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Setting the Board Retreat Agenda

Amy Schiffman
July 13, 2017

Your annual board retreat is the most important board meeting of the year. If you're in the planning stages of your board retreat, I encourage you to start with your goals for the retreat.

Goals, you ask?  Yes, goals. It’s tough to begin putting together the agenda for the retreat if you have not yet discussed desired outcomes with your planning team.  Talk about what a successful retreat will look and feel like. What do you hope to achieve? Ask your board colleagues to weigh in on this. You may not want 14 opinions on what the agenda should include, but it does not hurt to ask every board member for their thoughts on outcomes so that you’re all on the same page before the day begins.

Consider whether your main goal is team building or skill building. Do you hope to fit in both? Is there a particular issue on the table your board needs extended time to consider, and therefore requires dedicated time (like a merger, mission change, staffing consideration, strategic planning updates or initiation, etc.)? Are you looking to include fundraising training (by the way – this is the #1 request I get for board retreat content)? Are you hoping the board will emerge ready to access their personal and professional networks on behalf of the organization? I asked a former board retreat client if I could share the board retreat goals from their recent retreat with you and they agreed. This may give you some food for thought:

  • Define our Role as Board Members
  • Engage in Team Building
  • Provide Committee Planning Time
  • Raise Confidence Around Fundraising & Relationship Building
  • Practice Storytelling
  • Commit to Individual Goal Setting

The second question I typically ask board retreat clients to ponder is how much time we have together. A half-day retreat agenda looks very different than a full day agenda. And for those looking to get away with using a regular two-hour board meeting as the board retreat date, you’ll be able to squeeze in even less. While a full day retreat is ideal, not all boards can or will allocate that much time, so make a decision about timing before you begin sketching out your agenda.

Don’t forget to leave time for standing board committees to spend time together in breakout sessions. Most need the time to develop goals for the year and create work plans to support those goals. It’s hard to find time to do this outside of a board retreat, especially over the summer. After the committees meet, ask each committee chair to report back to the larger group on their committee’s goals and high-level plans. The board will then have an opportunity to react to these plans and ensure alignment on the goals.

Last, consider whether or not it makes sense for your executive director (head of school, president, etc.) to give the board a “state of the union” type address and/or report on the year behind. Determine in advance what role you hope staff will play during the retreat. I recommend they actively participate in the committee break out sessions, helping to organize discussions for the committee(s) they staff.

I hope you’ll check out our "freebie" for this week, A Full Day Sample Board Retreat Agenda, in order to get a closer look what a typical retreat entails. Thanks for reading, please feel free to reach out with questions, and I hope you’ll start planning this year’s retreat today!