How to Organize and Govern a Retreat

Thanks Jarhead, for the post idea!

Today I’ll be talking about my personal experience organizing a group of people in a doomstead.  This is one of those subjects, where I think there are as many ways to organize as there are people on this earth.  Use my experience as a guide, but do understand that your people and your situation will demand different responses and different organizing to be optimal.

Unanimous Consent – That’s right, everyone has to agree on what’s being decided. Not every group is run like this, I think it’s quite likely we’re in the minority.  It does have advantages, in that everyone has a buy-in to decisions and direction, so everyone feels ownership. The downside is pretty obvious, with different views and different priorities, compromises are inescapable.  We use a rough form of Robert’s Rules to keep order in meetings, when they are in person meetings.  E-meetings, chats on our personal forum board, these are all much more common right now than sit down in person meetings.

Leadership – There is still a need for leadership, whether it’s a president to lead meetings or a combat leader to take charge in emergencies.  There are lots of meetings, with this method.  Initially we were having a meeting every 2 months.  As we moved out of planning and into building, the pace slowed and meetings became less frequent. Which is a bit of a shame, since they were nice social opportunities. :-)  We have a president, and that works nicely with the next point, which is the business side of things.

Business and Legal – We found that it was best to have an umbrella group to cover the purchases, multiple profit streams and sharing that we wanted to do. We ended up deciding on an LLC  or limited liability corporation; that way we could enjoy the liability protection, the flexibility of multiple owners and share profit.  LLCs don’t have to be organized for profit, and the starting costs aren’t enormous, check out the other advantages if you’re interested.  We created 5 year/10 year/15 year plans to make sure we all knew the direction. We wrote down voting and membership guidelines. (Membership guidelines were defining the distinctions between voting board member and seasonal laborer, between land owner and member spouse and how they fit into the “corporation.”)

Zoning – This is one of those organization things, you really need to figure out all zoning laws that will apply to your land. If you don’t do this, you run into problems if you exceed the number of dwellings or people.  Or if you try to farm something that’s zoned no agriculture. Or if you set up a farm stand in a no business zone. Or if you have the wrong kind of pooper… oh the bureaucracy. This plays right back into the documents/meetings mentioned before, if you have a clear idea of what you want to do on the land, you’ll have a clear idea what to look for in the zoning laws (and which battles to fight.)

None of these things are the exciting parts of working with a group to build a doomstead.  They are more like the bone structure that holds the fun exciting stuff together.  And really, if  the SHTF and you end up hunkering down with people you’ve never met, well, work with what you’ve got.  But if you have a group you’re already sure you’ll tap, and if you have a place you know you’ll end up, lay some of the groundwork.  Save yourself some headaches down the road, by taking care of them now. Now, while you can relax with a glass of wine instead of rainwater flavored with roasted dandelion roots.

– Calamity Jane

9 comments… add one
  • guide2 September 20, 2011, 11:29 am

    Hiya CJ, interesting thoughts from your pen as usual…. our group is small and run’s a dictatorship with an open door policy, meaning suggestions are needed and heeded for the betterment of all, but too many cook’s in the kitchen ruin the soup and with so many area’s to cover decesions have to be responded to as well, and I am interested in knowing what are some of the disciplinary venues for those within the groups that break rules…any help? “G”

    • Calamity Jane September 20, 2011, 12:58 pm

      Extra chores, lessening of their share for internet/fun/harvest/profit, that’s the only disciplinary items we ever discussed. For serious infractions a vote off the island might be in order.

  • Prepared N.D. September 20, 2011, 11:40 am

    In the “different kinds of crazy” post, you alluded to members having particular tasks that they are known for. Is that how this agreement is structured? “Person X will do X task?” or do you just wing it and stick to agreements for leadership and general guidelines as you described above?

    • Calamity Jane September 20, 2011, 1:09 pm

      Right now we mostly wing it, depending on what’s being built, and what needs doing, and who has the time/skills to best do it. Once we get to the point where we’re all living and working on the doomstead, our thought was to do weekly work assignments. Posted somewhere central, clearly spelling out the work to be done, some of it pre-assigned based on skills, other jobs open for anyone interested in doing them. Bigger tasks, ongoing work, are done by different members according to their interest. One member leads the food growing work and posts those chores, one member leads the security effort and posts those chores, one member leading whatever construction is under way, and they post those chores. R&D test projects, cottage industry type work to sell at markets for cash, these are done as time and interest allows and we don’t try to keep track of all those or micro-manage them.

  • JohnDoe1999 September 20, 2011, 1:22 pm

    We use a representative democracy, coupled with a security chief. A 3 person council makes decision regarding governance, but in emergencies the chief directs “combat” decisions; The chief is subordinate to the council, however defensive preparations are outside council decision making. At this small of a level, there is no room for a dividing of law enforcement and military capabilities, but we still plan to be more constitutional than the current and previous administration. The council makes decisions on reasonable consequences for both security and non-security personnel and the security personnel execute the orders.

  • Urbivalist Dan September 21, 2011, 1:25 am

    I’m having flashes of Rawles’ “Patriots”, and the Idaho group in that book. Never thought about actually incorporating as an LLC or similar structure. Great post, and great food for thought.

    Thanks CJ

  • Jarhead Survivor September 21, 2011, 7:58 am

    This is an interesting topic to me because I’ve never considered doing something like this. It’s good that like minded people get together and come up with something like a “doomstead.”

    If I understand correctly this is a piece of land bought collectively and a group of people are working to make it a safe enclave during a disaster?

    • Calamity Jane September 21, 2011, 11:05 am

      The land was purchased collectively in a friendly sense, but not in a a legal sense, that was too difficult. The land is legally owned by one couple. Their house was the first built, and they are the first ones actually living on the property. As we finish their house and move onto other infrastructure, the rest of us will slowly put more into the land, through crop planting and building additions. The eventual goal is that we move one family at a time on, and they help more with the land costs as they transition to live there.

  • Scott September 23, 2011, 3:28 pm

    We won’t be putting anything to a vote. Each person has their own parcel (it’s a subdivided larger farm) and all ,being like-minded, will prepare in their own way (avoiding group think errors). If you have to worry about zoning rules you are in the WRONG county/state.


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