Creating Board Retreat Opportunities

Spring cleaning, annual physicals, board retreats.  What do these things have in common?  Admit it, your first thought wasn’t completely positive.  On one hand, they can all be viewed as obligatory tasks to be endured once a year.   Some may see them as arduous, tedious, even uncomfortable.

But what if we chose to look at them as opportunities.  bright future aheadOpportunities to evaluate our health, our assets, what’s working well and what’s not – in our homes, our bodies and our organizations.  And, with that assessment we could plan for the future, fix what’s broken, and build upon our successes.

I’ve attended more than 50 board retreats over the years.  I’ve seen good ones, not so good ones, short ones, long ones, retreats focused on training and others built around strategic planning, but most of all I’ve seen missed opportunities.

As you prepare to make this year’s board retreat the best, most productive and inspiring ever, here are a few Dos and Don’ts to keep in mind:

  • Don’t procrastinate.  This is too important to wait until the last minute and throw something together.  This is an opportunity and you’ll only get out of it what you put into it.  Find a special place to hold the retreat, different from where you hold your regular board meetings.  Put together an ad hoc committee of board members, or use your executive committee, to develop the retreat objectives and provide input on the agenda.
  • Do be intentional and strategic.  Avoid the “we always have it the third week of March” mentality.  Your retreat shouldn’t be an obligation.  If the usual timing doesn’t make sense, change it.  The retreat should be held at the most strategic time possible, when it can have the greatest effect on your organization’s priorities.  Your  board members want to feel like their time is being used as effectively as possible.  By being intentional and strategic you ensure that’s the case.
  • Don’t forget the heart.  It’s critical to be productive during your retreat and part of your strategy should be reminding participants what really brought them there.  Invite a recipient of your services or a program staff to share their firsthand experience of your organization’s impact.  Board members join because of their passion for your mission, but we sometimes forget to keep that passion ignited and your retreat is a great place to do that.
  • Do be brave.  Retreats are an opportunity to address challenges that may be holding your organization or your board back.  Don’t shy away from tough discussions.  If participation in fund development or meeting attendance have been issues, make time at the retreat for the board to discuss how to overcome these challenges as a team.  It can be helpful to bring in an impartial facilitator to ensure these discussions are productive.
  • Don’t make Jack a dull boy.  As in all work and no play… Build in down time where board members have a chance just to talk and get to know each other better.  Your board is a team and that team will function better if they feel like they know and trust one another.  Maybe leave lunch open with no agenda or plan a cocktail hour at the end of the day.
  • Don’t lose momentum.  A critical part of the retreat will be creating concrete, actionable follow-up items for the board as a whole and as individuals.  One of the most common frustrations related to board retreats is around the lack of follow-through.  If you have applied the previous dos and don’ts, your board members will most likely leave your retreat feeling enthusiastic and excited for the future.  But without consistent follow-up and a well-developed plan, that enthusiasm will fade overtime.

We know how important boards are to the success of any organization and a board retreat is a critical tool.  If you would like to hear more on how to make your board retreat effective and strategic, join Laura Goodwin and me for a webinar on February 20th.  There are two time slots available, click here to register for the time that works best for you:

Day of Service: Every. Day.

The Osborne Group will be closed on Monday – but we won’t be off.  Perhaps like you, we mlk day of service 2014honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a “day on” volunteering with our families, rather than a day off.  In the not-for-profit world, we recognize that every day is a Day of Service.  Or it could be…  To help you expand the ways that you engage the whole family of your donors, investors and volunteers in a Day of Service throughout the year, here are some ideas we’ve collected from the team:

  1. Host an on-site work day with a variety of projects that pile up over the year:  from raking leaves or clearing out and organizing closets, to identifying and calling volunteers from the past six months to thank them, or cataloging the collateral material you’ve created over the past five years in one neat file. Create a menu of options for a Saturday…
  2. Host a Philanthropy Forum for Families to discuss how families can help children and grandchildren embrace philanthropy, develop their own philosophy, or help other children and families in need.
  3. Establish volunteer opportunities where corporate partners’ staff, service club members, and other engaged groups and their families have the opportunity to work directly with the people, animals, and habitats you serve.  Later in the year, share with the individuals who volunteered pictures of recipients enjoying the facilities they helped improve.
  4. Create a series of one minute videos of the children of donors speaking about helping others.
  5. If you have a “Friends Asking Friends” event (i.e. run, walk, bowl, etc): create specific opportunities, materials, ideas for families to get involved.
  6. Help families achieve their resolution of being more financially responsible by teaching their kids about smart money planning (including budgeting for charity). Websites like let parents give their kids a set amount of money which they then can budget and spend or give with their parent’s oversight.
  7. Lead a hike, run a program, give a tour geared to families – one for teens with ways to take this back to their middle school or high school, one for families with younger kids to introduce them to what you do.
  8. Share “three ways you can advocate for us” via social media; include a variety that includes calling a legislator, and speaking up for your cause among friends, neighbors, your employer or at school
  9. Develop an annual calendar of family-friendly activities to keep philanthropy top of mind all year round to send to donors and hand out at events. It might include things to do around certain holidays or tips for key times of year.
  10. Include a family volunteer/donor profile in your newsletter and/or annual report.
  11. Run a Volunteer Job Fair with other NFPs to recruit short term and long term volunteers.
  12. Look for ways to engage teen-aged of donors mentoring others – lots of schools require community service or service learning, many kids look for bar or bat mitzvah projects.
  13. Host a roundtable discussion with different stakeholder groups – or mixed stakeholder groups: What does our community need most from our community-based organizations? What does our community do well? Where are the holes?
  14. … or host a panel discussion on raising generous and grateful children; invite the community to participate.
  15. Invite major gift donors to an event being held in a program area where their gift made an impact. Instead of just inviting the donor, invite his or her family to the event and place them in volunteer roles during the event, through which they will be able to have meaningful interactions with clients.
  16. Create a special recognition category for family giving. Families that make your organization their family charity of choice are recognized as such and have a specific set of stewardship activities. Maybe develop a Family Giving Circle and hold special stewardship events for members.
  17. Establish a Family Giving Back Day; invite families of donors to a day of providing service to clients and their families – everything from reviewing resumes, job interview techniques, repairing and painting toys, organic gardening, healthy cooking, learning about social networking, and so forth.
  18. In all your donor visits, seek their advice about the best ways to engage the children of donors!
  19. Incorporate a golf clinic (or sport, or other talent clinic) into your special events, enabling donors to engage with your beneficiaries or their children.
  20. Look for ways that the recipients of your services can connect to and interact with your donors and investors – philanthropy is a two-way street.

And of course… Be sure to include family members (when appropriate) in your stewardship in individual donors and volunteers!

“We’re very event-driven…”: And then a Leadership Giving Program was born…

the-phoenix-rises-from-the-ashes-john-edwardsDoes it sound familiar to you?  “You see… we haven’t really been able to build that part of our program because we’re very event driven…”  Rather than feeling sheepish and wringing your hands about the state of affairs, rejoice!  This is great news – you have done so much work already to build a strong leadership giving program.  In reality, you don’t need to either have strong event fundraising, or have relationship-based leadership giving… you can (and should!) have both!

Part One: Get Out of Your Own Way

As nice as it is to think that leadership giving (which, here, we use to mean gifts of $1,000 to $25,000 annually – though in your community it may be slightly larger or slightly smaller gifts…) will rise like a phoenix from your events, it’s not quite that simple.  Almost.  But not quite.

  1. Start with a quick scan of your events:  if you are the driver on more than two or three major events a year, this isn’t going to work.  (Having third-party planned and hosted events is a different story… but a topic for a future post.)  There is simply not enough time for the vast majority of organizations to devote staff or volunteers to the kind of “in between” work required to make leadership giving a reality with a event each quarter.  Or each month.  Or every couple of weeks.
  2. As you pare down, if you need to do that – or just review your already-limited number of events, check in on these criteria.  Do these events:
  • Align with your mission:  a great event does some of the work for you, in representing what you do and how you do it.  A raffle of a motorcycle doesn’t have much to do with disability services.  A golf outing that includes a putting clinic that pares golfers with children with a wide variety of abilities, learning to golf, does!
  • Tell the story:  does your marketing of the event – invitation, media placements, all of it – and your on-site event communicate what you do, why you do it, and how philanthropy supports you?  “Raising awareness” of your organization isn’t enough.  Too vague.  And events that take on a bigger stature than the sponsoring organization aren’t ideal:  who can name the organization that does Relay for Life?  Quick.  Click here for the answer.
  • Engage in your work:  Following on this theme, does the event structure allow you to infuse “mission moments” throughout the experience?  If one or two honorees are good, four or five are better, right?  Not so much.  One or two honorees who help fill the room and are passionate ambassadors for your organizations are a huge asset, but a lot of talking heads make for a very uninspiring evening of tuning out about your work.
  • Target the right audience:  events are a tool to get strategic things done in your fund development plan.  (Say that with me.  Embroider it on a pillow.  “Events are a TOOL, not a reason to raise money.”)  If you need more C-Suite decision makers knowing you, and at your event, a kayak race on your local lake may not be the best way to get there.  If your goal is to attract more young donors and volunteers, probably better.  (And… yes, my 70-year-old father is a great kayaker.  I know that I am generalizing.  You get my point.  Save your angry letters.)
  • Capture and converse:  this can be a place where events can seem great (and be great – but for a different end goal…)  Does your event enable you to capture information about participants and seek some out for conversation, to jumpstart a future relationship with the organization?  A giant craft festival that funnels all proceeds to the local youth development organization can be a huge money-maker, but not a win in the “Capture and Converse” column.  And what happens to that revenue if it rains?

Part Two:  Build on Assets

  • Plan for your events to be a “Point of Entry”.  So many scare themselves out of leveraging their events for leadership giving because “I don’t want to lose those events gifts next year.”  ALL MONEY IS GREEN.  OK, it would be great if they came back next year AND gave an additional gift to you.  And one of the things that your “in between” time relationship building is going to do is encourage them to get more deeply involved – perhaps as a volunteer? – in your event.  Beyond your own spreadsheet of goals, your program doesn’t care that their dollar were raised face-to-face, or through an event.
  • Steward them all the same.  Some of your event probably already have leadership donors giving to them – corporate sponsors, individuals who bought a table.  Treat them as a member of your leadership giving society; steward them accordingly.  Donors are much more likely to stick with you when you’ve treated them as a member of the club they already belong to (and may not have realized…)
  • Redeploy your board.  Using events to give birth to a leadership giving program is all about relationships – identifying the 10, 20, 50 attendees from your event who could become leadership donors in future.  That takes personal conversations – face-to-face.  And those take time.  If your board’s time and energy is spent on running registration and organizing the silent auction, choosing linens and working on AV, there is going to be very little time and energy left for relationship-building.  Build an event committee with some board representation, but send the clear message that you need your board doing what only boards can do:  Sending that powerful message – “I believe, I support, Please join me!

For more on building strong relationships through your events, check out our resource on “Hosting a Mission Infused Ask Event“.  Got a great event to donor story?  Share it on Facebook! (No donor names though, eh!)

Fundraisers Share Their Vision for 2014

It’s the beginning of the year and many of us are making our personal New Year’s Resolutions . My New Year’s Resolutions are being more consistent with exercising, reading more and enjoying more time with my family.  Many of us also have 2014 resolutions or a vision for the non-profits we serve. Here’s what fellow fundraisers had to say when asked the question: “What is your vision for your organization in 2014 and what will be your role in making it happen?”

    Laura Mannion                      

Laura Mannion, Director of Development, Franciscan Alliance  Foundation, Mishawaka, IN

My vision for the Foundation in 2014 is to increase our fundraising by 30% so that we can maintain and expand our programs in communities in Northwest  Indiana where the unemployment rate is higher than both the state average and the national average.

Increased philanthropy will enable the Foundation to impact the lives of the working poor throughout our region.  Changes in health care have already increased demand.  To achieve a 30% increase in philanthropic donations, we have recruited a board of community leaders who are passionate about our mission.  Each of our board members is hosting events at their homes or private clubs to help us build affinity for our mission programs amongst those with the capacity to impact our mission.  In addition to working with our board, we are leveraging the strength in numbers of our employee base by launching an employee giving program.  We are also expanding our work with family and corporate foundations.   Finally, we are initiating physician giving and a grateful patient program while marketing planned giving opportunities. Working this diversified plan will enable us to continue to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis in embracing a community in need.

 Tricia Pic 1 011013 (2)

Tricia Brosnahan, CFRE,  Major Gifts Officer, Detroit Zoological Society,
Royal Oaks, Michigan

My vision for 2014 is to continue to build the organizational culture of philanthropy as we work together to fully fund the largest and most dramatic capital project in DZS history, The Polk Family Conservation Center.

My role is facilitating communication between staff, board and donors!



Michelle S. Gollapalli, MBA, CFRE, CAP, Chief Development Officer, Bancroft,
Cherry Hill, New Jersey

My vision for Bancroft in 2014 is that we are able to raise awareness about the quality and range of the services we provide to children and adults with autism, brain injuries and intellectual and developmental disabilities and to tell our story in a powerful way that appeals to stakeholders who can really help move our mission, empowering the people we serve to maximize their potential.


Chad Hartman, Vice President of Development , Epilepsy Foundation,
Landover, Maryland

My vision for 2014 is that the Epilepsy Foundation will continue to have a keen focus on building a mission driven culture of philanthropy and serve as a national leader of best practices for all advancement activities.  We want a new organizational attitude, internally and externally, toward philanthropy and the development process.  The Foundation encourages every constituency to understand, embrace, believe in, and act on his or her collective and individual roles and responsibilities in philanthropy, stewardship and donor engagement in a collaborative and donor focused manner. 

I see my role as leading and supporting the organizational and department strategic and financial goals to expand public awareness, community services, education, and innovative research and new therapies for people living with epilepsy. 

We’ll revisit our fundraising friends six months from now to see where they are at in achieving their vision for 2014 and share their strategies for success. We’ll also ask various leaders and board members about their vision for 2014 as well.

In the meantime, check out our resources on building a culture of philanthropy and join us for our January 16 webinar on what you can do during the next six months to end the fiscal year strong.  Register now!