Collaboration Through Relationship Building For Retreat Centers 

September 16, 2021
Keri Pfeiffer
7 min read

Today our talk is about collaboration through relationship building, specifically in the wellness industry. 

The Retreat Center Collaboration, or RCC, is a space where retreat leaders come together to explore spiritual and societal impacts, their legacies, and the challenges that lie ahead for the industry. 

Change in the world can happen through collaboration. When communities come together with diverse perspectives, new doors are opened. 

Lending their voice to the RCC is Justine Johnson and Ben Scott-Brand. They talk us through some of the current challenges and opportunities in the sector.

About Our Speakers

Justine is Project Liaison at the RCC. She co-creates space for connecting social justice communities and nature through her work at Kirkridge and the RCC. 

Justine is most alive when she’s gathering with others and gathering mushrooms, preferably at the same time. She loves bringing people together to dream a more just world into being. 

Ben is Program Manager at the RCC. He respects the value and impact of sacred spaces, both inside and outside the boundaries of religion, and completed an Integrative Studies degree with sacred space as his focus area.

As a network weaver, Ben enjoys synthesizing information to creatively meet complex challenges and build shared social capital. A creative visionary, he’s also spent 15+ years building relationships as a hairstylist and 25 years shaping experiences as a songwriter.

COVID-19 Retreat Checklist

Collaboration Through Relationship Building For Retreat Centers 

About The RCC: Connecting Retreat Centers & Their Allies Across North America

Keri:  Thank you both for joining us. To kick it off, tell us about the RCC and what it does?

Ben:  Justine and I work together regularly even though we’ve never met in person. And that’s part of the beauty of this Collaboration; we’re gathering these very different spaces from across the United States and Canada.

Then we’re working together to figure out what we might have in common that we wouldn’t expect.

At the moment, there are nearly 200 retreat centers and allied organizations gathered around some similar values. And what we’re doing is learning from each other and seeing how we can improve the sector at large.

The Benefits Of Peer-To-Peer Support

Keri:  Can you talk about the benefits and importance of peer-to-peer support within the sector?

Justine:  Absolutely. I think it’s kind of in that question of support. 

For so long, retreat centers have been bringing people together to connect with themselves, with others, and with nature. The RCC is really just the container for retreat centers to continue connecting. 

The biggest takeaway for us as holders of that space is for retreat center leaders and engagers to not feel alone. 

Collaboration in wellness industry

We often talk about how in many sectors, they feel siloed. What we’re doing is breaking down those barriers of access to connect people. 

And we’re doing that through shared resources, by people telling their stories and learning from each other. If one center does something really well, we say, why not learn from them instead of reinventing the wheel? 

So, there’s a lot of best practices that we can share. 

Ben and I always say that we are all knowers and learners in this space. Wisdom is truly a gift we can give to each other.

For Every Challenge, There Is An Answer In Community

Keri:  Do you find that people get hesitant to share because they might feel it’s with their competition? 

Ben:  Yeah, I think two things are going on here. 

There’s the competition moving into collaboration. And there are some big barriers here; it’s not something people are comfortable with or used to. 

But, I also think there are opportunities that folks don’t realize until they get into a trusting relationship. 

So, a lot of our work is around building trust. We get folks to see that; actually, it doesn’t hurt my business to strengthen someone else’s. And this is so true of place-based centers where each one has a unique offering with a tradition behind it. 

Work With Wellness Industry

I think the other piece of it is scarcity versus abundance. 

There’s the idea that we’re all coming to the space with both those mindsets, and usually, the scarcity mindset is stronger. It’s the thinking that I need to make sure my funding holds up so I can get through this next year of challenges and everything else that’s going on. 

To that, I think there’s another side to the coin: all the skills and resources that retreat centers, holistic centers, spiritual centers, and healing centers bring to the world. Too often we’re swimming in it so we can’t see it. Then, when you get people in the same room, they realize, oh wait, we actually have so much to offer. 

Maybe there’s more here. 

Maybe I’m getting too obsessed with the little things that I need to fix. 

And there may be ways that I can solve that in community. 

That’s another thing we come back to at the RCC: whatever the challenge, community is the answer.

RCC Values To Drive Collaboration

Keri:  So, what are the RCC values that drive collaboration? And how are you developing relationships as key elements in retreat centers to help them thrive? 

Justine:  Collaboration is our name, so retreat center collaboration is what drives us – bringing people together to co-create and collaborate. 

And we want this to be organic; we want it to be collaboration built on relationships and trust. 

Collaborate With Wellness Industry

So, Ben and I are not setting an agenda for people to come together. In fact, we don’t want to do that, so we’re really emergent. 

I think it speaks to the values we hold about honoring people and places where they’re at, as well as being collective and aware of the possibilities of where we can go. 

Ben:  I can speak briefly to the three core values of the RCC. 

They are the power of place in space.

The interplay of inner and outer work. It’s like practicing self-care and care for the world. 

And then commitment to universal flourishing. So, this idea that we’re all in this together: we’re interdependent. Where I’m flourishing, I can help someone else flourish. All of those values are interwoven. There’s an inner and outer aspect to all of them. 

Justine:  And I think that speaks to the second question you asked about sustaining centers and helping them thrive – moving from scarcity to abundance. 

Usually, programs were isolated to a retreat center. But by creating these relationships built on trust, we’ve now recently seen it where one center will say, hey, I’m thinking about doing this. Maybe this person has a bigger price tag. Who wants to collaborate, so we’re all thriving and succeeding at this? Our retreat participants can dabble in something new and share it with each other.

Current Pain Points and Industry Conversations

Organic Collaboration Wellness Industry

Keri:  What are some of the main pain points you’re hearing that centers or individuals need help with right now?   

Ben:  Some of the pain points of these centers were there before COVID. Retreat centers have a historical legacy that has positioned them to have a lot of challenges right now because it’s an aging model of running a business. 

There are new ideas that are shifting the way the market works, but those can be challenging. 

For many centers with large old buildings that take a lot of upkeep, or those with programs based on heads in beds, it can be really limiting to think: oh, now with the pandemic, I need to do my programming online for the next few months. 

There are other points around systemic racism, around equity, and access to retreats. 

Who are retreats for? Who gets to be part of the conversation of healing, of transformation? 

How can we make sure that retreat centers are places where that comes alive? Not just for the folks who were here 40 years ago and have been coming ever since. But also for folks who are just learning about retreats now through self-care, who are now saying, you know what, I need some time, and I need some healing. 

I think belonging is a big pain point for people. If a certain culture is built at a retreat center and doesn’t include some people, how will you change that culture? 

So, those are the kind of questions and conversations that we’re having. 

Wellness Industry Conversations

Justine:  ‘Pivot’ was the word of 2020, right? Everyone pivoted. And there were some unexpected outcomes for retreat centers because of COVID-19. 

Of course, we want to name that some places closed. We’re honoring that loss and the grief that comes with that. 

For some, it acted as a catalyst to hone in on their mission or refocus. To re-energize and to ask those big questions that Ben just posed. 

So, retreat centers are saying, what do we hold on to that’s worked well for us? And what are these new ways of being that we can honor; how do we hold and balance both?

What Do You Get From Joining The Collaboration?

Keri:  For anyone watching who might be a retreat center or maybe thinking about opening a retreat center, how can they get involved in the RCC? What will they get in collaboration and conversation from joining?

Ben:  We’re structured as a free community membership.

Come to our website and look through our values. If it seems like they speak to the work you want to do or the place where you are, there’s a Join Us button. Click through on that. You’ll give us some information about you and get access to our community calls with other leaders, which happen a couple of times a month. 

You’ll also get our newsletter. 

And then we’re working on a network map of the sector. It will show what we have in common based on tags and that kind of thing. 

We’re also working on a private social platform just for retreat center leaders. Folks will be able to have ongoing conversations on specific topics and lift up topics that are important to their sector. 

Justine:  One of the things that also drives us is connecting with social justice activists, change-makers, and people who need space to rest as a collective. So, I think the more relationships built from those connections is a really beautiful thing because we’re all just trying to figure it out.

Connect With The RCC

A huge thank you to Justine and Ben for filling us in on the RCC and the work they’re doing.

Connect with them through their website or by email to get involved in the Collaboration and conversation.