Women's retreat planning

Kevin Penner

Women's retreat planning
A short introduction: Jackie and myself have had the privilege to be part of hosting hundreds of women’s retreats in Manitoba since purchasing a retreat centre near Whiteshell Provincial Park back in 1999.  It was not long until those wanting to rent our facility were looking to us for direction.  We were in a unique position to share ideas and I quickly started putting together written materials for group leaders.  This guide is put together with a specific focus on Women’s retreat planning and the special needs unique to those type of events.  Utilize it to ignite fresh ideas into your next event.

Putting together a team

Everyone is built with incredible abilities.  Putting square pegs in round holes is often what I think of when I see people put into job descriptions that do not tap their natural ability.  When putting a team together surround yourself with members that are quite different than yourself.  Pick people good with details, social influencers, strategists and those good at seeing the bigger picture.  If there is a certain people group you are after, make sure to include lot from that group is in planning committee.

Identify your retreat's purpose

Prior to planning it’s important to think about what your event goals and objectives will be. Many planners dive right into planning without identifying the group events purpose. Don’t make this mistake. Defining your events purpose and goals provide the framework for objectives within your event.  Goals are usually specific and measurable, while objectives are the strategies and steps that you use to attain the goals that you have set.

Identify your retreat goals

The first step you should take is creating goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and based on a timeline. Take the time to think about what goals you would like to establish for your event.

What exactly do you want to achieve? The more specific your description, the bigger the chance you will hit your target.

Questions you may ask yourself when setting your goals and objectives are:

  • What exactly do I want to achieve?
  • Where?
  • How?
  • When?
  • With whom?
  • What are the constraints?
  • Why do I want to reach this goal? What are the different ways available to achieve the same result?

Making goals measurable

Measurable goals mean that you identify exactly what it is you will see, hear and feel when you reach your events goal. It means breaking your goal down into measurable elements.  Let’s say your group’s goal is to grow existing friendships and build new connections.  At the start of the event, ladies could provide a number from 1 to 10 about how they felt about their existing friendships.  Halfway through and again at the end of the retreat have them provide a numerical rating.  At the end of your women’s retreat collect their worksheets and measure the effectiveness of that goal based on the numbers.

Measurable goals can go a long way in defining what exactly it is that you want, too. Defining the physical manifestations of your goal or objective makes it clearer, and easier to reach.

Aiming for something attainable

Is your goal attainable? Weigh the effort, time and other costs associated with your goal and put it into a list sorted by priorities.  If you don’t have the time, money or talent within your group to reach certain goals shift in a different direction.

Are you being realistic?

Is reaching your goal realistic to you? Do you actually believe you can raise enough fund to fly in your favorite speaker?  What’s your plan B?  Maybe a better way to think about the idea is why do you want to reach this goal? Answering your “Why” will provide a huge amount of direction in your planning and often lead you to goals that are achievable.


Start sketching on a calendar a tentative timeline around the event. This will give your team a sense of the deadlines and will cause people to start putting their concepts into measurable action. Pencil in deadlines for yourself and your team and go after trying to hit those dates. Keep the timeline realistic and flexible, that way you can keep morale high. Being too stringent on the timely aspect of your goal setting can have a damping effect on your event team, so make sure to put some cushion in when setting initial dates and plans.

Create key questions and resoures

Here are some key questions to consider when you are setting and defining event goals:

Why are you having this event?
Why are you inviting attendees to your event?
What are the key things you want an attendee to walk away with?
What speakers, instructors, adventures need to be put in place to accomplish your goal?
What entertainment is needed to reach the social satisfaction you require for this event?
How will you specifically measure reaching your goals?
These are just a sample of the questions to ask yourself.

Defining event goals and objectives that make an impact

Develop your retreat strategy

The next step is thinking event strategy.  Once you have your event goals narrowed down, and you are confident and passionate about them, try to brainstorm on the steps and strategy to help you obtain your goals. When thinking strategy, I like to think of it from two perspectives. From the perspective of a planner or your planning team, and then from the perspective of your event attendees.  How will both the planning team and the attendee help reach the retreat event goals?

You may find that your strategy may involve some mini-goals. Mini-goals are what you may need to set to get your ultimate goal. Create an outline and attach actions needed to reach those goals.


As the organizer, you need to start calculating the costs such as location, food, travel, and transportation as well as optional considerations such as arts & craft materials, outdoor activities or signage.  When budgeting always spend less than you forecast to be taking in.  A good rule of thumb is leaving 20% extra to cover unexpected expenses or lower than expected attendance.  I have created a download with dozens of line items so you can get straight into using your retreat budget spreadsheet.

Finding the right host location

Where will you host your women’s retreat?  Are you thinking a campus, a church, conference centre or hotel?  What kind of setting do you want to hold your event?  These come back to the experiential goals you have set for the outcome of your event.  Here in Manitoba, there is a lot of forest and lakes that make ideal retreat setting.  For those near mountain ranges, you might consider a peak or a valley.

Finding a supportive retreat center

Finding a retreat facility that has trained staff in how to best serve those planning an event is always a delight to partner with. The best staff are those that see themselves as quiet butlers and trusted guides, never in the limelight but always close by when you need them.  Need something special done for an attendee with a food allergy?  Want something arranged for your group that requires some flexibility from the retreat staff?  Trained leadership support staff know how to handle those situations instantly and have systems in place even before you ask.  It is these types of retreat centres, the ones that bring empowerment to group leadership that you want to locate and partner with.

Look for these retreat center traits:

  • Driving Distance.  When looking for a weekend location try to keep the driving at or under 1.5 hours.  For a week-long women’s retreat or if you are bringing in a speaker that has a very large following people may be willing to travel up to 8 hours.
  • Location and setting.  Retreats are best served in natural areas away from busy city life.  Is it hosted on a lake, river or mountain top?
  • Trip Advisor ratings.  Take these ratings with a grain of salt but it will give you a rough idea about the place.
  • Website includes floorplans, booking guide, and other helpful information?  Is the place you are considering have a lot of materials to help understand how to plan for your stay?
  • Meeting rooms.  Do they have enough space for your group to meet and dining?  Do they have audio video equipment, podiums and enough sunlight coming into the room?
  • Guestrooms.  Are you bunking together or do people get rooms similar to hotels?  Is all your bedding and towels provided?  Do you have to do clean-up after meals or after check-out?  Remember that this is a women’s retreat, so try to avoid booking at facilities that take away from the retreat experience.
  • Food services.  Do they provide a salad bar as well as the main meal at lunch and supper?  How are allergies and special diet requests handled?  Food is a really important part of any event so make sure you book at a centre with above average food services.
  • What activities or instructors are available at the retreat centre?  Sometimes things like art, food or adventure classes are offered at retreat centres for very little or no monies and can really add a lot of value to your retreat.
  • Do they have modern Wi-fi available?
  • Firepits?  Hot tub?  Volleyball?  Canoes?  Walking trails?  Find out all the things you can do at the centre or in the area.

Selecting a speaker

Look for speakers who research and prepare thoroughly (and who include you in the preparation).  Find someone that is willing to make a tailored presentation that will appeal to the specific audience attending your event.  This means the speaker will need to put in time either creating a speech from scratch or repurposing something they have spoken of previously but with your group event goals in mind.

Gauging a speaker’s understanding of the group events topics is a great starting place, and you will want to follow up by reviewing well before the event everything you want to be touched on so that it gets ticked off at some point during the event.  So you also need to do your homework and work with the speaker to formulate the presentation.  In working with your keynote speaker in this way you can be sure your event goals will become the major focus of the women’s retreat.

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Theme your women's retreat


Review the event’s purpose, goals, and audience with your event committee.  Ask yourselves what you want attendees to think or feel as they leave the event. In other words, what is the one big idea or key call to action that you want them to remember or act on?

Run with your theme

Once your theme is decided, focus on incorporating it into all aspects of your planning.  You can do that by:

  • Choose a color scheme.
  • Create an event logo.
  • Pull together the color scheme, logo, and tagline into your social media and marketing materials;  invitations, posters, event programs, event signage, name tags, emails…
  • Decorate the podium/speakers area according to the theme.
  • Make sure your keynote speaker and all other presenters know your theme and tagline.
  • Create a uniform powerpoint template for the keynote speaker and any other presenters to use.
  • Plan theme-based special activities or entertainment (e.g. trivia with themed questions, themed meal & snacks, music).
  • Put a themed welcome bag in each attendee’s room.
  • Outfit your event staff with shirts that carry your logo.

Snacks that match your theme

Most retreat centres provide snacks for those attending group events such as fresh fruit or cookies.  But what about taking it up a notch?  For those that want to make those snacks extra special use your theme colors to make a themed snack during your biggest evening celebration time!

Orange food

  • Orange bell peppers.
  • Apricot pie with granola crust
  • Pumpkin Pie.
  • Peach pie.
  • Orange slice candies.

Yellow food

  • Yellow bell pepper.
  • Yellow apples.
  • Lemon pudding
  • Lemonade.

Red food

  • Strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, watermelon
  • Red bell pepper.
  • Red licorice.
  • Candy canes.

Pink food

  • Pink grapefruit.
  • Pink lemonade.
  • Strawberry milk.
  • Pink Jell-O.
  • Fresh strawberry cupcakes.

Green food

  • Guacamole.
  • Green cupcakes.
  • Green popcorn.
  • Kiwi.

Blue food

  • Blueberries
  • Blueberry popsicles.

White food

  • Crispy rice-cereal treats.
  • Coconut-covered snowball cake
  • Coconut cream pie.
  • Vanilla ice cream.
  • White frosting on cupcakes, cookies, cake.

Decorating for your women's retreat

Another great way to get your theme colors and ideas flowing is in decorating your meeting rooms and/or dining room.  Get the parts of your team that attract to the creative and detailed side of things to start putting items together.  Some ideas are:

  • Table settings
  • Name cards in the dining area
  • Registration Table
  • Door Hangers for the guest rooms
  • Gift bags


Take a look at holiday calendars, school calendars, and community calendars and look for any conflicts with the dates you have in mind.  If you don’t check this carefully you might find yourself competing with other similar events and affect your turn-out by up to 50% lower than you were hoping.

Social media and marketing

Create a women's retreat that resonates

Create an event where people want to go, not have to go.  When putting your event up on Social Media or in a Newsletter we can come across as begging for people to attend.  That type of communication creates a lot of challenges and does not induce people to bring their friends or tell those around them about your great event.  A much more effective way putting together cutoff dates and numbers.  As people sign-up communicate that X spots are now left and create a sense of urgency.  Always promote what the excitement is all about and why they need to be there.

Your event needs to echo value that attendees identify with

How well do you know your audience?  What are they expecting at an event like this one?  The best way to find this out is to ask potential attendees.  Do your research and plan something that will create a buzz in your particular people group.  Make something not just great in your eyes, but in the eyes of those potentially coming.

Build a story

The most effective way to draw people into your event is through storytelling.  Having testimonies either written or ideally on social media video can be a very powerful tool in the hands of a storyteller.  If this is the first event of it’s kind and you don’t have testimonies to draw from use, create a story that mirrors your event.  Either way, you want to use the age-old tool of storytelling to catch the attention of your audience.  They will retain the information longer and adds a dose of humanity that allows your potential attendees to connect.

If you are not familiar with the 5 key points in every good story I recommend checking out this short article.

Enlarge your invitation

If your attendance looks like you have room for more, consider inviting other people groups similar to your own.  Depending on what your group is all about, this might mean inviting another church, art community or hiking club to join in with you.  It’s not uncommon to see two communities joined together in my day job as a gm of a retreat centre.  The most important part of this idea is reaching out early.  A last minute invite to anything is always difficult, so if you are thinking about having others join in, start early.

Early bird offers

Want to kick your women’s retreat registration off with a bit of bang?  Offer tiered registration with a 20% discount for those that register by a certain date.  Having both an early registration and a regular registration is a productive way to getting people talking and taking action.  If you decide to go this route make sure to meet all your costs with the early bird registration just in case 80% of the attendees decide suddenly to all register early.

Building connections

Use your event to bride generations

If there is a segment of your event that appeals to one generational group over another, incorporate creative ways to engage the other demographic. Instead of doing it the way it’s always been done, integrate a mix of session styles so that each segment in your audience feels like they can connect.

Understanding the different communication styles is key to crossing generational lines at your event. Older attendees tend to value formal face-to-face interactions, whereas Millennials have forged a new path of social interaction that is more casual, instant and digital. At your next women’s retreat, try unifying your audience by coordinating a mentorship program in advance.  Building mentoring moments into your program to reach even deeper into the younger generation.  Pair your seasoned leadership with those just coming of age to encourage an intermingling that would otherwise never happen.

How many sessions and workshops?

If your retreat starts on a Friday evening and runs until Sunday after lunch is fairly common to see a total combination of 5 workshops or sessions.  Try to leave some time for rest as well as building real connections with those in the group.  If you want to give a bit more free time you can always make one of the workshops optional.  That makes flextime available for those that are looking for it, without feeling they left out an important part of the retreat.

Draws and gifts

Everyone enjoys giveaways, even those who are in leadership.  Requiring people to be present to win is a great way of having everyone show up on time for the next session.  Consider giving away a new book, gift card or something that hold value.  Whatever you decide to give, make sure it’s not something that will end of being donated to the thrift store right after the event.

Evaluation forms

As we talked about earlier in this article, we need to measure how well your women’s retreat goals were met.  Budget time in the schedule to get these properly filled out.  If you expect people to fill these out between sessions or in their free time you will get less thought put into the answers.  Once collected, take them home with you are review them a different day.  After a team event members are usually exhausted and any negative feedback might be more painful than it should.

It's the small details

Registration table

Registration greeters are a great way to have each participant enter the start of their women’s retreat.  Driving up and finding 3 ladies waiting on you with a nice bottle of ice lemonade and a small gift bag filled with homemade cookies sets the tone immediately.  Excitement is contagious and breaking people out of their ruts is one of the first things you want to accomplish in your retreat.

Nametags with schedules

Placing your schedule on the back of name tags kills two birds with one stone.  Having name tags helps take the awkwardness when meeting new people.  Placing an outline of the weekend or weeks events will answer a lot of initial questions and will help people being timely.  Placing the schedule on the back of their nametags will help eliminate people losing their agendas or people mistakenly using someone else’s retreat schedule as their own.


Depending on the age of your group and the number of participants you make have some people attending your women’s retreat that struggle with walking or chronic pain.  Often people that struggle in these areas may tire quickly and need main floor rooms and access to special meal considerations.  When you encounter people with special needs remember to be kind and patient.  Make special accommodation for them where you can and even your smallest efforts will be noticed.

After your women's retreat has ended

Handing out small inexpensive (almost free) mementos

Consider giving out a tangible token to each attendee of a reminder of what they accomplished during their women’s retreat.  It can be as simple as a scrap of fabric and a thank you note, a simply painted rock with your theme colors, a laminated bookmark or anything else that fits with your retreats theme.

Sending out thank you cards to your team

The average person receives a plethora of emails every day and printed junk mail to their door.  An old-fashioned handwritten note or simple homemade card cuts through all that clutter in an instant.  Adding value to people is what retreats are all about, so take the time to express gratitude to the team that speaks to the heart.  Gratitude is a great way of expressing thanks and will plan a seed for good things to grow.

Keep in touch

During the retreat consider posting up a large art paper on a common wall.  Bring painters tape so you don’t get any pushback from your hosting facility.  Label this paper as a connection board and have people attending the retreat optionally put there twitter handles, email or other points of contact.  Consider making coffee invites to those you really connected with.  Take a moment and ask yourself “Did I meet anyone at this retreat that I would really like to get to know better?”.

How to build a team

If you’ve loved this article and are interested in learning how to create a retreat that knocks it out of the park, check out the WildernessEdge Framework.

Wilderness edge amenities
Group of people

Large meeting rooms


143 guest rooms


Catered meals

Location pin

One hour from Winnipeg

Located in Pinawa, East Whiteshell Provincial Park


25+ outdoor activities

Rafting, canoe rentals, snow boarding, hiking trails, etc.


Team building

Rafting, canoe rentals, snow boarding, hiking trails, etc.

High tempurature

Hot tub

Spa / sauna


Parked car

Free Parking

Fire pit





Walking trails

Convenience store

Convenience store

Credit card

nearby ATM


Golf Course

Umbrella on a beach



Pickle ball

Tenis ball


Plan everything in one place

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Pair of people

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Open book

Attendee self sign-up option


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