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Nonprofit Board Retreat Planning: Tips and Best Practices

Nonprofit board retreats often get a bad rap, and we understand why. As nonprofit board members ourselves, we don’t eagerly anticipate dull discussions or trust falls any more than you do. Fortunately, the key to an exceptional nonprofit board retreat lies in breaking away from the mundane and the uninspiring. It’s time to dispel the myth that nonprofit board retreats have to be tedious. Instead, they can be transformative and meaningful, fostering connections, strategic thinking, and organizational growth. To help you orchestrate a board retreat that truly resonates with your team, read on for some valuable insights.

Why schedule a board retreat?

If your board yearns for more profound conversations, strategic planning, or team building, a retreat offers an ideal opportunity to bring everyone together. It’s crucial to understand that a board retreat differs significantly from a standard board meeting. At a nonprofit board retreat, you won’t be scrutinizing past meeting minutes or mulling over day-to-day minutiae. Instead, it’s a dedicated time for nonprofit board members to collaborate, connect, and align with their organization’s mission. A nonprofit board retreat can be scheduled at any point during the year to address the specific needs of your organization. Here are a few key organizational needs that might be the focus of your retreat:

  • Succession planning

Only 29% of nonprofit boards have a written succession plan for their organization’s leadership (2021 Leading with Intent: BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices). A nonprofit board retreat is an ideal format for your succession planning process. Ideally, this process should happen well before any leadership transitions are on the radar, but it can also occur as your board prepares to bring on a new executive director ensuring a transition that goes as smoothly as possible.   

  • Strategic planning

Dedicating quality time to delve into your nonprofit’s mission, vision, and strategic direction is paramount. Crafting strategic plans requires a significant investment of time, something that a typical board meeting can’t accommodate. Gathering board members and staff for a day-long or multi-day retreat enables deep reflection on your organization’s goals, impact, and strategies for the upcoming years.

  • Onboarding new members and relationship building

Intentionally carving out time for board members to connect, establish trust, and learn to work together as a team is another reason your organization may schedule a retreat. If your organization has voted on new board members, a retreat provides space for relationship building, in-depth conversations about your mission and vision, and training on effective nonprofit governance. Even if your board has worked together previously, devoting time to establishing trust and building relationships can go a long way to improving communication.

Regardless of your nonprofit board retreat’s purpose, it’s vital to communicate your objectives clearly to all participants. As a team, engage in discussions about what you hope to achieve and how you’ll measure your progress by the end of the retreat.

Considerations for your nonprofit retreat agenda

When crafting your retreat agenda, keep the following considerations in mind:

  1. Set norms for working together as a team, especially if this is the first time your board will be working together in this fashion. 
  2. Incorporate time for small group discussions. Often, board meetings are whole group discussions, which makes sense for items requiring consensus. Having time to meet in smaller groups allows for more in-depth discussions about a topic. 
  3. Remember, even if the retreat isn’t intended for onboarding new members and team building, it’s a great idea to incorporate social time to develop relationships and connect as a nonprofit team.
  4. Create a “parking lot” to return to later for important, but unrelated items.

Choosing the right facilitator for your retreat

While it might be tempting to lead your organization’s retreat internally, consider the benefits of hiring a nonprofit consultant to facilitate the process. An external facilitator brings a fresh perspective and can offer an objective view of your organization. With expertise gained from working with various organizations, they can tailor the retreat to your specific needs, ensuring a meaningful experience.

Pay attention to the small details

  • Scheduling

Anytime a large group of people needs to come together scheduling can be a challenge. Fortunately, tools available now can reduce the time you spend coordinating with each participant. Based on the makeup of your group and your retreat format, decide whether your retreat should take place over back-to-back days or spread out over a few months, or if it should be half days or full ones.

  • Location

Where you’ll have your retreat is an important consideration and shouldn’t be left for last-minute planning. Are your board and staff located in the region or spread across the nation or the globe? Hosting a virtual retreat will look vastly different than hosting an in-person retreat. You’ll also need to think about associated costs for where you’re hosting. Can you connect with a community partner to use their space at no cost, or will you use organization funds to rent a location? Your organization will also need to assess whether a potential space can accommodate your participants in terms of ADA accessibility or if it can accommodate the types of activities your group will engage in. Do you need multiple rooms for breakout sessions or a large space with projection capabilities?

Consider what happens before and after the retreat

Remember that the work your staff and board do before and after the retreat is equally vital to its success. Organizing a retreat involves careful planning, something best accomplished by a committee of board members and staff working closely with your facilitator. This committee can gather input from key stakeholders, structure the agenda, and ensure that the retreat runs smoothly. Similarly, appoint a committee to oversee post-retreat follow-up to ensure that important tasks are addressed promptly. Boardable’s board portal can help each committee track action items and assign tasks to keep everyone on the same page.

With meticulous planning and thoughtful execution, your nonprofit’s board retreat can become a dynamic and engaging experience that energizes board members and staff alike.

Consider incorporating Boardable into your board retreat to have all your essential tools and resources in one centralized platform, making collaboration and organization effortless. Start your free trial today and experience the difference for yourself.

Solutions for
Board Members

We know that what happens after a meeting is also critical. Keep post-meeting momentum going with a centralized hub your team can access before, during, and after meetings to promote autonomy and collaboration.


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