12 May Is it Time to Plan an In-Person Board Retreat?
As states open for business and the need for social distancing recedes, your non-profit organization may want to think about scheduling an in-person retreat for your board of directors. Members are likely to welcome the opportunity to see one another again in person and a retreat can provide them with a chance to de-stress and think creatively about how your non-profit should move forward when the pandemic ends.
Get Board Buy-In
Board retreats enable participants to get past the mundane topics of regular board meetings — particularly if they have been holding meetings online for more than a year. Although Zoom and other videoconference sites have been essential during the pandemic, they generally do not produce the kind of synergy that is possible when like-minded people brainstorm face-to-face.
However, before you start scheduling a meeting, discuss the idea with your board. Board members need to agree about the merit of a retreat (including its potential expense) and feel comfortable about safety. Timing can be important. If your state is still partially closed for business, for example, think about scheduling your retreat in the fall or later.
If your board agrees to a retreat, turn your thoughts to logistics, which will vary depending on your objectives. An afternoon at a local restaurant may be ideal if the board needs to come up with some new fundraising options. Broader agendas or confidential topics will require more time and privacy — perhaps several days at a local resort. The further you can get board members away from their regular work responsibilities, even if only mentally, the better.
Creating a detailed agenda is important. Start by asking what outcome you want to come away with at the close of the retreat. If, for example, you would like to end the meeting with a five-year strategic plan, your agenda might start off with time to review the history of your organization and competitive research from other non-profits. From there, build in time to brainstorm where your donors, beneficiaries, members, and other important constituencies may be in five years.
Make sure you include adequate breaks and time for informal social interaction, such as exercise (perhaps golf or a yoga session) and a nice dinner. This will not only keep your board members focused, but also reward them for their efforts.
Keep in mind that some of the most important work will happen after the retreat ends. Be sure to recap all decisions and commitments and make a plan to put your work into action before the board scatters. Follow up by sending members a written summary of retreat discussions and add action items to future board meeting agendas based on those plans.
If your board members are not yet ready to meet in person, revisit the idea regularly in coming months. The pandemic has taken a mental toll on most organizations and a retreat can be just what your non-profit needs to renew and refresh.