Eric Lerner, Ph.D. 
Community & Organizational Development 

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Planning a board retreat

I can help your not-for-profit board or community group plan and facilitate retreats for strategic planning, team building, or to resolve other important issues. The following is an outline of "normal" planning for a board retreat. Most any feature of it can be customized to respond to the specific circumstances of your organization. Get in touch by phone or email if you'd like to explore the possibility of a retreat. There's no fee for an initial consultation.

Purpose & goals. Typically, the purpose of a board retreat is to create an opportunity for board members to discuss and explore more deeply issues that are too complex or too controversial to fit into a regular board agenda, as well as to create an opportunity for board members to become better acquainted with each other, and to feel more part of an effective team. The goals of a particular retreat may be narrow and specific, or broad and open-ended, depending on the current needs and circumstances of the organization and its board.

Initial consultation. Usually it's best for me to start with a first meeting with an individual or a committee of the organization's board to develop an overview of what sort of retreat is being planned, clarify goals, and explore possibilities. An initial meeting need not involve a commitment to go forward with a retreat. There is no fee for an initial consultation.

Letter of understanding. If we agree to go forward and plan a retreat, I'd write a short letter of understanding to the organization spelling out what we've agreed to, including goals, tentative timeline, and fees.

Lead contact. Someone on the organization's board should be designated as my lead contact in planning the retreat. That person would be my primary liaison to the organization, and would help coordinate scheduling, venue, logistics, agenda creation, etc.

Scheduling & logistics. As soon as possible after agreeing to a retreat, we should agree on a mutually convenient date and time for the retreat. Ideally, that date should be confirmed about six weeks in advance. A shorter timeline is possible, though too short a planning period may compromise the retreat planning process. It is the responsibility of the organization and its board to arrange a suitable location for the retreat, to confirm scheduling with board members and other participants, and to arrange other logistics, e.g. refreshments, transportation, etc.

Information gathering. Soon after we agree to a retreat, I'd schedule a first planning meeting with the lead contact. We'd take an hour to reflect on the retreat's goals, review the organization's history and current priorities, and begin to sketch an agenda for the retreat. We'd also identify two or three additional people in the organization for me to interview. Typically, that would include the board chair and the CEO or some other knowledgeable key player.

Board meeting. If possible, it's good if I can attend part of a meeting of the board prior to the retreat. That gives me an opportunity to introduce myself to other board members, and to get a sense of how things go at board meetings. If the board's agenda permits, I'd ask for about half an hour of time on the board's agenda to introduce myself and to lead a short input gathering and discussion exercise that will give me more information and will help board members focus on the issues involved in the retreat.

Agenda. Based on the preceding input, I'd draft a proposed agenda for the retreat, which I'd send to the lead contact person. We'd then discuss and tweak the agenda until we've agreed on a final version which can be circulated to board members before the day of the retreat. The agenda may identify discussion questions for board members to think about in advance. If necessary, I'd have a final planning meeting with the lead contact.

Budget. My fee for planning and facilitating a board retreat at a location in or near Tompkins County depends on the length of the retreat: 3 hours - $300; 4 hours - $400, 6 hours - $500. That fee includes the retreat itself as well as the planning process described above. I'd also expect to be reimbursed for expenses for, e.g. copies and supplies (typically less than $20). For retreats outside Tompkins County, there may be additional fees and/or travel and lodging expenses.

References. I've led retreats for the boards of several local not-for-profit organizations. References on request.

Eric Lerner, Ph.D.
Community & Organizational Development
504 South Plain Street
Ithaca, NY  14850
(607) 273-1154

Page updated October 17, 2001

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