Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Board Retreats - Part 2: Working with a Facilitator and a Planning Checklist

This is Part 2 of a three part series on planning a Board retreat. On Monday, I discussed why you should have one, popular themes for retreats and a planning overview. You can read that article here.

Part 1 of this series has been very well received and garnered comments on the blog, the LinkedIn Boardsource group and facebook. Many of the comments reinforce the importance of:
· Building relationships and a team that works well together
· Planning the retreat program well
· Taking the time to focus on goals and mission
· Having a good facilitator

Today’s post discusses planning with a facilitator and provides a checklist for retreat planning. Check back on Friday for a sample retreat outline for two different retreats.

Planning Your Board Retreat with a Facilitator
Each organization will work differently with a facilitator. I like to form a retreat planning team to work with that includes the Executive Director, Board Retreat Chair and 1 or 2 other people. We start by discussing the retreat theme and goals and go from there. Together we develop the retreat outline and share the pre-planning tasks. We then also share responsibilities during the retreat.

The Board and Staff members often participate in these ways:
· Give opening and closing remarks
· Make presentations
· Lead a recognition segment
· Lead breakout group discussion
· Assist in group activities
· Handle all logistics – (Location, food, equipment)

The services provided by a facilitator will vary. Think about which services you are interested in before interviewing facilitators. Here are some services that facilitators may provide:
-Retreat agenda*
-Program design
-Pre-Retreat planning with organization’s retreat team
-Retreat facilitation
-Choice of presentation topics related to the retreat theme
-Board self assessment
-Strategic planning exercises
-Customized retreat feedback questionnaire and results summary
-Suggested follow-up approaches for action
-Summary of boarded materials in word document

*I always provide two agendas: One just has a title and list of topics for all participants and the “annotated agenda” for the retreat team. This one has time frames and names of each person responsible next to each activity listed. It may also have some “coaching” clues.

Each retreat is unique in its goals, its time frame for the retreat and participation by retreat team and all Board members. The key to a successful retreat is in considering all of this in the planning and having an engaged retreat team.

The Retreat Leadership Team Checklist
In addition to the issues discussed above there are a lot of nitty gritty details that go into having a successful retreat. Responsibilities that need to be completed include:

· Select a comfortable retreat location (e.g. community center, corporate training center, spiritual retreat center, local college)
· Decide on the room layout and size requirements
· Develop detailed retreat schedule with time frames for all segments including meals and socializing)
· Assign responsibility for each segment
· Develop presentation materials
· Develop/select group exercises
· Develop questions and assign facilitators for breakout groups
· Arrange for materials needed (e.g. flipcharts, markers, projector)
· Develop list of action items for follow up
· Create a summary document of all the flip charts. (This is the
permanent record of ideas and follow-up items.)
· Engage the board in committees and projects based on the action items

Define success up front and then make sure that your program is geared toward inspiring action and results once the retreat is long over. Check back on Friday for a couple of examples.

In yesterday's post I provided information about a couple of resources that you could buy. There is also an excellent resource available at BoardSource for free. The e-book, To Go Forward, Retreat! by Sandra Hughes provides a brief, concise overview and worksheets.

If you don't mind a bit of self promotion - I love facilitating Board retreats and the feedback I get suggests that I am very good at it. If you are looking for a facilitator - lets talk.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Board Retreats - Part 1: Why Have One, Themes and Planning

This week I plan to make several posts about Planning a Board Retreat. This is Part 1 in the series. It has been a while since I have written about this subject but quite a number of people arrive at this blog because they have searched on the topic. It's time for an update.

Why Have a Retreat?
A Board Retreat is the prime opportunity to discuss a matter of importance in-depth and without the normal Board business that gobbles up almost all meetings. Another essential part of board retreats is having the time and structure for building relationships. Boards are teams and people on teams must have respectful and trustful relationships with each other in order to work well together and make effective decisions.

Today many Boards may have reduced economic resources and taking the time to refocus on priorities will be time well spent.

The only thing worse for a Board member than a Board meeting that wastes their time is a Board Retreat that is a waste of time. It is important for a Board Retreat to be well planned for it to be successful. Here are some planning tips to help make your retreat a success.

Choosing the Retreat Theme
What will be the theme for your Board Retreat? Each Board has different needs and each year brings new issues that should be addressed. Decide what is most important for your Board to take the extra time for and then design your retreat around that theme. Some popular themes include:
•Board Development
-Developing Fundraising Expertise
•Strategic Planning
•Making Changes to Adjust to Economic Conditions
•Planning for a Major/Critical Issue (ex. Next ED, Building Plan)
•Team Development
•Plan for Major Anniversaries
•Develop the Board/Staff Relationship

Planning Questions and Activities
Start the planning for your retreat by asking these questions. What do you hope to accomplish by having the retreat and what will success look like? Later in the week I will provide two sample retreat outlines for very different retreats.

The program should be designed to keep the group’s interest and focus for an extended period of time. Board Members want to contribute to the outcome of a retreat. They do not want to just be talked at or participate in activities without a purpose. Make the most of a variety of techniques and keep them all tied to the theme of your retreat. Recommended techniques include:
•Pre-Retreat Materials - These can spark interest in participating in the retreat but they can also create a bunch of “Regrets.” Think this through before you send 100 pages of pre-retreat reading to Board members.
•Icebreakers – The best ones will have a relationship to the theme or the mission of the organization.
•Group Activities – Activities designed to build teamwork work well.
•Breakout Groups – This is the time for thoughtful discussion. Have retreat committee members facilitate the breakout groups so that the discussion stays on target.
•Presentations - This provides opportunity for learning and knowledge building about the organization, serving on Boards or the “industry” that the organization is in.
•Appreciative Inquiry – AI is a change management model that provides a positive approach to addressing change and has a variety of techniques that can be used. There are lots of books on this subject.
•Facilitation – Facilitated discussion and activities can help your retreat go smoothly.

When designing the activities keep these ideas in mind:
•Focus on your retreat goals
•Seek consensus
•Develop recommendations that will turn into action
•Wrap up should include your Next Steps action plan

How Long Should the Retreat Be Anyway?
It used to be common for nonprofit Board Retreats to be on Friday night and all day Saturday. But on every retreat I have been at in the last several years with this design the feedback always says make it one day. More retreat facilitation requests I get today are for a one day retreat. Another popular format is starting at 1 PM with a light lunch and concluding with dinner at 7 PM. This format works especially if there is a single objective/focus for the retreat. But I truly discourage half day events that do not include a meal as they seem to take on the aura of a “regular” Board meeting and don’t allow for the crucial team building which make Board retreats effective.

Later in the week I will discuss planning your Board retreat with a facilitator, provide a Board Retreat leadership checklist and two sample retreat outlines for very different retreats. Check back on Wednesday for Part 2.

This material may be published as a chapter in a book later this year. I hope you'll provide me some feedback in the comments so that my material is the best it can be.

Here are a couple of resources that you can get at Amazon on this subject.

Monday, May 10, 2010

IRS Crackdown on Nonprofit Organizations that Haven’t Filed 990s Is at Critical Stage

The IRS is about to implement for the first time revocation of 501(c)3 status for up to 400,000 registered nonprofits. The first round of revocations will begin May 17, 2010. If your tax exemption status is revoked, the only way to reinstate it will be to reapply. This can easily cost over $1000 with application and attorney, accountant or consultant fees.

501(c)3 organizations must file a Form 990 every year with the IRS. The number of registered nonprofits was growing dramatically and many never really became active organizations or filed a 990 with the IRS as required by law. The IRS would like to increase its oversight of nonprofits but first it wanted to rid its roles of what it considered nonexistent organizations. So in 2006 a law was passed which stipulates that if an organization does not file as required for three consecutive years, it automatically loses its tax-exempt status.

The IRS started out with about a million registered charities that could lose their 501c(3) status. Over the last three years they have set up a process to make it simple for small and startup organizations to file and they have aggressively tried to let nonprofits know that they MUST meet this requirement or their 501(c)3 status will be revoked.

Even if you don’t have any income and the organization does not have to pay taxes you do have to file a 990 form with the IRS. For small organizations with gross receipts of less than $25,000 you simply have to file an ePostcard. Organizations with an income of less than $500,000 can file a 990EZ form and those with greater incomes must file the more comprehensive 990 form.

What will happen if you lose your 501(c)3 status:
The organization must file income tax returns and pay income tax, and its contributors will not be able to deduct their donations.

You may not be entitled to other important exemptions including property tax and sales tax in your state.

You may not be eligible for grants from the government and foundations

Guidestar will be updated, as announced, to show your change in tax exempt status

There are a couple of important resources available that you can check where your organization stands right now.

The Urban Institute National Center for Charitable Statistics has developed a simple tool to find out if you may need to file. I tried this database and simply put in a zip code and all of the organizations in jeopardy came up. I was glad to see that an organization I worked with in January had filed their ePostcard and was not on this list.

Urban Institute National Center for Charitable Statistics

The IRS has a clear, concise statement on this issue and all of the information that you need to file the correct form:
Automatic Revocation for Not Filing Annual Return or Notice

A Guidestar news release states that the IRS will give a six month reprieve by not sending out revocation letters until 2011 but I was not able to find that information on the IRS website.

Bottom line: THIS IS IMPORTANT. I checked several zip codes and was surprised at the organizations on the IRS hit list. Most were small, locally based, all volunteer organizations. Whoever is running them may have NO idea about all of this. If you are associated with a local PTA, parents sports boosters association or other small local nonprofit, take these steps NOW:

1.Check the database to see if your organization is on the list.....If it is:

2. Go to the IRS site and based on your organizations gross receipts, figure out which form you must fill out.

3. Fill out and file the correct form now... the clock is ticking fast......!!!

If this article was of help to you, please leave a comment. I’d like to know if my readers are interested in this type of information.


Sunday, May 09, 2010

Happy Mother's Day - A Gift That Will Help a Mother in Need from Charity Water

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers and grandmothers out there. I don't usually post on or about Mother's Day on this blog. But I was just scanning through Twitter, commenting on Betty White doing such a great job on SNL last night, and I came across a Tweet from Charity Water with a link to Mother's Day cards.

There is still time to send one of these ecards to the Mother who has everything. For a $20 or $100 donation you can help provide the gift of water to a mother and her family.  There are incredibly beautiful cards featuring mothers helped by water that just shout "the gift of life."

Go directly to the page to order your card now.