Historically we have seen retreats & conferences booking anywhere from 12-18 months out. However recently that trend has shifted and many events are being booked much closer to date... as little as 1-2 months out for mid-size retreats! We believe this is likely due to the economic climate and the group's fear of committing to a contract without knowing if attendees will be as willing to attend as they have been before.
There is a real danger in booking events so close to date. The availability of the conference center tends to be limited, and musical entertainment, worship groups, and speakers could be limited too. Things that you wouldn’t think of such as type of lodging, menu available, and the “extras” such as recreation and complimentary A/V can be extremely limited by this time as well. Not to mention your guests' calendars are probably filling up...
So let's channel some positive vibes and talk about how can we make this happen! If your group has the ability to be flexible and you have a good event planner on board you can pull off a successful short term event booking. Here are a few tips to planning events close to the date:
- Determine event goals. Is this event primarily structured teaching time, a relaxing getaway or a mix of both? This will help determine the best location for this event (as well as the best dates to look into for availability of meeting space and recreation).
- Create a team of people. Although we know you're an all-star planner, being able to delegate tasks is going to help your sanity. While you're negotiating the venue and contracts you can delegate marketing, registration, donations or scholarships, and even smaller items like snacks, swag bags, games, etc.
- Flexible dates. Have a few date options for your event before contacting the center or be open to what they have for availability in a certain month or season.
- Look internal. Use someone internal if you're struggling to book a more high-profile speaker. Don't be afraid to connect with other clergy and pastoral leadership in your area.
- Consider local talent. Instead of the high-profile band or worship group what about the talented individuals from your church? If you're wanting your guests to experience a different style you can always connect with music teams from other local churches. Also consider musical talent from local colleges or community programs.
- Co-op with another church. You may want to also consider including a sister or nearby church in your retreat; many times there are better rates the more attendees you commit to with the retreat center. Plus they'll have leaders you can split the hard work with!
Once your event is booked, begin to promote the event immediately. Get the event information announced through multiple channels so more people see it, and be sure to have your registration method up and running so you can convert that interest to registered guests.
Creating marketing tools can be one of the more time consuming tasks of planning. Ask your venue if they provide any marketing materials you can use to help save you time. For example the Christian Retreats Network offers several promotional pieces for all their properties for planners to use at no cost. Check them out (even if to give you some inspiration) at christianretreatsnetwork.org and click on promotional templates.