Hosting a 4-hour mission/vision retreat -- a template you can use


On July 21, 2018, OpenOakland hosted a retreat to collectively brainstorm and decide the essential qualities of our organization’s mission statement.

Maybe you find your brigade wanting to do the same thing? If so, hopefully this write-up will be useful to you!


OpenOakland has existed for over six years at this point, however, no original founders remain active in its leadership today. In a way, this is a hallmark of success: our organization has transferred leadership at least three times in recent memory, each to a new generation of leaders inspired to write a new chapter in the Brigade’s history!

However, this can also present a challenge. New leaders often don’t feel empowered to update the grander organizational strategy – our group’s theory of change, the very essence of the organization’s membership.

At OpenOakland we believe it’s important that not only is the mission of the organization periodically updated to reflect our place in the community landscape, but also that the current membership is bought in and sees their volunteer work aligned in achieving that mission.

So, we decided to have a retreat to refresh our mission statement.


Before the Event

Before the event, you should decide who you want to provide input on your organization’s mission.

For us, the group was “anyone who is a leader in OpenOakland.” We weren’t strict about who could attend - anyone who saw themselves as a leader could attend. (We made sure to encourage shy members to attend as well!) We also made sure to include our close collaborators on the city side. (Special shoutout to Andrea from the Oakland Public Library who was crucial in the whole process.)

Pick a date for the retreat that is far away. We had ours in the summer, when many members were traveling, and ended up having to schedule it over two months in advance to find a good weekend.


We ran our event in this format on a Saturday morning:

9:00am: Arrive & Breakfast

  • We told people the event would start at 9:00am, although the agenda accounts for 30 minutes of tardiness. This worked pretty well.

9:30am: Warm up / Ice breaker

9:45am: Mission/vision exercise

  • We used this exercise by Nonprofit Hub, tweaking it towards the end
  • Beforehand, you’ll need to choose “an impartial moderator—preferably an outsider, not the executive director.”
  • Make sure each group gets their own easel/sticky pad.

  • After Step 2:

  • We tweaked the exercise by turning “Sharing, take 2” into a dot voting exercise to pick the top few mission statement candidates.
  • Next time, we will also add a culling step to deduplicate overly-similar mission statements before dot voting.

11:30am: Break for snacks

  • This is really just buffer time in the schedule to allow the exercise to run long.

12:00pm: Goal setting exercise for project leaders

  • We asked everybody to brainstorm goals for themselves and for the organization, and then sorted them on the axes of highest impact, and shortest timescale. Then, we asked people to write individual action items to achieve the goals.
  • This could have worked better. For next time, we are going to do some more research into alternative goal-setting exercises.

12:45pm: Share out goals

1:00pm: Retreat Ends

Retreat Afterthoughts and next steps

Immediately afterwards, the retreat organizers did a quick retro to capture feedback for next time. Here’s some of our internal feedback:

  • Pace felt good, and overall asking for 4 hours of time early on a Saturday is a good format.
  • Creating an event outside of hack night format resulted in members sharing more personal reasons for their involvement and a good way to get to know each other better.
  • On the downside, there was room for improvement in the exercises we used, as well as scheduling concrete next steps.

From here, we have to take the outputs of the retreat and turn it into a single coherent statement. We knew going in that we couldn’t do this final step as a large group. For this, we needed a smaller group that could be more focused.

Synthesizing into a single mission statement

After the initial workshop, we ended up with a list of 18 candidate statements that embodied the essence of what we do, who we do it with, and why we do it. From here, it was a matter of taking the best parts from each statement and combining them in a way that spoke to the current leadership’s priorities for the organization.

We also were inspired by the Code for America values structure and the Oakland Library’s mission statement’s simplicity.

In a smaller group (of four people), we spent about 90 minutes synthesizing before one of our hack nights. We found 90 minutes to be just long enough while also being a helpful timebox to make sure we got to a decision without splitting too many hairs.

Without further ado…

Here’s what we ended up with. The mission of OpenOakland is to:

Bridge technology and community for a thriving and equitable Oakland.

We do this by:

  • Cultivating meaningful relationships. By partnering with the city and the community we foster a more inclusive, equitable, and engaged Oakland.
  • Inspiring civic engagement. We co-create tools and events that educate Oaklanders on how the city works and inspires them to effect civic change.
  • Empowering Oaklanders. We recognize that Oakland has a rich history of activism. We seek to empower all Oaklanders to keep advocating for our community‘s collective well-being.

Have fun!

We hope this will be a useful and fun exercise for your Brigade. Reply here if you have questions or want to try this out yourself!

Huge thanks to the OpenOakland steering committee for helping plan the event, especially @ramymik for event logistics support and Sarah Seiter for facilitating the exercise with great tact and dedication.


Designing a Leadership Retreat - Resources
Implementing CA Public Technology Principles -- Alpha Workshop Template

This is an amazing contribution to the community @tdooner! Thank you for taking the time to put together such a high-quality piece



@tdooner, excellent write up of all our moving pieces leading up to the final mission statement!



Nice use of post its good sir



Thanks @tdooner! Super helpful for new brigades.

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Hey @tdooner ! that retreat agenda is protected - is there another way you could share the contents?



Oh dang. Thanks for reporting. I just opened it up!