Board Retreats: An Excellent Tool for Getting Major Gifts

April 22, 2013

Has your organization had a board retreat in the last 12 months?
What about in the last 3 years?
10 years?

If you’re like many nonprofit organizations, you fall into one of two common camps with regard to board retreats:

1. You don’t have them nearly as often as you should (haven’t had a retreat for 3+ years).
2. You have them annually and focus on strategic planning, but fundraising doesn’t make it onto the agenda.

(If this doesn’t apply to your organization, congratulations! You’re on your way to raising major gifts.)

Planning a Board Retreat

If you said “yes” to 1 or 2 above, then it’s time to plan a board retreat this year with major gifts in mind.

Spring and fall are perfect times for board retreats, so it’s important to begin planning now.

Action Item of the Week — 2 hours or less
Set a date, location and agenda for your next board retreat.

First, take some time to discuss with your executive director, board chair, and development committee chair, the need to plan a board retreat for the near future.

Then go ahead and pick a date and select a location, preferably not your regular board room. Ask board members if their company can lend you a board room for the day. It’s better to get away from your normal setting.

Lastly, begin to flesh out your board retreat agenda.

What Does an Amazing Board Retreat Agenda Look Like?

Most board retreats are half or full day retreats, and have a significantly different agenda than a regular board meeting. Discuss the goals and outcomes for your retreat (what you want your board members to walk away with) in advance of creating the agenda.

I recommend some version of the following agenda for your retreat:

1. Ice Breaker or team-building exercise
2. Mission Moment – An activity to tug at the heartstrings of your board members and remind them why they continue to serve (ideally a client discussing how their life has changed, or a testimonial in the form of a letter, a video, etc.)
3. Fundraising – Board retreats can be a once-a-year, unique opportunity for training, role play, and taking the fear out of fundraising
4. Strategic planning
5. Strategic discussion about a key issue your organization is facing

There should be little or no “regular” board business at this meeting.

Should You Hire an Outside Facilitator?

To use or not to use an outside facilitator: that is the question.

I must admit, I’m biased. A big part of my work is facilitating board retreats, and it’s also one of my favorite activities.

There are a lot of benefits to hiring an outside facilitator, but if your organization can’t afford it, you still have options.

Benefits of an outside facilitator:

  • Brings an outside, fresh perspective
  • Acts as a neutral facilitator
  • Offers years of invaluable expertise in fundraising and strategic planning

If you can’t afford to hire an outside facilitator, I highly recommend swapping with another organization (you facilitate their board retreat and let their director facilitate yours). This is an inexpensive solution to cover two of the three bullets above.

Finally, always provide food and drink. Everyone will be in better spirits on a full stomach!

Recap: Set a Date, Location and Agenda for Your Next Board Retreat

You’ve got your next action item for the Major Gifts Challenge. Work with those at your organization to get your next board retreat on your calendar.

Board retreats provide an indispensable opportunity to improve your organization. An organization that’s constantly evolving and bettering itself is in a much better position to solicit (and receive) major gifts than one that isn’t. It’s also a great time to speak with board members about how they can get help with major gifts, including identification of new donors, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship!

This post is part of Amy’s Major Gifts Challenge. Read the entire series to learn how to solicit major gifts by spending just a few hours each month.

Amy Eisenstein, MPA, CFRE specializes in fundraising consulting for local and national nonprofits. She’s raised millions of dollars through event planning, grant writing, capital campaigns, and major gift solicitations. Her “no-nonsense” approach to fundraising yields big results for her clients and followers.