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:
-Developing Fundraising Expertise
•Making Changes to Adjust to Economic Conditions
•Planning for a Major/Critical Issue (ex. Next ED, Building Plan)
•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
•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.