Dynamic Board Retreats: What Nonprofit CEOs Need to Know

Dynamic Board Retreats: What Nonprofit CEOs Need to KnowIt’s time to plan your board retreat. You want the retreat to benefit your nonprofit, the board, and frankly, to make your job easier.


Creating an effective board retreat is not easy.


Undoubtedly, you attended board retreats that missed their mark. These retreats achieved little. Either the board failed to make decisions, or when boards made them, they were unhealthy, short-sighted, or shallow. You may have been disappointed or even embarrassed by retreats.


This article guides nonprofit CEOs, executive directors, and board chairs on how to clarify board retreat goals so you achieve them at your event. We’ll do this by focusing on the heart of board retreats: its objectives, measures, and value.


To guide you, I’ve listed three key questions to explore. Your answers will point to the activities you need to develop your dynamic board retreat.


1. Board Retreat Objectives


What Are Your Board Retreat Goals?


Answer this question by writing down all your board retreat goals.


Why list all of the goals? To achieve more of them! Optimal board retreats check off multiple boxes. By capturing what you want, you begin with the end in mind. Beginning at the end, counterintuitively, allows you to find the express lane to reach your objectives.


You can set your retreat goals yourself. However, it’s genius to ask your board members what they would like to achieve.


Why is this so smart? When you include their objectives in your invitation, you increase attendance. Moreover, often your goals will overlap with the board members’ desires, so you create more buy-in at the retreat. (Watch 5 Ways to Turn Off Your Nonprofit Board Members.)


Now that you’ve identified your goals let’s get clear on how you’ll know you achieved them.


2. Board Retreat Measures


How Will You Know Your Board Retreat Succeeded?


For every goal listed, create a tangible measurement.


Answering this question moves you from “we want to have a great board retreat” to specific, quantifiable outcomes. What are quantifiable results? Stuff you can measure. You can’t really measure “a great board retreat.” You can measure a retreat that identified six innovative program improvements ideas.


What will a successful board retreat look like for you? Review your goals. Consider and revise further to answer these additional questions.


  • Are your goals specific? For instance, you list: improve board members’ relationships. That’s pretty broad. Consider: Help board members have one-on-one conversations with two people they don’t know that well.


  • Are your goals practical? That is, during a retreat can you move forward on the challenge? For example, you had a budget shortfall for five years. Unless someone writes a check at the retreat, it’s unlikely you will close the budget shortfall during the event. Your practical goal is to identify three solutions plus a concrete plan to pilot the top idea to close your deficit.


  • Star your priorities. Which goal is the retreat’s key priority? For instance, your budget shortfall is more important than the facilities review. Yes, your facilities impact your budget, and you can probably do both tasks in a retreat. However, since the budget shortfall is the priority, you need to start it to remind you to build your retreat around it.


You may be thinking, egads, this is a lot of work, but bear with me. Getting granular about what you want is the best way to streamline your retreat planning and make your event worthy of everyone’s investment in it.


(BTW, If your first thought answering this question, how will you know your retreat succeeded, was that you survived and that no one came to blows, please reconsider if a board retreat is the best way forward. If the board is toxic, retreats carry high-risk.)


3 . Board Retreat Values


What value will the board retreat provide?


For every goal, identify the value of reaching it.


You already know that organizing a board retreat is a lot more complex than holding a regular board meeting. (See How to Have Great Board Meetings and Engaging & Effective Board Meetings.) This question focuses on answering why you are conducting a board retreat.


By this point, you’re probably asking, what resources can you expect to invest? First, there is your time and staff time. Second, you will invest in a retreat leader and supplies, and maybe a site and food. Last but not least, you invest your board’s time. (To put a price tag on the minimum value of this time, multiply the standard volunteer rate times the size of your board.)


Why do you need to know the why? Retreats take energy, time, and money; resources you might invest elsewhere. If you can’t establish adequate value, consider rethinking your retreat plan and choosing another option.


What value do you see your nonprofit, your board members, and you gain from a successful board retreat? What will a successful board retreat mean to your future revenue? Nonprofit branding? Outcomes? Your work?


For each goal, identify one or more values as applicable apply a price tag to it. For example, if your budget shortfall is $25,000, and you close it, the value of your retreat is at least $25,000 for the first year.


When I work with clients, the value of board retreats exceeds their costs, often by ten or twenty times the investments. This potential value is one of the reasons that boards retreats have remained very popular in the sector.


Once you know the value, how might you share it?
  • With board members, when you invite them to enlist their support and engagement and
  • With yourself and staff to keep retreat tasks front and center in your jam-packed schedules.


Dynamic Board Retreats

You can create a board retreat that meets and exceeds your objectives and launches your nonprofit to the next level.


How will you know you created succeeded? Dynamic board retreats leave everyone tired and thrilled. In the parking lot or at the end of virtual sessions, everyone concurs they worked hard and that the future never looked brighter.


Dynamic board retreats don’t happen by accident. If you want help leading, planning, or even thinking about one, please don’t hesitate to reach out by email or chat about engaging Karen to be your trusted advisor to guide you in this high-value process.


Resource About Effective Boards



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