By James D’Ambrosio

Building on last column, I’ll discuss how to capitalize on your retreat, namely, ensuring those great ideas actually translate into tangible benefits for your organization and the people/causes you champion. It’s great if staff and board members are energized, but you want more. 

The important thing is reviewing ideas and information immediately, before  they’re forgotten. Failure to do so often results in lost opportunities — like that strategic plan collecting dust on a shelf. In fact, a reader of the previous article commented about this very issue, noting that retreats don’t result in concrete actions. It doesn’t have to be that way. 


To capitalize on your investment — time, effort and money — you have to delve into details of discussions and ideas put forth. The following is one way it can be achieved (make adjustments to fit your agency’s specific needs.)  

A) DOCUMENT INFORMATION: Ideally, a staff member took notes at the retreat, capturing key information and ideas. (Someone with shorthand skills is ideal.) Immediately after, a detailed report should be submitted for review — something akin to a longer version of meeting minutes. (If minutes weren’t taken, have someone document discussions the first day back.)

B) HOLD A FOLLOW-UP MEETING: After reviewing and finalizing the report, schedule a meeting of attendees. Send a memo announcing the meeting, along with a copy of the report, and an agenda. Emphasize the importance of prompt action.

C) EVALUATE IDEAS: This is the most important step. At the meeting, when strong ideas are being discussed, evaluate each by asking key questions: 1) Does it support our mission? 2) Can we fund it? 3) How will service recipients/advocacy efforts benefit? 4) Do we have adequate staffing? 5) Who will implement it? 6) Is it sustainable? 

D) IMPLEMENTATION: Ideas passing scrutiny can move forward to implementation. Small items, such as revised office procedures, can be quickly delegated. Major initiatives — a new program or service offering —require time and effort from program and administrative staff to adequately plan and carry out, likely a period of months, depending on its size and scope. 


Resist the temptation to act on every promising idea. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin by creating more work than your organization can handle. If you have four ideas you really like but know your agency can handle two, implement the two strongest and hold the others until organizational capacity increases. Building a strong nonprofit is a marathon, not a sprint. Moving forward in measured fashion also reduces stress on employees, helping avoid burnout. 


QUESTION TO READERS: Care to share a success story about retreat outcomes? Other tips and suggestions that might help others?


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