Welcome back to the Major Gifts Challenge. We’re nearing the end of the Challenge, but we’re not quite there yet! If you’re new to it, check out the intro video here.
The Major Gifts Challenge has taught you, over and over, how important board engagement is to your program. It’s likely you won’t have a successful major gifts program without board participation. You’ve learned lots of techniques to get your board involved, and today you’ll learn an indispensable tool to engage your board.
The most effective way to engage board members in fundraising is a board retreat.
A board retreat isn’t a substitute for regular contact with your board and keeping them informed, but it is the best opportunity to provide in-depth training and only have the focus on fundraising.
Planning Your Next Board Retreat
At this time of the year you are planning for next year. Now’s the time to start planning your board retreat. If you haven’t had a retreat recently, then plan a retreat for this winter or spring.
Board retreats need to be at least a half day. (A full day is even better.)
Should you hire a professional facilitator?
Ideally you’ll want to use an outside facilitator. All staff at your organization can then participate. Yes, staff, especially senior staff (and program staff too), should participate.
A professional facilitator brings a range of experience to your retreat. Your board members will not see this person as an employee, but a fresh source of advice. They will be eager to hear from this outside expert. Don’t take it personally, it’s just human nature.
A cost-effective solution
If you can’t afford to hire a professional facilitator, all is not lost. Consider swapping with another organization. In other words, you facilitate their retreat and someone from their organization facilitates yours. That way, you can fully participate in your own retreat.
An outsider always brings an air of expertise and respect that you simply won’t get from your own board members.
3 Hallmarks of a Successful Board Retreat
A retreat is not simply a longer board meeting. The agenda for your retreat should be entirely different from your normal meeting agenda.
Board retreats have 3 important purposes.
1. Team Building
Although you may know all of your board members, they may not know one another, even those who have served for a long time.
The words “ice breaker” on your agenda will cause participants to cringe. Avoid trite terms, you can have fun, but this is a serious endeavor. Simply list “welcome and introductions” on the agenda, and then introduce your team building activity. Pick this one carefully, as it sets the tone for the day.
You will also want to have a “mission moment” during this time, where you remind people why they serve. It can be a short testimonial. Bring in a client, staff member, or show a short video – something to bring a tear to your board members’ eyes.
2. Strategic Planning
Your board must be on board with your strategic plan. So, an annual board retreat is the perfect time to review and revise your strategic plan. Are you up to date on your current plan? What needs updating?
If you don’t have a plan, this is the perfect time to start one.
An outside facilitator can be especially useful here if you are not experienced in developing strategic plans.
3. Fundraising Training
A strategic plan is useless if you don’t have the funding to implement it. I see organizations with grand plans and zero ways to fund them. Part of the emphasis of Major Gifts at the Board Retreat is how to finance and budget for this effort. Board engagement is crucial at this point.
A board retreat is also the perfect time to re-engage your board members in fundraising, help them get over their fear of fundraising with some creative exercises and activities, and create a culture of philanthropy, so everyone gets involved.
A Successful Board Retreat Agenda
When I facilitate board retreats, I speak with organizational leaders in advance to learn their goals and desired outcomes for the day. I urge you to do the same. Once this important conversation is finished, design an agenda with their specific goals in mind. Each participant walks away with a short and long term plan for how they can help raise funds.
However, every agenda must include the three hallmarks of team building, planning, and fundraising training.
This week’s action item is simple — it’s one just one thing.
Challenge Yourself Action Item
Plan your board retreat today.
Pick a date and a location. Choose somewhere outside your normal board room, if possible. Get it on your calendar and ask board members to save the date. Then start thinking about who will facilitate, and your agenda.
It really is that simple.
Board retreats re-engage volunteer and staff leaders around your cause – you don’t want to skip this action item.
Going Further with Major Gifts
Training and engaging your board to help raise major gifts is paramount to having a successful major gifts program. This video covers the basics, but there’s so much more you can learn. Check out my online course on Mastering Major Gifts. In the course, you’ll get a template for a complete agenda, plus fun-filled exercises for your board retreat and board meetings. It’s a great help in keeping your board engaged all year long.
Act, Comment and Participate
Now it’s your turn to share your progress with the Major Gifts Challenge. Have you had a board retreat in the last 12 months? If so, how did it help your fundraising efforts?
Let everyone know in the comments.