The team at Starfish Impact has had the honor of facilitating a few amazing board retreats this year. We’ve seen boards come together to create ambitious goals, set performance objectives, and unify around a single vision for the future. There’s no magic formula for a productive retreat but successful retreats share some common best practices:
Make time for planning and goal setting. As with any meeting, there’s no use having it without a purpose. For one recent retreat, we interviewed individual board members to identify goals and create an agenda. We found that talking to board members one-on-one allowed us to understand each unique perspective but also to identify issues that were bubbling below the surface.
Initiate authentic communication. Before diving into an ambitious meeting agenda it’s important to set the tone and remind people why they are here. Our team facilitated a retreat that opened with a panel of clients telling their stories of being helped by the non-profit. Board members were inspired by the work and it set a positive tone for the meeting. From there board members were asked to share their personal stories of getting involved with the organization. We were impressed at how these personal stories were able to break down barriers between board members and get everyone working together.
Build in time for brainstorming, but make sure to end with actionable objectives. It’s easy for groups to get stuck in “idea generation” mode with everyone throwing out ideas and solutions. To make sure the board moves purposefully though the agenda to arrive at a realistic plan, our retreats utilized a facilitator and for each agenda item, we nominated someone to be in charge taking notes, making conclusions, and organizing ideas into objectives and a workable plan.
Clarify roles and responsibilities. The last board retreat we facilitated had 15 people who all had a different idea of their role. Some board members thought fundraising was just for the fundraising committee and others felt the entire board needed to do more to recruit new partners to the organization. Pre-retreat interviews exposed these issues, and they were addressed head on at the retreat by reinforcing roles and responsibilities throughout the retreat.
Make sure to talk about fundraising and board composition. At one retreat we attended, the board took special care to discuss the logistics behind their plans as a way to prioritize action items. Because special care was made to talk about fundraising, the board realized that some fantastic ideas were well beyond the current capacity of the organization and they would need to expand the board’s reach to accomplish these goals. For this reason we suggest always including a fundraising and board capabilities discussion as a “reality check.”