How to Plan a Nonprofit Board Retreat

  • By: Gina Guy
  • May 3, 2022
Nonprofit Board Retreat
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Gathering with a common purpose gets board members on the same page for goal-setting. Learn how to plan a nonprofit board retreat.

Between full-time obligations and other commitments, board members are busy, which leaves many nonprofits struggling to keep their boards motivated and engaged. Board retreats for nonprofits offer a great way to combat this. Retreats let members mingle, create a sense of community, and remind members of their roles in the organization.

Why Should You Have a Board Retreat?

A nonprofit board retreat may seem like an expensive and time-consuming endeavor, but it’s a vital component of board governance. Here’s why you should have one every year:

Annual Board Development Cycle

Nonprofits follow a unique annual board development. A board retreat gives a great opportunity to check in and ensure you’re in line with your goals.

Training Opportunity

A retreat provides an opportunity to train board members on specific roles. Even with just a half-day, you can identify relevant topics in advance and spend more time learning and practicing.

Creating Clear Direction and Vision

To perform its best, your board requires clarity on the mission and vision. Nonprofit board retreats allow members to reconnect with your vision and conduct strategic planning to chart a clear sense of direction going forward. 

Crisis Management

When crisis hits a community, people look to nonprofits. A retreat can unite your team to discuss the problem, outline possible solutions, decide your organization’s part of the solution, and identify the best stakeholders to involve.  

Inspire and Engage

Empowering board members to own the work and building relationships among them is perhaps the most valuable benefit of a nonprofit retreat. The session goes a long way in reminding members of their purpose and reconnecting them to the mission, keeping them engaged even in difficult times.

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How to Plan a Board Retreat for a Nonprofit

It’s impossible to throw together your nonprofit board retreat agenda in a single afternoon. The experience requires careful planning to make the most of having every board member in one location at the same time.

Here are some practical tips:

Clearly Articulate the Retreat’s Objectives and Purpose

Your retreat should begin with a clear purpose, so make sure you determine the reason for the experience. Do you intend to create a strategy or make some vital decisions? Board members are busy, and you shouldn’t trap them in a session that drags on without resolution. Make sure you establish a goal for them to work toward during the retreat. Consider opportunities or obstacles your organization faces and align your planning process around the possible solutions.

Set Intentions and Objectives as a Group

Your overarching goals are set when planning a board retreat, but it’s also crucial to seek board members’ views on what they expect to achieve. Let them write down their objectives for the experience, then share their views as a group and point out common themes to devise group-wide intentions.

By letting everyone share their views right off the bat, you’ll facilitate equitable goal-setting. It’s also an excellent chance to establish expectations and guidelines for your nonprofit retreat. This intention-setting process helps members get into the right mindset before launching into the retreat’s core purpose.

Include Small Group Discussions

Board retreats for nonprofits foster teamwork and cohesion among board members. Encouraging small group discussions helps develop stronger interpersonal relationships. Through these discussions, board members can build collaboration and problem-solving skills and create practical strategies to achieve your organization’s short- and long-term goals.

Don’t Forget Some Social Time

The retreat should keep you on target and get you through your agenda. A little brain break and social time in between working sessions fosters personal connections among members, enabling board cohesion in the long run. Renewed minds also help board members redirect their focus. 

Does Your Board Retreat Need a Facilitator?

Understandably, your organization may lack an experienced board expert or facilitator on staff, so it’s sensible to hire a consultant to plan your retreat. Board facilitators offer specialized guidance and insights for leading discussions and activities. In turn, this will keep the conversation flowing toward a consensus. They also bring an unbiased perspective to consolidate and evaluate different ideas and options to design concrete action plans.

Look for a consultant who embraces your organization’s leadership philosophy and culture. This way, board members will feel comfortable when your consultant leads the conversations.

Nonprofit Board Retreat Facilitation Practices

Whether you’re bringing in an outside facilitator or leading the retreat yourself, follow these facilitation best practices:

  • Explore new strategic visions.
  • Evaluate your executive leaders’ and board members’ strengths.
  • Consider and plan your organization’s future.
  • Engage your board and leaders to keep them motivated.
  • Create desired performance standards and determine the best approaches to meet (or exceed) them.
  • Set new goals for the board.
  • Create renewed commitment and enthusiasm among board members.

Essential Board Retreat Follow-Through Action Items

Board members need to know  their nonprofit board retreat ideas and decisions head somewhere after the event. They must also understand their post-retreat action items to ensure the time was worthwhile.

Follow these practical tips for documenting the retreat and creating accountable action steps:

  1. Conclude each session by highlighting the main points, outlining the next moves, delegating responsibilities, and scheduling time frames. Clarify next steps using action verbs like call, review, plan, write, and schedule.
  2. Assign accountability partners to accomplish tasks. Doing this builds relationships among board members and boosts action between meetings.
  3. Take effective meeting minutes, grouping related actions and ideas.
  4. Suggest how you’ll implement progress assessments from the nonprofit retreat into ensuing meetings. For instance, you can organize future agendas to align with your plan’s strategic goal areas.
  5. Your final agenda item should be a time to summarize next steps. Discuss how members will hold each other accountable and invite them to share personal commitments, appreciations, takeaways, and other remarks.
  6. Congratulate the board and yourself. A nonprofit retreat requires lots of energy, focus, and time to plan and complete. Celebrate the achievement.

Let OnBoard Level Up Your Board Functions

A nonprofit board retreat keeps your board members engaged, productive, and motivated, but retreats require intense planning. Technology, like OnBoard’s board management software, helps lighten the load from agenda building to task management for follow-through.

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About The Author

Gina Guy
Gina Guy
Gina Guy is an implementation consultant who specializes in working with nonprofit organizations get the most from their board meetings. She loves helping customers ease their workloads through their use of OnBoard. A Purdue University graduate, Gina enjoys refinishing furniture, running, kayaking, and traveling in her spare time. She lives in Monticello, Indiana, with her husband.