Finding The Best Board Retreat Facilitator – 9 Things To Look For

Tom IselinMarch 11, 2021

digital fundraising

Have you ever sat through a board retreat and spent more time watching the clock, daydreaming, and checking texts than listening to the facilitator?

Are your board members cringing at the thought of attending another retreat?

Did your last facilitator stand behind a lectern and drone on like a record playing in slow motion?

Were they unengaging?

Was the content dull and irrelevant?

Did the outcomes of the day grow stale and ultimately have little impact on your board?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it’s time to find a new board retreat facilitator. But how do you choose?

Your board members are some of your most valuable constituents. In this post, I’ll share the attributes to look for to choose the best board retreat facilitator to make it worth their time.

1. They have in-the-trenches experience.

Watch out! More than 80 percent of nonprofit board retreat facilitators have never run a nonprofit. I believe the best facilitators have started or run multiple nonprofits. They can empathize with where you are because they’ve been there. They know firsthand the hardships of engaging board members, raising money, and managing unruly board members. And they can provide key insights that prove invaluable because they can draw from the successes and perils of their in-the-trenches experience.

2. They have credibility.

If a facilitator does good work, people will happily sing their praises. The best facilitators will have dozens of written and video testimonials on their websites. They will have long lists of clients and references. They often have books, blogs, and podcasts. If you visit a prospective facilitator’s site and it looks like a messy kitchen and lists only a few testimonials, or worse yet, no testimonials, run!

3. They are impact-driven.

It’s fair to expect exceptional service and outcomes from a facilitator. And why not, you’re paying good money! You want to hire a facilitator who is as passionate about improving the quality of your board as you are. Look for someone with a record of going above and beyond, and exceeding expectations. In the end, your board should leave feeling inspired and unified. Most importantly, board members should leave feeling motivated to make the changes necessary that will take your board to the next level of performance and impact so your mission can soar!

4. They facilitate and engage with confidence.

We’ve all taken part in board retreats where the day was steamrolled by strong personalities, and it’s maddening. The best facilitators will confidently take you on a journey of exploration, education, discussion, and planning. Look for a facilitator who uses tactics to control hijackers, manage disputes, give everyone a voice, create buy-in, and build consensus. They will also have people up and moving around doing thoughtful, interactive exercises, usually in small groups to facilitate discussion and collaboration.

5. They make the day fun.

Tired of squirming through board retreats that fall short of your expectations? Boring retreats provide no value and waste everyone’s time. The best facilitators make their retreats fun and lively, and are quick-witted and funny themselves. They incorporate engaging team-building exercises and icebreakers to break up the day with some laughs and to build relationships.

6. They’re enthusiastic, inspirational, and an exceptional communicator.

No one wants to listen to a stoic facilitator pontificate behind a lectern reading lame PowerPoint slides. The best facilitators are professional, intentional, and practical, but that doesn’t mean they are dull. Look for a facilitator who is enthusiastic, high energy, motivational, a master storyteller, and uses retreat tactics to make the day fun, meaningful, and memorable.

7. They ask the right questions.

Anyone can ask canned questions that lead to canned responses. What distinguishes the best facilitators from average ones is knowing the right questions to ask at the right moment to yield outstanding results. They don’t follow a script. Ascertaining this is difficult when interviewing a facilitator, but you can glean insights from former clients, which is why you want to watch testimonial videos and call references. Facilitating a high-impact, memorable retreat is an art and the best facilitators are master artists.

8. They use a pre-retreat assessment process.

The best facilitators spend a lot of time collecting information before the retreat. They use online surveys, analyze metrics, review marketing collateral, assess board culture, and review key information about an organization. They do their homework. They will make calls to select board members and staff, and solicit feedback from stakeholders if required. If a facilitator lacks a pre-retreat process for collecting, analyzing, and presenting key information about the board and organization, move on to the next candidate.

9. They offer high-quality accountability and management tools.

Why spend a bunch of money on a retreat if the outcomes sit in a file and collect dust? The best board retreat facilitators provide an implementation plan and on-going support services. This includes an accountability process to ensure the people overseeing the execution of the outcomes get things done. Facilitators should also provide some type of management tool or dashboard to manage retreat outcomes and make sure it’s not some cheesy Word document that squishes all the action plans into a few columns.

What’s next?

There are hundreds of board retreat facilitators out there. If you’re in the hunt for one of the best, it would be a privilege to learn more about your board and organization, and the aspirations your board hopes to achieve as they work to propel your noble mission. Just send me an email to set up a meet-and-greet call.

About the Author
Tom Iselin has built eight nonprofits and written six books. He’s passionate about helping nonprofits of all sizes, and facilitates board retreats, strategic planning sessions, and offers executive coaching.

Schedule a live demo with our partner Bloomerang, and we’ll show you how easy it is to create and automate reports, utilize online and offline fundraising tools, quickly integrate and access all your data, and ultimately create more time to engage your donors.

Filed Under:   Communication