The annual board retreat is coming up! You’ve found the perfect date (you still can’t believe it worked for everyone!), location (the perfect mix of relaxation and work space) and the yummy food is set to be delivered. The board leadership has worked with your board retreat facilitator to create an agenda that lets the group get to know each other better and discuss some big things ahead. This isn’t your first board retreat though, you know how hard it is to get everyone to disconnect and be present. Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered with three ways to help you and your participants be present at your next board retreat.
1. A cell phone basket. Before the board retreat begins, have everyone place their silenced phones in a basket (don’t worry, they can check them at breaks and lunch if needed). We all know how addicting our phones are and one innocent, out-of-habit look at your email is all it takes to lose focus on what is going on in the same room. The fair thing would be to give your board retreat participants advanced notice so they can set their out of office messages and be prepared for giving up their phones.
2. To do later list. One of the first things we do at a board retreat is have participants take out a blank piece of paper and title it “to do later.” This is where all of those nagging thoughts of ‘did I respond to Joe?’ and ‘I need to pick up the dry cleaning’ go. Taking a cue from meditation – acknowledge the thought, write it down (in our case, not meditations) and let it go.
3. The parking lot. Sometimes conversations take a wrong or winding turn. This is where the parking lot comes in handy. When the ideas are flowing and everyone is together great ideas happen. But, it might not be the time or place for that idea. On the parking lot it goes. It makes the board retreat participant feel that their thought matters and it gives the great idea or question a place to live so that it can be addressed later.
A well-organized board retreat is a great way to re-engage, re-energize and reconnect your board members. It offers time to concentrate on specific issues at your organization or to think big picture about the future. To make it as successful as possible everyone needs to be fully present and engaged. We hope using the tips above helps you make the most of your time together. We’d love to hear how you incorporated these into your next board retreat.
I recently worked with Steve King, Executive Director, and Dennis Pitocco, Board Chair of Meals on Wheels of Tampa to present an educational session on increasing board members’ participation in their fundraising efforts. Like many boards, this board sees the opportunity for improvement in this area. One of the challenges expressed by many: how do we hold board members accountable when they are just volunteers, not staff members. The next question is often, who should hold them accountable?
In our preparation for the educational session, Dennis said that as board chair his goal was to hold board members “comfortably accountable.” I love that phrase! We want to hold board members accountable but in a way that is comfortable for the board member, the board leadership and the staff.
Here is the goal: comfortably accountable. Here is the What, Who and How of “comfortably accountable.”
Comfortably accountable is an approach that allows board members to hold each other accountable, not with an atmosphere of intimidation and guilt but with an atmosphere of encouragement and celebration.
The best person to hold a board member accountable is another board member. Board member to board member is a peer to peer relationship. Both are volunteers.
How do we achieve comfortably accountable? I recommend these 5 things:
Clear expectations – start with clear board expectations during recruitment and revisit them at least once a year.
Focus on the mission – make sure each board member sees how their involvement and investment helps the nonprofit reach their mission.
Thorough follow-up – insure that board members are communicating on their progress.
Collegial atmosphere – find opportunities for your board to get to know each other and build trust as a group. Often a board retreat or social gathering is the way to encourage that collegial atmosphere.
Celebration of successes – make sure that board members appreciate each other and celebrate the successes of the board and the entire organization.
No one wants to serve on a board that is ruled by guilt and fear. Conversely, no one wants to serve on a board that doesn’t really need them. The way to make sure you don’t face either of these extremes is to seek an atmosphere of “comfortably accountable.”
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