During my consulting career, I’ve heard the following phrases too many times to count:

And on, and on, and on.

First, let’s cut to the chase.  Board retreats are a critical, annual competency of board governance.  And, equally important, board retreats facilitate the creation – and curation – of a healthy board culture.

I think we all know some of the reasons to conduct a board retreat:

However, bringing the entire board together in person can be a challenge. So, to get them to come—and want to be there—you need to create a focused, meaningful, and enjoyable experience for everyone.

Here are some ideas for board retreats that hit the mark.

Before the Retreat

Set a planning meeting with the Executive Director, board chair, and other team members (as needed) to:

Ask the planning team:

In addition, discuss timing, duration, location, number of attendees, etc. You don’t need to finalize all the details yet, just enough to develop a draft agenda.

After meeting with nonprofit and board leadership, it’s a good idea to have brief “input” conversations with some or all board members to understand their views, gather topic ideas and get participants excited about the retreat. Input conversations can be conducted in person, or via a pre-retreat survey.

Some sample questions include:

Retreat Meat: What are the ingredients?

Using the information from your leadership planning meeting and input conversations, craft an action-focused agenda that incorporates the retreat’s purpose and desired outcomes.

Some things to consider:

Stop the status and progress reporting! Instead, have attendees review status reports ahead of time and focus sessions on generating ideas, solving problems, and making decisions.

As you create the agenda, decide what output you want from each session and plan for how to capture key issues, ideas, resources, outcomes, and action steps from each session. This will make documenting the retreat much easier.

Consider supporting materials, resources, and preparatory work that is going to help your board members stay focused and digest information. Make sure participants have the agenda, materials, and instructions at least one week before the retreat. Communicate with board members throughout the planning process to answer questions, remind them about pre-work, and help them with logistics.

Schedule ample time at the end to discuss action items, accountability, takeaways, and celebration of your hard work.

It’s Retreat Time

 While it’s not uncommon for a board or staff member to facilitate a retreat, it’s not ideal. Having outside facilitation helps every participant fully engage in the retreat and their responsibility as a board member. Also, an outside facilitator helps reduce bias and influence. They also may notice and address board issues or dynamics not obvious to attendees.

Other good practices for facilitation:

Retreat Dessert: Outcomes and Next Steps

For a retreat to be worthwhile, participants must know their ideas and decisions will go somewhere after the event. It’s equally important for board members to understand their own responsibilities to take action after the retreat.

Here are some ideas for documenting the retreat and creating accountable action steps:

Board retreats can be powerful events that help clarify your vision, address complex issues, and energize a board. With collaborative planning, a steady focus on the desired outcomes, skillful facilitation, and the willingness to hold people accountable, you can transform your board retreat from a necessary evil to the event of the year!

If you’re looking to revitalize your next board retreat, let’s talk!  Here’s a link to my calendar to set up time to talk about how a board retreat can revitalize your organization.


You can schedule Board Tune-Up as part of your annual retreat. I am currently scheduling Board Tune-Ups for Spring 2020 and later. Look for a short course on board retreats coming in the Spring.