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Retreat Planning for Nonprofit Volunteers

Reprinted with permission from The Volunteer Management Report newsletter (

Asking your key volunteers to take time from their schedules for a retreat means the event should be productive, enjoyable and free of distractions. Those involved should leave the retreat with the sense that goals have been set and stronger relationships have been developed.

First, determine the primary purpose of the retreat, whether it is to brainstorm about creative ideas and solutions for your organization, or to build friendships and enhance camaraderie. Following are additional options to help you plan a fruitful gathering:

  • Decide how long the retreat will be. Some volunteers may enjoy spending a weekend at a nearby lodge, park or resort. If distance isn’t a factor, they won’t need to spend the night, but arrange for them to be able to reserve a room if desired. Choose an area with other attractions they may wish to see on their own time. Make effective use of hotel meeting rooms for your planning sessions. Plan meals so everyone dines together.

  • Set the stage for creativity and productivity. Plan a comfortable atmosphere and encourage casual attire, keeping in mind that even morning or afternoon retreats are longer than a typical meeting. Choose a place that’s private and well equipped with all necessary supplies, and have a variety of food and beverages close at hand.

  • Reserve the nicest area of your own facility. Your institution may have the meeting rooms, food service, office equipment and supplies you need, making it impractical for your retreat to be held away. However, try an “upgrade” from your usual meeting place, such as an auditorium or boardroom. Request better china for coffee and lunch, and a full hot meal rather than the usual coffee and rolls. The more formal setting will help those attending get in a businesslike state of mind, as well as show them that you consider them to be important.

  • Try an outdoor picnic, sports or cultural event. If you usually meet in a formal, no-nonsense setting, have a catered picnic in a botanical garden pavilion, or reserve the conference room of your local zoo, country club or museum. After the meeting, the reward can be a festive boxed lunch and enjoying the nearby attractions. Remember that those who may not find common ground in your organization may connect in a friendly way on the tennis or golf court, or while viewing artwork or animals.

  • Keep the agenda on track, but build in flexibility. Wherever your group meets, cover all necessary topics and goals thoroughly, but leave room for other matters. Having your volunteers in the same place at the same time is certain to result in discussion of important ideas that have not yet been openly aired.

  • Ask volunteers what type of retreat they want to attend. Be open-minded to excursions like out-of-town shopping trips on a chartered bus, or a family trip to a sports event. Even if little business is accomplished, your volunteers will certainly be discussing goals and dreams for your institution’s benefit. Providing a social setting away from the usual environment gives those who have never had a chance to become acquainted during routine volunteer tasks the perfect excuse to learn more about each other.

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About the Author: This article is being reprinted from the from The Volunteer Management Report newsletter with the permission of Stevenson, Inc., PO Box 4528, Sioux City, IA 51104. Phone (712) 239-3010. Fax (712) 239-2166. Website:

Established in 1993, Stevenson, Inc. publishes six monthly nationally-acclaimed newsletters with thousands of subscribers throughout the U.S., Canada and other foreign countries. They include:

  • Successful Fund Raising
  • Special Events Galore
  • The Membership Management Report
  • The Volunteer Management Report
  • The Major Gifts Report
  • Nonprofit Communications Report

The newsletters are sold on an annual subscription basis, focus on specific aspects of nonprofit and association management and carry no advertising. Additionally, the company has published several "hands-on" manuals and special reports. To see a sample or subscribe to any of these newsletters, visit Stevenson, Inc. at

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