Darlene over at SewCalGal asked me if I would do a post on how I put together the Circle Of Friends Quilting Retreat this past April. She said that she gets request for information on how to go about planning such an event and since I just hosted a rather large retreat, she asked for my input.
First and foremost you need to select a committee to work alongside you. And you need a committee that is willing to work and do anything that is needed to make your retreat a success! The jobs beforehand could include anything from creating directories, collecting class supplies, door prizes and snacks, creating class schedules, forming a room mates list, preparing items for games, and many other things necessary to the function of the retreat! ALL of your committee members need to be on-board for ALL things. You may have one who is not really good at asking for donations but is really good with the computer so you put her to work preparing a class schedule and have her manage getting everyone signed up for the classes they wish to take... while someone else may be really good with collecting things for door prizes so you ask them to put all of their energies into contacting quilt shops, designers, and fabric/thread manufacturers for things to give away to your retreaters! They LOVE winning things!
I have worked with various organizations for over 20 years collecting things for auctions and other fundraisers and I will tell you that the best way to get a positive response from the merchants is to either walk in to their shop if possible, or call them on the phone. Emails are so easily discarded. Put a personal touch to it and let them hear your voice. Be willing to tell them all about your event and the exciting things you will be doing. I actually had one sponsor tell me that she had over 20 request already for the month I called in and I was the only one who had taken the time to actually pick up the phone to speak directly to her. She said all other request had come in via email. She said you are the only one I am donating to because you cared enough to talk to me personally.
Jobs your committee members should be willing to do during the retreat will be but are not limited to: preparing table decorations, hanging of any quilts beforehand (if any) and removal at the end of the retreat, collecting fabric challenges (if you have one), collecting votes and calculating winners for the challenge, hosting any games you plan and calculating winners of any prizes, (FQ Bingo and Strip Poker were 2 our games), assisting retreaters with any of their needs, making sure teachers get their class supplies, presenting door prizes, etc...
After you have your hard working committee together it is time to put things together....
The very first thing that I did was to decide which area I wanted to host in. This was the 5th year anniversary of these retreats and every year they had always taken a road trip to a quilt shop so that made my decision easy. Mary Jo's Cloth Store was in Gastonia, NC so I knew I wanted to be in close proximity to that shop. You have to charter a bus for the trip and you do not want your retreaters on the bus for any longer than necessary.
After you decide which location you want to host in, the hunt for the perfect hotel or lodge comes in to play! And this can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack for sure! You may spend several days and even a couple of weeks on this part of the planning. Be prepared to make road trips to each location because it is far better to see what you have in person than trying to picture it in your mind.
Things to consider when choosing the right hotel or lodge:
1. GROUNDS!! Is it a setting in which your retreaters will feel comfortable and give them the feeling that they are at a retreat??
2. Number of attendees you would like to bring to the retreat -- Do they have a meeting room large enough to accomodate your number?
3. If you plan to have classes -- Do they have break apart rooms for your classes or does their meeting room have the inner panel doors in the walls that can be closed to partition off the room? You do not want several classes on top of each other because of the noise factor.
4. BEDS!! -- Are their beds comfortable? This is a MUST -- Nothing like sleeping on a bad mattress for 3 to 4 nights straight! And for some of the ladies it might be longer as some may want to tour the area a few days before or after the retreat!
5. Meals? -- Does the hotel or lodge have an in house restaurant and if not how easy is it to access food for necessary meals? If the hotel or lodge has an in house restaurant, they may not allow you to bring in outside food sources. They may also require you to guarantee them at least one meal a day from their restaurant from all retreat goers. I planned for Friday dinner, Saturday dinner, and Sunday lunch. The costs of these 3 meals will play in to how much their retreat fee will be. Most hotels will give you a $25.00 tax and gratuity inclusive rate per person. That is actually about 18.79 for the meal and the rest for taxes and tip. You and the hotel would decide on the menu together. And do NOT let them skimp on the meals! The costs of these 3 meals will play into the retreat fee!
There were plenty of eateries within a 5 minute walk surrounding the hotel for all other meals. Be sure that all other meals are easily attainable for your retreaters!
If the hotel does not have an in-house restaurant negotiate with them to allow you to have meals catered in and ask them to give you a space to set this catering up. You can choose to have lunch and dinner both catered in each day or stay with the 1 meal a day and have them be "on their own" for the other meals. This decision is yours and your committee.
6. Food -- You also want to make sure if they have an in-house restaurant that their food is edible. I lucked up and the 2nd location I visited was PERFECT for what I was planning and each time I went to my location of choice, I always asked that they feed me and the committee members who met me there. We all tried something different on the menu so we had a pretty good idea of just how good their food was before we signed on the dotted line.
7. Room rates -- Negotiate heavily with them on the room rates! If you can, get them down to at least 99.00 a night so this will reflect a cost of 25.00/33.00/50.00 per person per night, depending on how many room together. (The room rates do NOT play in to the cost of the retreat fee)
8. If you need audio equipment make sure you inquire if you will be charged for microphone and/or microphone set up! This cost will play in to the retreat fee! (I was caught unaware about this and had not budgeted for it)
9. Negotiaite the cost of renting the meeting room! SIDE NOTE: Most hotels will negotiate the meeting room free if you guarantee them a set number of meals from their in-house restaurant and a guaranteed number of sleeping rooms. -- But know this.. if you negotiate the meals and the sleeping rooms for free rental of the meeting room.... you will have to pay for the meals, even if they are not eaten and you will have to pay for the rooms, even if they are not slept in! Take this seriously!
10. Perks! -- Negotiate a free stay for yourself as the coordinator or at least a free night stay with a decided number of paid stays by all other retreaters. You are bringing them several thousands of dollars of revenue so they should be willing to give you something back. I negotiated a free night stay per every 50 paid nights. I had 51 rooms booked at 3 nights each for a total of 153 paid nights so I was treated to 3 nights being removed from my bill at check out. I also negotiated my room to be a parlor room instead of a regular room at the same rate as the regular room rate. The parlor room was the size of 2 rooms with the center wall removed. I had a large conference table in my room with 12 chairs perfect for any meetings necessary and/or any work that needed to be done.
11. BE PREPARED TO PAY A DEPOSIT TO THE HOTEL TO RESERVE YOUR DATES!! If this is a hard ship for just one person alone, ask your committee members to help with this. You will pay yourselves back as soon as the first of the deposits start coming in from the retreaters as they sign up to come.
OK! So now you have your committee and you have your location and you know how much of your budget is going to come from the hotel. Now it is time to have a committee meeting and plan your entire budget so you will know exactly how much it will cost each retreater to attend. Decide on exactly what all you want to plan into the schedule for the retreat and how much each thing will cost, if it cost anything.
Things that will affect your budget will be but are not limited to... Guaranteed meals to the hotel, audio equipment rentals, guest lecturer room and meals, bus charter, van rental for airport shuttle (if hotel does not offer this service), gas for this van, welcome bags, snacks, game supplies, class supplies, fabric (if you do a fabric challenge), challenge/contest prizes and thank you gifts (if you cannot get them donated), momentos (if you plan to give any), cost of creating directories (if you do this), printer ink and paper for all handouts, folders for hand outs, table decorations .... etc... anything that it takes to put the retreat together!
Add up the cost of each item on your budget and then divide this number by the number of retreaters you have. This will be their retreat fee. (I added 25.00 per person to my total to have a cushion in case I forgot things that needed to be purchased and/or if some of the things I had budgeted for wound up costing more. This did happen and I wound up using my entire budget including the cushion money)
After you have your retreat fee determined, you will then take sign ups. If the hotel has limited you to a set number you cannot go over because of fire codes in the meeting room, you will have to stop taking names at that point and start a waiting list. You will have a "due date" for at least half of the retreat fee within 60 days of sign ups. If someone fails to pay this deposit they will be moved to the bottom of the waiting list and the first person on the waiting list will get their spot. They are given 30 days to get their monies to you. The remainder of the retreat fee should be due to you at least 90 days prior to the retreat. You will begin purchasing things and you will need this money by then.
When the remainder of the fee is due you will treat it the same as you did the deposit. If someone does not send their money by the due date, they are moved to the bottom of the wait list, and the first person on the wait list gets their spot! They will be given 30 days to get their money in to you.
The due dates for the deposit and the remainder of the fee have to be adhered to exactly! If you give anyone leniency you would have to give everyone else the same and this could bring you more trouble than you can imagine! You will need those funds to begin purchasing everything needed for the retreat. And it would not be fair to those on the waiting list.
Have a refund policy in place! Prepare a document that each retreat goer will sign that they understand this policy and are willing to abide by it. You can google other quilting retreats and/or events to see how others write their refund policies and you and your committee will decide on how best to put your own in place. You HAVE to protect you and your committee!
The hotel will expect full payment 2-3 weeks before your event!
Now you have your sign ups completed and your jobs are just now beginning. Assign jobs to your committee members and make sure they know just how important it is for them to do their job in a timely manner. Aim at having everything completely ready at least 1 week before the event so you can unwind and relax before the retreat.
Schedule in at least one more committee meeting sometime in the middle of preparation.
One thing I did that helped me tremendously was to divide my retreaters into groups. I assigned one committee member to each group. The ladies were to direct any and all questions to their assigned committee member. Dividing this up between everyone chose to be really helpful!
Schedule: You will need to create a schedule of each days activities during the retreat! Remember to schedule in enough time for each activity to where you have a little down time before the next activity begins. Try to stay as close as possible to the schedule. If you have a large number in attendance, it will most likely be next to impossible to stay right on target, but do your best.
Other things to consider:
Write a welcome speech that will kick off your festivities. If you are not comfortable speaking to large crowds, appoint one of your committee members to do this for you.
Start your retreat off with a Meet and Greet session. In this session each person is allowed to come to the front with 1 show and tell item, introduce themselves and say a few words if they would like. You will have a few shy'er people who won't even take a minute's time. But for those who never meet a stranger their time should be limited to no more than 2 or 3 minutes. Taking the time to have this session will help to relax those who are nervous and may never have attended a retreat before.
When the hotel sets up the meeting room make sure there is ample walking space between the tables. If you have a large enough meeting room , ask them to set the tables up to seat 1-2 less people than the table is rated for. This gives your retreaters a lot more elbow room!
Remember to ask the hotel management to lock up your meeting room any time it is left empty. (road trip, meals in other locations of the hotel, after you adjurn at night)
Ask a local sewing machine retailer to bring machines for your retreaters to use over the course of the weekend. If this is not possible ask your retreaters if they would consider bringing sewing machines with them that they would be willing to share if necessary. Most hotels will allow you to mail in things like this 3 days before your event and they will keep them stored for you until you arrive. Check with your hotel on this!
When we had our list of attendees we asked that they all consider sending in a photo of themselves to be put in a directory. The directory had each person's name and personal info (if they chose to include it) and their photo. The photos helped tremendously with putting names to faces for everyone while they were at the retreat! They were a success!
Most hotels with in-house restaurants will not allow any outside food brought in to their meeting rooms. If you plan for the hotel to have a snack set up once a day for your retreaters this can be costly! (8.00 per person per day for 1 cookie and 1 coke was what I was quoted!!) I talked in depth with my contact and told her that this was an outrageous price. She told me their were ways around it. My committee and I had an idea for snacks that I told her about and she agreed to this. We asked the retreaters if they would like to bring a snack that represented their state. So GA brought pecans, SC brought cookies with palmetto trees in the icing, OH brought buckeyes (chocolate covered peanut butter balls), ..etc... We also were able to purchase some pre-packaged cookies and crackers and got some apples donated. The hotel kept 2 pitchers of water on every table during the course of the retreat. If anyone wanted coke products, the hotel had a gift shop where these could be purchased as anyone wanted them.
SIDE NOTE: If after you contract with the hotel and you have a determined set cost for food that has to be met... If for some reason you have several that have to cancel and you are not going to meet the required food budget (and it STILL has to be paid for remember)...then you can ask the hotel to bring down snacks for your retreaters. Do not pay for food that you do not eat! Make sure you give your retreaters something for all of their money.
If your retreat is a USA-wide retreat -- Bring some history of your state to your retreaters. For most of your guests this will be the first time they will come to your state and may be the one and only time. Plan your retreat around things that define your state. And don't be afraid to step outside the box... Pottery is really big in NC so I asked Phil Morgan of Seagrove, NC to come and do a pottery demonstration for the ladies at this retreat. Out of 81 ladies, only a couple actually were not so receptive of it. But for the other 79 they thoroughly enjoyed it!
Momentos -- Again... I wanted to have something for the ladies to take home with them that defined our state. Tobacco farming is big inside NC and years ago they hung the tobacco from the rafters in the barn on sticks. I had some of these sticks sent down to my brother in law and he turned ink pens from them. I then had them engraved 2011 NC COF! The ladies loved this momento! (the cost of the engraving was included in the budget but my BIL turned them free of charge).
I also contracted with Phil Morgan for him to bring each retreater one of his finished coffee mugs so they would have a piece of his work to take home with them. (These were also included in the budget but he gave us a price reduction of 6.00 per mug instead of his usual 18.00)!
Plan challenges and contests throughout the retreat.
Make sure you have a first aid kit handy for any boo-boo's with seam rippers or rotary cutters!
All in all... it is your retreat and all activities planned will be at your discretion.
One final thought in closing: Remember that you will not please everyone with everything that you plan! Try to bring several different things to the retreat and surely everyone will enjoy a few aspects of it even if they dont enjoy it all. And if you have someone who just does not enjoy anything at all, then they did not come to the retreat with the intentions of enjoying themselves to begin with!
Good luck on planning your next retreat!