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Nonprofit Board Retreats: How to Make Them Great

Nonprofit board retreats can go in one of two directions: a rewarding and rejuvenating experience, or a bit of a chore. A board retreat allows members to spend some time really getting to know one another and bonding over activities, shared meals, and more. For some nonprofits, an annual retreat is an event that members look forward to. But for others, it is not as appealing. Discovering what makes a retreat worthwhile ensures you make the best use of your time and theirs.

nonprofit board retreats

Benefits of Board Retreats

When they’re done right, board retreats provide unique opportunities that can’t be presented during an hour-long monthly board meeting. Be sure to plan for the following benefits to get maximum participation from your board members.

  • Downtime: A retreat allows your board to bond, spend social time together and to learn something, free of the constraints of a normal schedule.
  • Location: Retreats are often held at resorts or other interesting, inviting spots that your members will enjoy.
  • Networking: Your board members do a lot for your organization, but most have businesses to run as well. The deeper bonding and networking that can happen at a retreat offers substantial opportunities for your members to connect.
  • Education: A retreat focused on a skill, a rewarding theme or with fascinating, noted speakers offers a chance to learn and play at the same time.

Potential Drawbacks of Board Retreats

Even the most fun retreats need to be sensitive to the rest of your board members’ busy lives. Don’t forget to think of the following potential drawbacks and do your best to plan for them ahead of time.

  • Time: You’ll be taking your members away from family or work for up to a few days at a time. Make sure you’re not asking for a commitment that may be too long for some members.
  • Value: Your board may not want to dedicate the finances required to attend a retreat. They could feel those funds are better used in serving your mission. Be sensitive to budget by making some activities optional, or subsidizing them ahead of time.
  • Physical Fitness: Many retreats are focused on outdoor activities or in places that require a substantial amount of walking. An older board may not be up to this type of activity. Have a backup plan for activities that might not appeal to every ability level.
  • Preference: Members sometimes prefer all different types of board member experience, from a formal dinner to a smaller party or learning session. Try to include some variety in your retreat activities so everyone has something they enjoy.

How to Tell if Retreats are a Good Idea for your Board

Fortunately, there are several good ways to tell if planning a retreat will be a welcome activity for your board. Ideally, your board will be open about their preferences and give you a good idea where they stand on the idea of time away from home. Consider some of these ideas to discover if a retreat will truly be a welcome event for your board.

Know Your Board

Ask for feedback. By far the easiest way to discover where your board stands when it comes to retreats and potential activities is to ask. Polling over email or at the next board meeting should give you a very clear idea of where the group stands on the matter. You’ll also be able to find out what they feel is an acceptable balance of valuable training time and expense.

Offer several choices. If you don’t want to ask a straight “yes” or “no” question, offer choices instead. A simple poll or vote that compares several options (regular meeting, restaurant meeting, day trip to destination “A”, overnight retreat to destination “B”) will give you a clear idea of what activities would be valued by the board and what they prefer to avoid.

Review past activities. An active and engaged board meets several times a year, but has the option of attending other events. That includes everything from your annual fundraising event to community projects and formal galas or parties. Has the board turned out in force and enjoyed themselves, or have they turned up sparingly? Thinking about past participation in related, non-meeting events can give you an idea of the likelihood of your board enjoying and benefiting from a retreat.

RELATED: The 10 Core Responsibilities of a Board Member

The Bottom Line: Are Retreats Right for your Board?

The attractiveness of a retreat will depend on your board’s natural willingness to spend resources on retreat activities. If many members see the long term benefits of a retreat, have time to attend, and are physically able to do so, you can proceed with confidence. If they have concerns about the value, you may want to reevaluate.

Taking the time to discover what a retreat would mean for your board and how they feel about it will make it easier for you to plan something amazing. Your efforts will be rewarded with enhanced engagement and bonding between these important organization supporters.


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