How LSS practitioners can help nonprofits by facilitating a Board Retreat

A board retreat is a great way to get alignment of the key leadership positions within a nonprofit organization. Typically, nonprofits hold board meetings monthly or quarterly, while a board retreat is typically conducted once (maybe twice) a year.

These retreats allow an organization to step away from the day-to-day management, and instead think more broadly and be more forward thinking.

They can be helpful to accomplish the following:

  • brainstorming of ideas on what can be done to help further the mission of the organization
  • check the pulse or status of the organization at the middle or end of the year
  • identify and prioritize key projects and initiatives
  • look 3-5 years into the future to develop a strategic plan for the organization
  • craft or revise a mission or vision statement
  • identify and develop key process indicators and metrics
  • how to best utilize the existing resources
  • building alignment to improve how departments and divisions work together
  • develop a plan to identify and develop future leaders and board members
  • and so many other things…

Process improvement experts and facilitators can provide value to a nonprofit board retreat by helping to plan, facilitate and manage the meeting, to help ensure actions are captured and the objectives of the event are met.

Nonprofits might struggle finding funding to hire a facilitator, and they would be more interested in a volunteer. However, some of the larger nonprofits may have partial or full funding available. Either way, it is recommended that you make it clear with the organization of your needs and expectations before you begin.

What are the steps to conduct a board retreat?

In a podcast interview we had with Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Sally Toister discusses how she has helped nonprofits conduct board retreats.

E111: Apply Lean to Nonprofit Boards with Sally Toister

She said it starts with deciding on a date for the board retreat. The duration of the event is typically a half day or a full day (4-8 hours).

Next, a series of planning sessions are scheduled, starting 6-8 weeks prior to the date. The planning sessions are intended to determine the goals and objectives of the retreat.

She said it’s important to figure out what the outcomes will be, so the retreat can be organized starting backwards with the expected results at the end, and working your way all the way back to the kickoff of the event and the necessary attendees.

She first understands the goals and objectives, and she offers up a few options for the nonprofit board to consider, since there are many different backgrounds and expectations from the retreat attendees. This is important because the stakeholders and leaders of a nonprofit are much different than a traditional for-profit business (with standard roles like HR, IT, Program Management, Operations, etc).

She offers them a “pick and mix” of different approaches and different improvement and facilitation tools that the planning team can consider. She’ll ask the team what they like and don’t like about each tool or approach, and then they’ll have one final meeting to agree upon the approach and agenda.

Prior to the event, a kickoff meeting should take place with all attendees, to confirm the final agenda, dates, times, and purpose of the event. You want to make sure everyone is on the same page before the event begins. In addition, there might be homework or preparation that the attendees need to do before the event starts.

At the start of the event, the agenda is reviewed, and minor adjustments are made if necessary. Introductions should be done if the attendees aren’t familiar with each other, including an ice breaker exercise to get the conversations going.

The facilitator should try and keep the team engaged and on-track through the planned agenda. If the team starts to get off-track, or the team wants to go a different direction, then the facilitator should pull everyone together to gain agreement on any changes to the agenda. They should also ensure everyone is participating in the meeting, and no individuals are dominating the conversation.

At the end of the retreat, there is typically a list of actions or plans that needs to be selected. An Impact-Ease Matrix can be used to prioritize which ones will have the biggest impact with the least amount of work.

At the end of the event, a final report out (meeting minutes) or list of actions or next steps should be documented.

How to offer your services to a nonprofit?

The best way to support a nonprofit is to start as a volunteer, so you can meet people and learn about their processes.

Once you have established some rapport and credibility, consider setting up a meeting with a connection at the organization, whether it’s the Executive Director, President, CEO or COO, and schedule a “get to know them” session. This may take some time, as they are busy.

Often times, nonprofits “don’t know what they don’t know” so you can help educate them on your process improvement skills. The discussion can help you and the organization determine if there’s an opportunity where you have an expertise that may benefit them.

Even if there isn’t an opportunity to help this nonprofit, they are often well connected to other nonprofits, and can recommend or connect you with other organizations that might also align with your personal interests.

If you’d like help figuring out what your interests are, or learning how to get started with volunteering at a local nonprofit, check out the free book download, “Lean Six Sigma for Good: How improvement experts can help people in need, and help improve the environment

If you want to learn more about board retreats, check out these links: