general newsletter

A Board Retreat NOW!? YES! – Sector Leadership Spot

May 18, 2020

By Susan Danish, National Human Services Assembly Board, Immediate Past Chair

First and foremost, my thoughts are with all of you who have been impacted personally by COVID-19. And my admiration goes to the human service sector – staff, board members and volunteers for the important work being done right now – often in ways that have changed overnight how we deliver our missions. In a number of states, we are now addressing what reopening aspects of daily life means for our work near term, and in other states we continue to address the impact of continued closing.

With so much going on internally and externally, is now the time for a board retreat? For me, the answer is “yes!” I’ve seen firsthand how successful one can be, based on a retreat that the National Assembly board held several weeks ago. (And full disclosure – I was simply a participant, not a planner.) The pandemic has brought to the fore a range of strategic questions: “What does the organization need to address right now?” “How do we plan for the ‘day after the crisis?’” “Where do we want to be for the long term – what do we hold dear, and what do we need to reconsider?” By now many of us have planned or participated in board meetings via Zoom or another platform. The temptation is to focus on the short term questions. But boards are charged with addressing the strategic direction of the organization and that means looking farther out. That takes time and focus.

Here are three straightforward considerations in planning a board retreat now based on NHSA’s own retreat:

  1. Hiring a consultant / facilitator who knows the organization ensures that time is used well. While someone less familiar with the organization might bring “new ideas,” a consultant who knows your organization can work quickly and effectively with the board and staff members planning the retreat – and will still ensure that new ideas surface.
  2. Conquering technology is critical for the success of the retreat. Some board and staff members are digital natives and others are truly averse. Whatever platform you use (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, …) it is important that members be present, and present visually. Advance planning is the key. One board I sit on had been having board calls every two weeks to keep abreast of changing situations. We moved from board phone calls to Zoom meetings over the past several weeks to bring everyone up to speed before a recently-held, and highly successful, May board meeting. During the NHSA retreat we used the various Zoom tools, such as breakout rooms, to keep things productive and engaging.
  3. Passion for the organization, its mission, vision and values, on the part of board members and senior staff leadership makes obstacles “disappear.” Careful, thoughtful planning can create a meaningful retreat. A full day (or more) virtual meeting may not be easy for everyone, but the stakes are high.
Susan Danish is the Immediate Past Chair of the National Human Services Assembly Board. She is the recently retired CEO/Executive Director of The Association of Junior Leagues International.