A Lakeside Retreat

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On a sunny day in late fall, twenty two board members of the Arkansas Genealogical Society met at a rustic, lakeside cabin. They came from all over the state to relax, think, and plan society goals. There were no telephones, no television, and no other distractions. This was a retreat—a working retreat.

Planning had begun when the Arkansas Genealogical Society Board of Directors voted to hire a professional facilitator. The society was at risk: there seemed to be no vested interest, there were communication concerns, and it was feared the society might become divided on some issues. The retreat was an attempt to become better acquainted with each other, clearly define the organization’s objectives for the coming year, and develop strategies to obtain the goals that were set.


The participants gathered at a large table with pencils and paper in hand. They were ready to make a difference for the society. It was a day that would be spent getting to know one another, through various activities and during the relaxation periods.

But it wouldn’t be all work. At lunchtime we sat on the old cabin porch, smelling the fresh fall air, observing the calmness of the lake, and savoring a pot luck lunch with all the trimmings. It was a memorable experience.

The retreat started when the facilitator asked us to play a game. Each board member had to write down on a small piece of paper one thing they had done that no one else on the board knew about. Throughout the day the facilitator would choose and read from the slips turned in and we had to determine who would have done such a thing. This was a way to make us relax, get to know each other better, and share some laughter.


The work began when the facilitator asked us what we hoped to gain from this meeting. After we responded, she wrote statements on 14 large sheets of white paper. She posted these sheets throughout the cabin and instructed us to complete the statements. Each of us went from sheet to sheet, writing down what each statement meant to us. Some of the statements were:

  1. The first thing I remember about AGS
  2. What has changed about our organization
  3. What opportunities do we need to take advantage of this coming year
  4. Program/activities we should continue or discontinue
  5. The most positive things about AGS include.


The retreat was an opportunity to form committees for people with vested interest. To name a few: awards, education, membership, publications, and seminar/programs. Each board member chose the committee(s) they wanted to serve on and each committee then chose a chair.

Once the chair was named, the committee had to decide what was to be accomplished. For instance,

  • The publication committee decided that the Arkansas Genealogical Society quarterly, The Family Historian, was an important part of the society. However, a newsletter was added to keep members updated on what was happening between the quarterlies. The society now publishes four issues of the magazine and four of the newsletter.
  • The education committee decided to hold teacher training sessions and design a lesson plan on family history research. These would be aimed at teachers who were assigning projects within the school systems.
  • A seminar/program committee would coordinate the annual seminar and look into sponsoring a NGS Regional Conference in our area.
  • The membership committee would develop a membership packet that would welcome and inform each new member. These are just a few of the responses but hopefully there’s enough to give your society ideas for planning your own retreat.


The facilitator provided each committee with a sheet of paper that contained the following headings under the title, Objectives and Strategies:

  1. Objective: What is your intention; what do you plan to achieve? What end result do you want?
  2. Strategies: What action steps will be necessary to reach the objective? When will this step be completed?
  3. Who will be responsible?
  4. What resources are needed to accomplished the goals set? </ul> These were discussed in detail, with an eye towards what we as a society hoped to accomplish in the coming year(s). The Arkansas Genealogical Society looked ahead by designing goals through 2003. The goals were set on a time line so that we would begin work the moment we left the retreat. Some of the goals defined included:
    • promote general advancement in genealogical education for our members
    • provide teacher training in family history research
    • reach a goal of 2,000 members
    • sponsor a family history writing contest
    • publish a quarterly newsletter
    • hold two quality seminars per year
    • interact more with local societies
    • utilize the Web to mount indexes and searchable data bases
    • sponsor a regional seminar

    And most of all it was decided that we should have fun!


    I am proud to say that many of the goals that were put in motion during this retreat are in progress or have already been reached. The consensus of board members was that the retreat was productive and beneficial.


    Can a retreat help your society define goals and actions? Yes, if you follow a few simple guidelines.

    THE DAY It is best to choose a time other than your regular meeting to plan a retreat. The regular meetings are too busy and don’t allow for indepth discussion of long range plans. By setting aside a day specifically designed for becoming better acquainted, setting goals, and developing strategies to achieve these goals, much can be accomplished.

    THE FACILITATOR We felt the use of a professional facilitator contributed to the success of the day’s activities and outcome. A professional brings an objective view, knows how to work with a variety of personalities, and can introduce subjects and tactics in an evenhanded and practical manner. Engaging a professional allows everyone on the board to participate. No society officer or director needs to be a leader but can instead freely contribute ideas and interact with the rest of the board.

    THE TOPICS Some topics for exploration at your society’s retreat might include:

    • Does your society want to upgrade its Web page and, if so, does your society want to design and manage the site?
    • Does your society want to produce publications?
    • Does your society want to hold ancestor fairs?
    • Does your society want to become more involved in the community by promoting genealogy?


    There were many ideas that flowed throughout the day concerning the hopes and dreams of the Arkansas Genealogical Society. The retreat was definitely a success. AGS highly recommends the commitment of time and expense of a retreat to get your society on

    track and running strong for the future.
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