By James D’Ambrosio

Lately I’ve been reading and thinking about the vital roles boards play in keeping nonprofits vibrant — setting strategic vision, fund-raising, governance, fiscal/legal oversight, planning special events, etc. In addition, board members tend to be busy professionals juggling many responsibilities in addition to serving your agency. Given their importance — and the value of their donated time — why not provide a venue to keep them refreshed? One way is to hold a retreat.


A professional retreat is designed to help people step back, remove themselves from daily pressures, and take stock of an organization and their roles in a casual, relaxed setting. It should be held off site (preferably on a weekend) and include select staff, volunteers and donors along with the executive director/CEO. I’m keenly aware that many agencies do not have resources for this type of activity. Not to worry; some thought and creativity can greatly reduce costs.    

Case in point. Earlier in my career, working for a small mental health agency ($350,000 budget), a day-long retreat was held at a board member’s home. To further reduce costs, each participant contributed something — a main dish, beverages, supplies, dessert, coffee, etc. — allowing 30 people to have a substantive meeting in a large living room for very little expense.  


The following are potential accomplishments from a well-organized retreat:

1) AN ORGANIZATIONAL REVIEW: An honest, open discussion of where the organization has been, where it currently stands, and where it would like to be several years from now. Goals and benchmarks can be noted for further examination and analysis.

2) INFORMATION SHARING/SYNERGY: An opportunity to share ideas and information among people who may seldom interact. For example, a volunteer, staff person and board member can discuss the same programming issue from entirely different perspectives based on experience and personal background. This helps broaden views about how things might be done better and help people more fully understand their role in furthering the mission. 

3) NEW AND INNOVATIVE IDEAS: Many in nonprofit are thinking individuals with a passion for their work — some likely experiencing personal hardships or those of a loved one — and are often motivated to make a difference or bring about change. A relaxed setting away from business pressures provides an excellent venue for thoughtful, creative sharing that might otherwise not occur in the office. Who knows, it could lead to implementing a new program or service not previously considered.

4) EMOTIONAL BENEFITS: If done well, there’s the intangible benefit of participants returning to their roles energized and motivated. This is priceless: many in nonprofit work very hard, which, over a period of time, can lead to burnout. A retreat can help people reflect, feel good about their work, and receive support from others. Consider it an investment in stakeholder’ well-being: happy, relaxed people are generally more productive and positive about their work, directly benefiting your cause.  

To be sure, these are just a few ideas of what might be accomplished. Different agencies have different needs and can tailor a retreat accordingly. The key take-away is that nonprofits can benefit from an activity bringing people together to solidify efforts, recognize accomplishments, and renew passion for the mission. A small investment that can yield major rewards.


QUESTION TO READERS: Has your agency held a retreat? If so, do you have a success story to share?

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