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The Board Retreat: Getting Direction for Your Organization

facilitation-contentWorking at a not-for-profit often has the feeling of endless work. Days are packed and nights are spent tying up loose ends. It is easy to let months pass by without truly evaluating the work being done, the staffs’ satisfaction and the Board’s involvement.

A Board retreat, led by an outside facilitator, is a meaningful way to take a break from hectic day-to-day duties and focus on the direction of your organization.

Why is a retreat needed?

Most nonprofit organizations have a stated mission and vision. Coming up with a mission statement can be time consuming and wrought with anxiety, but actually implementing the organization’s mission is often more challenging. A retreat will help an organization:

  • Create actionable strategies to advance your mission
  • Gain a new perspective on your goals, strengths, challenges and opportunities
  • Encourage stronger relationships amongst those in attendance
  • Restructure current staff to distribute work efficiently, creating an optimized organizational structure

Who should be involved? What needs to be done beforehand?

Current board members, or a combination of the Board and Staff should come together at a location away from the traditional Board meeting space to engage fully with the most pressing issues of the organization.

  • Prior to the retreat, Board and Staff leadership should outline 3-5 retreat goals or outcomes. Here, quality over quantity is key.
  • Participant buy-in is essential for a successful retreat. If those in attendance do not support the retreat agenda, the retreat will not be well received
  • To encourage a thoughtful retreat, send a survey or conduct in-person interviews with those planning to attend. Capture any feedback on retreat goals, ensuring attendees feel heard.

What should happen at an effective retreat?

No one wants to spend his or her free time at a retreat that is not a good use of time. If pre-retreat work is done to identify timely issues facing the organization, and participants are supportive of the conversations to be had, the retreat should come together successfully.

  • Everyone should be reminded that his/her perspective is a valued and important part of the discussion
  • A team building exercise at the beginning of the day will help bring everyone out of his/her shell and will encourage stronger relationships
  • Detailed understanding of the issues/challenges facing the organization will help structure later conversations
  • Self assessment of the current staff and board, which challenges status quo and results in a more engaged support system for the organization
  • Provide clarity around mission, vision and impact and how the organization will move forward with actionable steps.

Is an outside facilitator necessary?

An experienced facilitator will help foster an environment in which Board members can converse freely by expressing opinions about the organization, an essential part of a successful retreat. As the day progresses, a facilitator will guide participants and keep the group focused on the task at hand. If left to its own devices, a Board will often get caught up discussing ‘in the weeds’ concerns and lose direction. A facilitator may provide:

  • Pre-Retreat planning with the leadership team
  • Program design and a retreat agenda
  • Retreat facilitation
  • Strategic planning activities – breakout session material
  • Unique feedback on next steps, ownership of action and a time frame in which to complete stated goals
  • Debrief with leadership team covering retreat outcomes

A retreat is essential in helping both staff and Board members prioritize their engagement with the organization. By inspiring action and results, the retreat is the much-needed breath of fresh air for which most organizations are searching.

Is your organization in need of help? Contact David Ibsen to learn more about how PMA can assist with retreat facilitation.

David Ibsen
704-321-4741 ext. 104
di@pattonmcdowell.com