You want to create a board retreat to engage your members.
How can you avoid a ho-hum retreat? One that leaves your board continuing old behaviors, where nothing changes. How can your next retreat meet your goals, engage your members, and leave your nonprofit stronger?
We’ve frequently asked about the hows and why of conducting board retreats. Here are answers to the top questions. Use them to make your next board retreat a knockout.
An event best held at a nontypical meeting site for your board to work as a team. Successful retreats can be as short as three hours or as long as a weekend.
You want to solve pressing challenges, such as revenue shortfalls, create a policy for a new issue, or explore strategies. For instance, you identify one or two nagging problems. You plan a retreat to grapple with those topics.
When in doubt, book shorter events.
Clients frequently approach me about facilitating full-day or weekend retreats. As we look at their objectives, we often create urgency, achieve more goals, and place fewer burdens on everyone’s time with shorter events. Boards that meet too long move from enthused to cranky and make weak decisions.
Many organizations plan annual retreats. A better practice is holding them when you have critical issues to tackle that require several hours of undistracted time and attention.
Retreats are a lot of work to design and execute well. You can save staff time by having fewer of them. Moreover, they require members to forgo other activities, often family time. Requiring attendance at an annual retreat will usually reduce your ability to recruit and retain members. Avoid holding a retreat to check it off a to-do list.
All successful retreats solve specific organizational problems. Of course, your retreat goals depend on your nonprofit’s needs.
While you can accomplish several objectives, focus on one or two compelling issues that impact you. Stuff that drives you and the staff crazy are ideal subjects.
Avoid too many objectives—most nonprofits try to achieve too much and accomplish a mishmash of minor concerns.
Here are some of my client’s goals that created dramatic improvements.
Besides the retreat’s official goals, retreats are also a conduit to educate your board about your mission and help them form stronger relationships with other members and your organization.
Besides achieving the retreat’s goals, successful board retreats weave board education into their activities. These retreats leave members wiser, with new friends and increased commitment to your work. (For activities to avoid, watch Board Engagement: 3 Things to Stop Doing Now.)
Let’s face it, being a fantastic board member requires lots of know-how. To excel, board members need to know how nonprofits operate, how your nonprofit works, its role, and more. Because of time constraints, it’s tough to cover these areas during regular meetings. Retreats, in contrast, provide first-rate opportunities to grow your board’s skills and smarts.
To get your creative juices going, consider if you want to weave the following topics into your retreat:
Here is a template for your next stand-out nonprofit retreat.
To use this sample board retreat agenda, create an interactive activity for each agenda item. Board retreat activities invite you to get your creative juices going and use the time, space, and relaxed atmosphere to engage participants.
For example, as an ice breaker, you pair board members and ask them to share their stories of why they said yes to serving as a board member as the first warm-up exercise. Watch 5 Practical Tips for Genius Board Retreats for more on creating retreats.
Absolutely. Your strategy can easily be the focus of a successful board retreat. For more on strategy, read Nonprofit Strategic Planning 101. This guide includes a section on what to accomplish during a Nonprofit Strategy Session.
In most cases, yes. Here’s why. Investing in a facilitator drives attendance. When you bring in a facilitator, people don’t want to waste the nonprofit’s money and recognize that the issues on tap are critical.
Retreats are vital learning experiences for staff leaders and board members—CEOs often learn more than the board. That learning is lost if the CEO is busy preparing to execute the next activity. A facilitator allows the CEO or executive director to participate and watch during a retreat.
Finally, an expert helps you plan a retreat to get you to your goals and create a lasting impact. Worthwhile retreats leave board members enthused and committed. You want that energy to last and translate into actions that support your work.
Yes, your board retreat can be as successful or even more successful virtually as in-person. With Zoom tools and apps such as Miro and Mural, virtual retreats rival and sometimes exceed the productiveness of in-person events. They allow you to engage your members and reach your goals without traveling or while they’re on vacation.
Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.
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