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How To Run a Successful Board Retreat For Non-Profits or Corporations

how to run a successful board retreat

As a corporate retreat planner, your job is to create an environment where leadership teams can clear their minds, focus on big picture ideas, and bond in a way that helps a company or non-profit achieve its mission.

However, that’s easier said than done. You’ll need to structure your event effectively, find a location, and more - this guide will help you create a strategy for a winning non-profit or company board retreat.

For the best retreat planning help, call the company retreat planning experts at Wilder! We have years of experience helping large and small clients run successful company offsites, and we would be thrilled to plan the perfect event for you.

What are the Benefits of a Non-Profit or Company Board Retreat?

Time To Assess the Board’s Performance

While non-profit and corporate boards lead decision-making from the top, they are still accountable to clients and each other. Board members need time to evaluate performance just like anyone else. The problem is that boards often meet quarterly, or perhaps even less. So when should you plan a time of assessment? Regularly scheduled meetings already have packed agendas, and they are usually limited on time.

That’s how a board retreat can help. Through the help of a professional facilitator, a non-profit or corporate board can engage in exercises that force introspection.

Here are some questions that may come up during a board retreat:

  • Did they present meaningful ideas and strategies over the past year?

  • What worked, and what didn’t work?

  • Were conversations productive and cordial, or were they combative?

  • How effective was the board at reaching a consensus on key issues?

  • Was there enough time to properly hash out decisions?

  • Were votes lopsided or close?

  • Does the board have the expertise necessary or are additional resources needed?

Focus On Deeper Strategic Work

If you want to keep your board members happy and successfully recruit new members, you must keep regular board meetings efficient, reasonably timed, and you must stick to an agenda. This doesn’t leave time for much “bigger picture” thinking.

A board retreat (even if only for a day or two) gives you time away from tight two hour agendas, voting, and CEO reports. They should be structured, but the allotted time for discussion and strategy can flow naturally.

For instance, a non-profit board of directors may need to block an hour of their retreat to think of ways to boost volunteer signups. Or perhaps another meeting is in order to talk about increasing fundraising efforts.

Board Retreats Allow Board Members and Executives to Work Together

Throughout the year, CEOs and executive directors must present reports to the board, relate strategies based on those reports, and answer sometimes challenging questions in meetings. This environment isn’t so much about collaboration as it is about accountability.

A retreat, on the other hand, is purposefully structured to allow company leadership and the board to work together in a collegial atmosphere. This can set the tone for a whole year, and when CEOs or directors are on the same page as the board, those quarterly meetings can be much more productive.

Non-Profit and Corporate Boards Work Better When Members Know and Respect Each Other

The social aspect of a board retreat is more important than you might think. Rather than flying in for a quick meeting (or logging into a Zoom call), board members have the chance to get to know one another on a deeper level. This can have a long-lasting effect on board engagement, retention, and company goals.

How Long Should a Board Retreat Last?

A full day once per year is usually the minimum, although some boards consider a 4-6 hour session to be a retreat. If you have bigger ideas, you may want to plan on a weekend-long event.

If you have 3 to 4 days for a board retreat, consider a destination that truly removes the board members from their every day. A new setting can reduce distractions and will give the board members a fresh perspective, which can lead to creative ideas.

How Should You Structure a Board Retreat?

You must plan time for board members to get to know each other, set aside time for specific strategic conversations, and perhaps include time for new board member confirmations, confirmation of the chairman, and other administrative gestures.

Request Board Member Feedback Well in Advance

The structure of a board retreat starts well in advance. Start by sending board members questions like:

  • What key issues have we not had time to pursue in regular meetings?

  • What is your opinion on the harmony and performance of the board?

  • What topics would you like to discuss with your peers?

  • How would you define success at this retreat?

Don’t Shy Away From Enjoyable Social Events

Second, build in time for social events at the beginning of the retreat. It's important the board members ease into a rhythm with each other, leading to smoother discussion and easier decision making.

A Professional Facilitator Can Make or Break Your Retreat

A respected and competent facilitator could be the difference between awkward and ineffective meetings and a powerful retreat that changes the direction of your company or non-profit. You will need somebody to present topics and questions during meetings, direct conversational traffic, and ask hard questions during strategic meetings.

An unbiased third-party facilitator frees the board members to focus on their ideas and thoughts, not the gamesmanship of a board meeting.

Choosing a Destination For Your Board Retreat

At Wilder, we recommend the benefits of nature for your retreat. Find a location that is central enough for your board members, and choose a beautiful location “away from it all” within that radius.

For instance, we plan inspiring corporate retreats in Utah and company retreats in Jackson Hole and company retreats in Austin, TX for clients around the country. Our inclusive outdoor activities (not necessarily physically demanding ones) prove over and over again how nature makes a retreat more successful.

Contact the experts at Wilder to plan the perfect board retreat -- we would love to hear from you.

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