real estate to living wills and trusts. The only way a family is going to be prepared for the future is to plan, and this means having a serious conversation. Use the following guidelines to prepare your family retreat:
- Set a time and place. Obviously, the first place to begin is to decide on a convenient day, time, and central location for everyone to get together. “Find a location that is not your home,” suggests White. “Consider a hotel or your church. Get into a space that is safe and allows you to feel comfortable.”
- Distribute the agenda. If you plan on having five or more participants, it’s best to distribute the agenda before the first meeting so people have an opportunity to read it. The agenda can be made available, perhaps, as family members are checking into a hotel or arriving at the designated location. The person who creates the agenda should oversee the meeting, unless otherwise decided according to family traditions and hierarchy.
- Give a point-by-point play. Start with a heading and theme. In our case, it was the “2002 Meeks Family Retreat: Staying Connected with Pride.” Detailed breakout sessions with specific time frames work
best (e.g., 8:00 a.m., Continental Breakfast; 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., Financial Affairs; 11:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m., Refreshment Break; 11:15 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Estate Planning, etc.). Allow for refreshment breaks to give people time to digest, and even briefly discuss in smaller groups, specific agenda items. Also, schedule at least one night when the entire family can do something fun, such as charter a boat ride.
- Let everyone have his or her say. Even before creating the agenda, send everyone an e-mail requesting possible discussion topics. Be mindful that it’s okay to let the conversation wander off course from time to time as therapeutic banter. Just don’t stray to talk about personal matters that don’t affect the family’s finances as a whole (in other words, Uncle Joe’s drinking problem should not be a topic of discussion). White suggests family members be honest and don’t interrupt others.
- Keep it professional. While various family members should be allowed to express their opinions, try to keep the conversations professional. Maybe you can’t expect family members to control their emotions at all times, but they should never at any point become hot-tempered, volatile, or frantic. Ultimately, everyone should walk away from the retreat with a sense of pride and accomplishment, and the feeling that everyone is on the same page regarding family affairs.
“I’ll be honest, I haven’t used Roberts Rules of Order in a long time because for us, for African Americans, it doesn’t work very well, not for retreats,” explains White. “You need to set the rules to govern how you’re going to move forward yourself. Setting rules yourself is a personal touch that is about your family. If you’re committed to making your retreat happen, there is going to be stuff about your family, your family’s culture, and how we get together that Robert’s Rules isn’t going to