the unique needs, problems, or concerns that the retreat can help address (communication, common vision, delegation, etc.)?

Step 2:
Set Objectives & Goals:
The structure, discussion format, and duration of the retreat will be determined by what your organization wants to achieve.

  • What information will members/officers have as a result of participating in the retreat?
  • Are there particular skills or attitudes it is important they leave with?

Write the goals down and be specific. Typical retreat goals include areas such as:

  • Communicating important information
  • Teambuilding/Unity/Awareness
  • Training/Skill building
  • Problem solving
  • Program development
  • Goal-setting for the upcoming year(s)
  • Orienting new members and/or Socializing

Step 3:
Determine Your Resources, Budget, & Activities

Calculate anticipated costs such as transportation, food/drink, lodging/facility rental, recreation, and supplies (copying, paper, games, equipment, etc.).  

These questions will help you determine if you will be planning a 2-hour retreat on campus, half day on or off-campus, or an overnight at a camp or retreat center.  Remember to make sure your plan is consistent with your set objectives and goals.

  • How much time is available and necessary to accomplish goals?  What time of the year is best for the retreat?
  • What are the participants’ expectations and skill level?
  • What resources do you already have (materials, member skills, etc.)?
  • What resources do you need to obtain?
  • What type of activities will meet the retreat goals?
  • Is your organization paying for all of the expenses or are members expected to contribute?

Step 4:
Select Basics of the Retreat:
The right time and place for the retreat can really make a difference in the positive outcome of the retreat. Consider logistics for set-up, clean up, and purchasing of materials needed for the retreat. Develop a checklist and make sure everyone is clear on who is doing what by when.  

Date & Time: Allow participants enough advance notice to work the retreat into their schedules.  Provide participants with a suggested “to bring” list (including bedding necessities for overnight retreats).

Facility: Make reservations in advance. Ask questions about the space to make sure it is conducive to the activities you have planned. Secure a contract and deposit for your site. Reconfirm facility arrangements prior to retreat.

The retreat should be held at a facility away from the university, if your budget permits. Such a facility usually offers participants the opportunity to socialize to a greater extent than they otherwise would in at the university, to personalize relationships, and gain greater appreciation of each other.

Transportation: If the retreat location is off-campus, you should consider providing organized transportation to participants. Are you renting a bus/van or setting up a car pool? Provide directions to drivers.

Food & Beverages: Are you catering, ordering food from a restaurant, or doing the cooking? Determine kitchen equipment needs and ensure the facility is equipped to meet your needs.

Step 5:
Plan the Agenda:
 Plan the agenda ahead of time and provide participants with a copy of the agenda in advance. Participants should be aware of the purpose of the retreat and what the organization hopes to accomplish.

From a planning perspective, the agenda should include:

  • Dates, timelines, and location(s)
  • Description of the retreat format(s)
  • Which members are leading particular sections
  • Fun, inspiring, and motivating activities
  • Scheduled breaks, especially if you have an overnight retreat, to make sure people have time for reflection, sleep, informal activities, etc.
  • Back-up activities planned for any last minute changes to the agenda

Step 6:
Conduct the Retreat:
During the retreat, the key leader should ensure that the retreat is following the agenda.  By keeping to the listed time frame, participants will be more likely to remain interested and engaged during the retreat.

Continue to assess the general mood of the room during the retreat, if the leaders don’t have participants’ attention, make changes as needed: topic adjustments, additional leaders, more participation from members.

If the retreat topics include sensitive issues, the planners may wish to articulate specific ground rules for dealing with those subjects in a manner that encourages building community. Your organization is encouraged to have open and reasonably candid yet respectful discussions about each retreat topic, agreeing that discussions regarding issues should be balanced by suggestions for improvement.

Step 7:
Post Retreat Assessments & Action Plan:
The final phase of the retreat should emphasize the follow-up of action plans agreed upon during the retreat and to gather feedback about the retreat from all participants.

The retreat planning committee should assume the role of overseer to make certain that a written summary of the retreat is prepared which identifies action plans agreed upon, the student leader responsible for implementation, and the date for implementation of status reporting. The committee should also arrange for the distribution of the notes to the members and establish follow-up procedures for reporting on the status of those action plans reached during the retreat.