You love retreats. You formed the committee, scheduled the weekend, and began counting down the days. We know you're going to be there, rain, shine, wind or snow...but what about the folks that haven't yet tasted and seen just how life-giving a weekend retreat can be? Don't fall into the "if you plan it they will come" trap! Below are six practical tips to help make sure you get a full turnout at your next retreat.
Many people aren’t going to commit to attending a retreat on the spot; they need time to mull it over. Providing an option for convenient online sign-up can help increase attendance by making it easy to register from home, work, or on the go. And, it's easier than you think: There are free tools to help you with online registrations! You can build free forms through Google Forms, SurveyGizmo, and more. If your church or organization doesn’t take online payments already, you can use secure online payment options like PayPal, PopMoney and EventBrite.
Sometimes the price tag can be a hurdle for people considering whether to attend a retreat. Take a clue from the pros like QVC or As Seen on TV. People are willing to purchase the life changing spaghetti strainer because they can make small, manageable payments over time. Setting up a payment plan can take a bit of administrative work, but definitely makes the cost more feasible, especially for families on a fixed income. Consider setting up monthly or quarterly payment options.
This tip may sound daunting, but its not! You'll want to make sure you broadcast your event to your target audience, and continually remind them as the date approaches. You don't have to be a broken record, but proper planning enables you to take advantage of every opportunity to tell your audience about your retreat. Take a look at your calendar and pick a few strategic points between today and your event. Mark those dates clearly, to hold yourself accountable to following through on promoting your retreat. Below is a sample timeline we'd recommend for most retreat groups:
- 10-12 Months Out:
- Add event to your organization's events calendar
- Create an event on social media about your retreat
- 6-9 Months Out:
- Formal announcement at a large group gathering
- Create a poster/flyer/bulletin insert and make readily available
- Share videos/pictures/articles about your theme, band and/or musicians on your social media event page
- Send out mass email about event
- Share videos/photos of the retreat center you're going to
- 2-5 Months Out:
- Equip group leaders to talk about the retreat at gatherings they lead
- 2-3 reminders about RSVP date and/or deposit due date
- Inform attendees and others about fundraising opportunities
- Updates on transportation details (carpooling, caravan, etc.)
- Follow up with those interested in attending that haven't yet committed
Have Your Ducks in a Row
Most people don’t like to commit time or money on a vaguely defined event. Have the key details for your retreat organized before you pitch the idea to a mass audience, and anticipate questions that you’ll receive. Keep retreat information handy in a well-presented document for people to take home. For starters, here’s a list of information that people generally want to know:
- Retreat Location
- How many to a room?
- What size beds?
- Will linens, towels or pillows be provided?
- Should I pack anything in particular?
- Handicap Accessibility?
- Is there tiered pricing for if I bring multiple people from my family or a roommate?
- Is there a minimum deposit? Due date?
- Is my deposit refundable?
- Is there a payment plan available?
- How many meals?
- What kind of food will we be eating?
- Will the retreat center acomodate my dietary restrictions?
- Should I bring snacks?
- What kind of recreation options are available inside or outside?
- Do any recreation options cost extra?
- Who is speaking or teaching?
- Is there a worship band?
- Is there any other entertainment options?
Marketing experts will tell you time and time again that word of mouth is the best way to promote an event. Take time to talk with your “influencers,” those individuals that everyone tends to listen to. Equip your influencers to recruit others, and find opportunities for your influencers to speak to an audience about the upcoming event. Video testimonials can be extremely impactful as well. Yes, they take time. However, once a video is created it can easily be shared over the Internet time and time again.
Your retreat may be the most influential weekend in a person's spiritual development. Don't let finances get in the way! Look for opportunities to raise money to offset the cost for those in need. Some popular ways to do this are:
- Start a Scholarship Fund: There are generous folks in your congregation. Inspire them about the importance of your retreat, and ask for a donation toward a Scholarship fund. That video testimonial you created will come in handy here.
- Fundraising Events: Have fund-raising opportunities for participants to engage with. Bake sales, car washes, spa nights, yard game tournaments, house work, etc. Create a template letter for participants to send out to family members and friends demonstrating the importance of attending this retreat.
- Sponsorships: Your organization probably has decent list of vendors that you rely on. Approach the businesses you have relationships with and ask them to consider a sponsorship. Many companies have a line in their budget for charitable purposes. Some larger corporations require you to complete a brief application, provide a letter asking for the donation, and give proof of non-profit status.
A word of caution: Know your limits! Following these tips may lead to more sign-ups than you can handle. Be sure to know how many rooms/beds are available for your group, and how many people your meeting space can accommodate. Don't wait until the registrations start flooding in to set your cut-off. And last, don't forget to enjoy your retreat!