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Board Retreating: 6 and 6

Amy Schiffman
June 29, 2017

Last week we talked about the actions your board must take this summer in order to ensure success in the coming year. One of these actions was the planning of a board retreat. I want to spend a few minutes expanding on the value the retreat brings to the board team so that I further ensure you engage in retreat planning this summer or fall! And I want you to engage as many board members as possible, so my freebie this week is all about selecting the perfect date for a board retreat. But first, let’s review common retreat objectives and activities.

Your retreat should offer opportunities to engage in the following:

  1. Year in review – what went well this year? What could the board and staff have done better? Did you meet your goals? If not, why not? Did anything or anyone exceed your expectations, and if so, how did it happen? If we don’t evaluate our efforts on an annual basis, it’s hard to tell how far we’ve come.
  2. Board self-assessment – more on this to come but suffice to say that the board should self-assess on two levels: 1) individual performance and 2) team performance. The hope is that both individuals and the board (as a team) set goals at the beginning of the year against which it can assess itself at the end. Do both at the retreat!
  3. Goal setting – as mentioned above – ask board members to set individual goals (could be committee related or goals that help drive the work of the board as a whole) AND set goals for the work of the team. Giving Tree can help with this effort by leading you through goal setting exercises or providing templates for self-facilitation. It helps for the board president or executive director to begin the retreat with a “state of the union” type address so that board members understand the organization’s success over the past year and have a sense of the vision for the year (or two) ahead.
  4. Committee planning – standing board committees should be assigned by now, as should committee chairmanships, so retreats are good opportunities for committees to spend time planning for the year ahead and completing committee goals and work-plans. Remember – I suggest that committee chairs present these plans at the first board meeting of the new fiscal year.
  5. Strategic planning – take time during the retreat to review or reflect on a current strategic plan or begin planning for a new process. The strategic plan is the organization’s roadmap for the future. It informs committee work and serves as a guiding force for the board’s work over the next 3 – 5 years. It also allows the board to review (and even update) the organization’s mission and create a vision for the future.
  6. Team building – this could be one of the most important retreat outcomes. Most boards with whom I work give team-work a very low rating. This makes me sad – but not surprised. If you don’t work on building the strength of the team and its relationships, how will board members form the bonds they need to make and sustain change? There are hundreds of examples out there for these types of exercises.

The outcomes of these efforts vary depending on the organization, but the board retreat should generally achieve the following:

  1. Alignment around short and longer term goals
  2. The development of a vision for the future
  3. Role differentiation (i.e., who does what) - both between board members and in terms of lay vs. professional responsibilities
  4. The building of a culture of philanthropy (especially if your board takes time to offer solicitation training, training on the role of the board in fundraising or other donor relations topics at the retreat)
  5. A cohesive, driven team focused on mutually agreed upon goals
  6. A sense of accountability for the board’s work

Convinced yet? What did I miss? It’s important to start out your new fiscal year with a sense of what the board hopes to accomplish.

So start planning today. Begin by sending out some date options (try using Doodle) and decide whether or not you plan to use a retreat facilitator. Read more on setting a retreat date in this week's downloadable freebie, How to Choose the Perfect Board Retreat Date. In my next blog (two weeks from today!), you’ll have the opportunity to sign up for a free sample board retreat agenda. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the board retreat process and its importance to your board development efforts. Need help thinking this through? Give us a strings attached!