Board Cafe: Where to Have a Board Retreat

Board Cafe

Where to Have a Board Retreat

by Jan Masaoka

A good retreat site can create a relaxed atmosphere that loosens up relationships, helps equalize feelings of status, allows the time for people to think through possibilities, and brings out the best in the group's imaginative, creative thinkers (who may not be at their best in two-hour meetings.) Retreats or special meetings can help boards refocus on the mission and vision of the organization, conduct a board self-assessment, and promote personal ties among board members. Working in a different meeting space can provide the relaxing and fun atmosphere that encourages group interaction.

Whether you convene around the board chair's family room or at a rented lake house, make sure to plan your retreat for a location that offers not only appropriate meeting spaces, but also social and recreational opportunities. Here are some ideas to consider:


  • Community centers, libraries, nature centers. Spaces that are open to the public on a daily basis may be available at low or no cost for meetings. As a lunch break, arrange for a tour, a game, a walk, or some other activity that will provide an opportunity to relax and shift focus from the work.
  • Civic organizations. Groups like the Lions or Rotary may have meeting spaces available for free or a small fee.
  • Churches or spiritual retreat centers. Boards of faith-based organizations may already have connections with such resources, but many churches or spiritual centers welcome any community group wishing to engage in thoughtful work.
  • A board member's house or apartment. This option is familiar to us all, but when you need a location on short notice and cost is paramount, this can be the way to go if a member is willing to share a home for the day.
  • Corporate boardrooms and retreat centers. Corporate supporters and board members who are corporate executives may be able to provide their bank or corporate meeting room. They are also likely to be familiar with a variety of meeting facilities and may be able to help the organization negotiate favorable costs - or even to underwrite some or all of the costs.


Campgrounds and lodges at state or national parks. Particularly for overnight retreats, the park systems offer a variety of accommodations in beautiful settings at a reasonable price -- the most rustic can be perfect for groups with an interest in the outdoors or when Outward Bound-style adventures are planned. Early reservations (often a year in advance) may be required.


On the bus. A foundation's board of directors took a bus tour to visit some of the organizations they had funded. Board members donned jeans and hard hats to get a first-hand view of the new buildings and creative programs which they had funded but never seen. Between visits and a box lunch, a facilitator led the group in discussions. By bringing the board closer to their grantees' work, on the second day of the retreat board members were able to make stronger decisions about future directions.

Original publication date:  08/01/1999

© 1999 CompassPoint Nonprofit Services/National Center for Nonprofit Boards