Planning Your Annual Summer Board Retreat
Vol. 14 No. 10
Your Board of Trustees experiences little “down time,” constantly dealing with challenging issues, from Head evaluation and donor cultivation to crisis management and policy setting. The Board can easily lose sight of its primary responsibility—to uphold the essential character and integrity of the school, and to ensure that your school remains viable to serve the children of today’s students. The annual summer Board retreat provides time for a devoted effort for planning.
To make your current process more effective, ask and answer the following nine key questions to guide your thinking.
1. What is the rationale for proposing an annual retreat?
What tasks are you unable or unlikely to carry out at your regular meetings? Which ones could you best address in the extended time frame offered by a retreat?
2. What time of year makes the most sense for an annual retreat?
The most common choices are early summer and early fall, whenever you can assure the best possible attendance. But there is no time of the year that cannot be planned successfully.
3. Which weekend times will be most productive?
Your goals are to maximize both attendance and Trustee energy levels. While the full-day Saturday session is the most popular, there is enthusiasm for the Friday evening and Saturday morning combination. With the latter, Trustees see that much of the weekend is still left open, yet the working time of the retreat is roughly the same as the one full-day arrangement. Discuss these options with your members and determine the best schedule.
4. Which individuals or committee(s) will be asked to organize the retreat?
The answer to this question largely depends on the rationale for the retreat and what you hope to do. For example, if Trustee orientation and integration is part of your purpose, your Committee on Trustees should assume the planning and organizing role. If setting the stage for a major gifts campaign or a capital campaign forms the core of the agenda, your Development Committee should probably take primary responsibility.
5. Where should the retreat be held?
The school may be the most convenient location—but it isn't always the best choice. A lodge outside your town or city, a conference room located at the office of a Board member or a public library, or even a Board member’s home can provide a more productive site. Moving away from the school, especially if you hold your regular Board meetings there, helps make the event “special” in participants’ minds.
6. Will you need a facilitator for all or part of the retreat?
Often the use of an outside person assists with the “special” mind-set so desirable for productive retreats. Apart from this, however, the basic question is whether facilitation can assist with achieving your goals for the retreat.
For example, a facilitator skilled in group process can assist the Board in moving toward its goals within your time frame, keeping the discussions on track and providing perspective and guidance. Another facilitator could help with presentations on the relevant topics—such as the basics of Board structure and function or perspective on profiling new Trustees.
7. What “homework” is required of Trustees in preparation for the retreat?
Materials that encourage thoughtful consideration of the Board's and school's future course should be provided to Trustees at least a week before the retreat. Depending on your goals, it might include reviewing the results of a parent satisfaction survey, a demographic analysis, an accreditation report, a financial analysis, or an independent assessment.
8. What follow-up for the retreat should be planned?
Be sure to give as much consideration to this element as you do the retreat itself. The next Board meeting should begin with a well-prepared review of the retreat process and of the decisions reached and plans developed. Then assign those decisions or plans to existing committees for brisk action or to one or more ad hoc committees formed specifically for those purposes.
9. How much should be budgeted for the retreat?
Establish a budget with a high-side estimate designed to cover any retreat you expect to hold in the future. That way, your annual budgets can always include a figure generous enough to support a successful Board retreat. If less is spent, those dollars will simply drop to your surplus at year’s end.
A well-planned and well-executed annual Board retreat serves as a key ingredient to strengthen the focus and quality of your Board’s overall function and effectiveness. The eventual beneficiaries of your heightened Board-level focus are the students who experience the strengthened programs and facilities that result.
Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Trustees Vol. 10 No. 10 The Annual Summer Board Retreat
Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 32 No. 14 Continuous Planning: Its Relevance to Private-Independent Schools