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Meaningful Board Retreats


By | NMMS Organization Program Associate
February 24th, 2014 | Category: Organization

From the NMMS eNewsletter February 2013

By Eduardo Martinez

Most community-based organizations engage some type of planning process to identify annual priorities and tasks.  Perhaps the most critical element of this process for MainStreet organizations is the annual board retreat.  Often however, governance boards don’t have the opportunity to fully prepare for planning retreats.  Below are several considerations to ensure that your annual board retreat is more supportive of your organization’s ongoing success.

Participation.  Create a date and time well in advance to ensure full participation by all board members.  Make sure that agendas and pre-planning materials are disseminated well in advance so that all members are prepared to engage in planning discussions in a deliberate and informed manner.  If you wish to include staff or community stakeholders, create appropriate times and spaces in the agenda for their engagement or participation.

Preparation.  Planning activities work best when you engage a facilitator who will attend to group process while still moving towards the goals and outcomes for the day.  Work with a facilitator to ensure the planning process, agenda, and materials are appropriate to advance the planning goals.  Consider when multi-day retreats are needed to engage in long term or strategic planning, as opposed to a single day event that will address short term planning needs.

Reflection.  Include some time during the retreat to reflect on recent successes and challenges, and also to examine current trends or community issues that can impact your organizational success.  Listen to key stories from staff, partners or community members.  Review summaries from any customer input or feedback surveys; use data to drive any necessary adjustments and to highlight new opportunities for organizational success.

Plan.  Take the time to re-vision and build consensus around new directions that support your community development initiatives.  Be clear and concise with goal-setting and specific with objectives, and address resource needs in your tasks.  Identify a “lead” to ensure that proposed actions are implemented.  Look for consensus when setting priorities.  If needed, engage in problem-solving around a single critical issue (resource development, municipal partnerships, etc.) to address specific challenges.

Renew.  Building and renewing relationships is vital to your board and organizational success.  Make sure the process is fun and engaging.  Don’t include icebreakers if they won’t be appreciated, but find opportunities to get to know and understand each others’ work, aspirations, and interests, use meal times to interact with colleagues and stakeholders.  If the retreat doesn’t include some element of fun, it’s not going to engage others at their full potential.

Evaluate. A few days after the event, reach out to participants to evaluate the retreat/planning process itself.  Identify what worked well for the participants and learn from those portions of the retreat did not support the overall goals of the event.



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