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Do You Really, Seriously Need a Board Retreat?


Reprinted from Tri Point Fundraising

This fundraising question comes from Tom, who writes:

"I can't convince my ED that we should have a board retreat. Can you help?"

Yes, Tom! I can help! Thanks for asking.

First, I would want you to find out what your executive director's objection to a board retreat is? Are they concerned about time? Money? And, maybe they don't see the value or benefit. So let's start there.

Board Retreats Are Different from Board Meetings

Let me start by saying that board retreats should not simply be longer versions of your normal board meeting. They should be noticeably different from your regular board meetings, and have a distinct feel and purpose.

For example, the items that normally appear on your board meeting agenda should not appear on the agenda for your retreat—especially reports! There should be no regular committee reports at your retreat.

And, in order to make them feel different, a board retreat should take place in a different location, if at all possible. But you don't need to spend a lot of money on a fancy retreat location—although wouldn't that be nice! Hopefully one of your board members has a conference room you can use for your retreat. All you need are chairs, tables, an easel, and a few flip charts.

Pros & Cons of Hiring a Board Retreat Facilitator

Another thing to think about when planning for a board retreat are the pros and cons of using an outside facilitator. I'll admit, I'm totally biased on this subject, because facilitating board retreats is one of my favorite parts of my work. But also because I truly believe there are strong benefits to having a professional facilitating your retreat.

That said, here's a quick list of pros and cons, starting with the cons.

The Cons of Hiring a Board Retreat Facilitator

The only con I can think of is the cost. Honestly, there isn't any other downside.

And if you think of the fee of the facilitator as an investment in getting your board and staff more engaged and prepared to help with fundraising, then it's actually an investment in your nonprofit, and you can move it over to the "pro" column.

The Pros of Hiring a Board Retreat Facilitator

So let's get to the pros—three essential reasons to have a professional facilitator.

  1. Get an outside perspective.

    Board members pay more attention to an outsider. They are less inclined to be distracted by work or phone calls.

  2. Staff can participate.

    When you have an outside facilitator, staff can participate too—and don't have to worry about the agenda or personalities in the room.

  3. Experience matters.

    Professional board retreat facilitators are trained and experienced, and usually well worth it.

Board Retreats on a Budget

If you truly can't afford a retreat facilitator, consider swapping executive directors or development directors for a day with another organization, and you lead their retreat and let them lead yours. You won't have the benefits of having a professional facilitator, but you will get the benefits of having an outsider.

Okay, I think I've gotten a little carried away with the whole facilitator thing, so let's get back to Tom's question about how to convince his boss to have a retreat in the first place.

Three Vital Reasons to have a Board Retreat

Remember, there are three key reasons for having an annual board retreat:

  1. Team Building
  2. Strategic Planning
  3. Fundraising

These are all critical topics for your board, and an annual retreat is the best place to start tackling these important issues.

Now, if you are only focused on strategic planning at your retreat, which I find to be the case in about half the organizations I work with, my question to you is this ...

How do you expect to pay to implement your plans if your board members aren't engaged in fundraising? You can have the best plans in the world, but if you can't fund them, what good are they?

So, having a retreat to discuss both planning and fundraising are critical!

Watch the Video!


Do-You-Really-Seriously-Need-a-Board-Retreat_Amy-Eisenstein.jpgThe preceding is a guest post by Amy Eisenstein. Recognized as a leading expert in her field, she's helped small and large nonprofits alike raise millions of dollars through major gift and capital campaigns, board development, annual fund campaigns, direct mail, and planned gift solicitations. Amy's primary mission is to make nonprofit development simple, helping them to clear away the complexity and raise funds much more effectively.

Topics: Board Development