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How to Organize an Advocacy Group Retreat | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

How to Use a Retreat to Recharge Your Historic Preservation Group

How to Organize an Advocacy Group Retreat | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

If your historic preservation advocacy group is facing a large or complex issue, you may consider organizing a retreat. A retreat will allow your group to focus on a difficult issue in a setting that is free of daily distractions. A retreat helps to build a sense of community and commonality among participants that can recharge your whole group. The act of gathering together in a new venue often spurs new and creative thinking. Participants are removed from their regular surroundings, away from daily email, phone calls, and everyday tasks.

A retreat is a good idea when your group is creating significant organizational steering tools, such as your strategic plan or your advocacy plan. Consider finding a location that is especially inspiring and relaxing. You might also decide to hold a retreat once a year just to review your accomplishments, explore your missteps, chart your progress on a strategic plan, or prepare your budget and work plan for the upcoming year.

Location, Location, Location

Conventional retreat sites are spaces that are open to the public and can be reserved at little or no cost, such as:

  • Community centers
  • Libraries
  • Museums
  • Civic club spaces
  • Churches
  • Homes of board members
  • Corporate board rooms

If you want to mix things up and play off the "retreat" theme, reserve a lodge or group campsite at a state park. You might also consider hosting a "moving retreat" on a bus to visit organizations around the region who have dealt with issues your organization is facing. If you choose this option, break up the retreat into two parts, with a more conventional meeting one day followed by a road trip the next.

If you find a great space but you can't afford the rental fee, try to secure underwriting support from a corporate sponsor. Your retreat space will be an important factor in the event's success, so it is worth an investment.

Wherever you meet, your participants should be comfortable sitting there for long periods of time. They should be given ample opportunity to walk around, clear their minds, and socialize. The more comfortable your participants, the more likely you'll get their best input.

Hiring a Retreat Facilitator: Worth the Investment

It is almost always a good decision to hire an experienced facilitator for an organizational retreat. The cost of securing a good facilitator is well worth the investment. An expert facilitator has likely witnessed organizational issues similar to yours. You can benefit from the lessons other groups have learned by tapping the facilitator's bank of experience.

A good facilitator is a bit like a marriage counselor. The facilitator helps to maintain the retreat's objective and keep conversations on track. Some of your group members may get bogged down in day-to-day details and conventional ways of thinking about problems. A good facilitator will help your group to let go of old ideas and focus on your group's present and future.

A neutral facilitator lacks the emotional investment of the group's members. Because the facilitator is not an insider, he or she can bridge connections and restate a good idea in a way that neutralizes any organizational baggage. A skilled facilitator will make certain that everyone leaves the retreat knowing what tasks he or she needs to complete as a part of a unified mission.

Ideally, your facilitator should have some knowledge of your subject. Seek recommendations from other arts, culture, and historic preservation groups in your region. Ask detailed questions about a candidate's experience and style. Your facilitator should have a track record of steering groups toward strategic goals and tackling difficult subjects without hesitation. Your facilitator should be able to shepherd productive conversations toward meaningful goals.

Come Away with a To-Do List

Your group should come away from a retreat with a "To Do" list of follow-up activities: phone calls to make, questions to answer, and tasks to complete. You may want to assign each problem to a member, volunteer, or intern to develop a background brief of the problem. This background information will help your group make key decisions, such as whether to start a program focused specifically on a single major preservation problem, and to finalize a thorough plan. Background briefs can also become powerful web content and spur membership.

After your retreat, you can find out what other organizations around the country are doing to solve the problems your group has identified. Browsing the National Trust for Historic Preservation website or attending their annual conference are both excellent ways to collect information about advocacy issues.

The annual Local History-Historic Preservation Conference, sponsored by the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Wisconsin Council for Local History, is also a good place to share problems and solutions with your peers.

Follow-ups with potential partners will be valuable to lay the groundwork for future engagement. Your communications with potential partners will help you decide if your group needs to step up as the community leader or support another group in its effort to solve a common problem. For instance, if a potential partner already has a strong reputation and media following for hosting candidates' forums, you may want to work with that group to include preservation-related questions in their program instead of holding a forum on your own.

Your entire board should review the advocacy committee's draft plan and provide input before the plan is approved and implemented. The process of developing an advocacy plan will also help your group craft policy statements that you can summarize on your website and in other promotional materials.

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