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| ~January 2002~
Starting the Year Right: The Board Retreat
Starting the Year Right:The Board Retreat
Thinking about new beginnings:
|| The New Year is the time
we make resolutions with the hope of doing better in the days
ahead. Whenever the year starts for your board-- usually after
your annual meeting and the election of new members--it is also
time to think about how to do better and steps needed to improve.
A board retreat is the best vehicle I know for doing this.
Why do you need a retreat?:
|| Regular board meetings typically
focus on very specific issues that need to be decided. Most boards
meet for only a few hours during a given month. A retreat, however,
will give a board (and the senior staff involved) the time it
needs to dream, to think and to talk about the purpose and values
of the organization. The board members will get to know each other
and, as a result of a successful retreat, embrace and commit themselves
as a team to the organization's spirit. It can be a time of renewal
for the board members who have served for a while and an opportunity
for the new board members to become energized about their new
|| The hardest part of arranging
for a retreat is setting a date when everyone can come. It helps
if "attendance at the annual board retreat" is part
of the job description that is given to each board member. That
way they understand in advance it is expected that they will attend.The
best board retreats, in my experience, happen over a weekend,
when people get away from their home and office environment to
a conference center or camp and meet for Friday night dinner,
socializing and icebreakers. They then spend all day Saturday
together. An alternative is to meet Saturday morning for breakfast
and stay through Sunday lunch. If it just isn't possible to arrange
this, you may have to settle for an all-day session. Spreading
a retreat over two half days in the same or different weeks is
not the best idea because of the risk that different people will
attend each session and continuity and bonding will suffer.
Having an outside facilitator:
|| Because I do a lot of board
retreat facilitation, I hope it doesn't sound too self interested
to say that I think it's a good idea to have an objective outside
facilitator who focuses on process. The main reason it helps,
I believe, is that everyone including the president and executive
director can be part of the group and the brainstorming. This
helps team building and a feeling that all are equals.
|| A board planning committee
should spend some time thinking about what it is most important
to accomplish at the retreat. Obviously getting acquainted is
important, but after that:
After the planning committee makes this
determination, it is time to meet with the facilitator to outline
a process. An experienced facilitator will already have asked
the board members (excluding the brand-new ones) to fill out a
simple confidential board assessment and return it promptly to
him/her. This will help the facilitator work with the committee
to design an appropriate agenda. (See the March
2001 Boards and Committees for a sample assessment.)
- Do you need to revise your strategic plan?
- Do you only need to bring people up to date on the contents
of the plan and what you have accomplished so far so that
you can move forward together?
- Are you thinking of embarking on a major marketing or fund
raising campaign and the board needs to consider the priority,
impact and commitment that such campaigns entail?
- Are there some major decisions such as a move or a new collaboration
that need to be discussed more thoroughly than they can be
at a regular board meeting?
- Do you need to review the job description of the board members
and the executive director and the organizational chart so
that everyone understands his/her role?
Start with the basics:
|| Whatever the main
focus of the retreat, it is essential to start a retreat with
the basics. By basics I mean:
If a group can get to know each other and
then affirm its mission and its priority core values for the organization,
it will have formed a base of agreed-upon principles on which
to proceed and plan for the future. That is the real purpose of
- Getting acquainted (see the November 2001 Boards and Committees).
- Having an interactive exercise in which people write down
their notion of the mission of the organization and discuss
their differences (if there are some) so that the mission
can be revised, if necessary, and the board can indeed speak
with one voice (More about this in the February 2002 Boards
- Defining the core values of the organization by generating
a list and then putting it in priority order (More about this
in the February 2002 Boards and Committees).
Jeanne H. Bradner
Jeanne H. Bradner is an author, consultant, trainer
and speaker on volunteerism, board development and leadership. She
is the author of three publications, Passionate Volunteerism, The
Board Member's Guide, A Beneficial Bestiary and Leading Volunteers
for Results: Building Communities Today. She served as director of
the Illinois Governor's Office of Voluntary Action, Midwest Regional
Director of ACTION, and Executive Director of the Illinois Commission
on Community Service. She is the volunteer program specialist for
Illinois' Harper College Volunteer Management curriculum.
Send your comments and questions to Jeannebrad@aol.com.
Copyright 2002 by Nancy Macduff.
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