The Importance of a Nonprofit Staff Retreat
I am proud to say that I have a hard working 15-person staff. These individuals are made up of various ages and experiences, and they are focused on the mission of the organization. I have several staff members with long tenure. I am happy to report the turnover rate throughout my six-year stint as executive director has been low. In fact, one individual resigned, reconsidered and rescinded her resignation. I have tried to build a culture of respect, professionalism and dedication that focuses on teamwork. While no organization is perfect, I feel my organization seeks to support our employees to the best of our ability. That idea certainly goes into my concept of a nonprofit staff retreat.
We recently held a day-long staff retreat that was in effect, part two of an earlier day-long meeting with my staff. At the first day-long meeting, the purpose of the activity was for each staff member to review where they were in respect to their fiscal year goals, how they planned to reach their fiscal year goals and submission of their operational plan for the next fiscal year. Because of the intense nature of this day, I decided that the staff retreat part two would be totally different in tone and practice.
I retained a facilitator for staff retreat part two. There was a theme to the day. I asked staff to dress casually and secured an off-site location. We spent the morning team building, learning about each other, having everyone participate in activities, plus receiving information on nonprofit development trends. I made a brief presentation to the staff after an opening theme video on flying geese that provided my thoughts and vision for the organizational future of the development department through their collective efforts. At noon, we went to play duckpin bowling and have lunch at another facility. Following bowling, I gave the staff the rest of the day off to relax. After this activity, I wondered if our staff retreat represented typical staff retreat protocol.
According to Whole Whale, a staff retreat is a perfect opportunity to take a step back from day-to-day work and spend some time thinking about the bigger picture. Everyone needs to buy in and make your staff retreat really count. Her tips included having everyone lead a session, active participation is key, plan an “ask me anything” with your CEO or executive director, have a theme, schedule in free time, go off-site if possible and use your time responsibly. At the end of the staff retreat there should be a renewed sense of energy and commitment to the mission of the organization.
According to Joan Garry Consulting, nonprofit staff retreats are important. You should plan them with intention and creativity and engage the staff in the design. Garry received some of the following ideas and suggestions from her online membership site of the Nonprofit Leadership Lab. Her 10 creative staff retreat ideas are inclusion of a foolproof icebreaker you cannot call an icebreaker, the soundtrack of our lives, word clouds in frames that value the organization, magical moments of something done well, out with the old that is holding you back, cooking, escape room exercise, replicate virtual communication between teams and the story and origin behind your name.
Beth Kanter focuses on the ETR Distributive Learning Process, which is a research-based approach for designing and delivering skill-building training. She emphasized that when having staff retreats be intentional about intent—what do you want learners to achieve; set the stage through priming—pre-assessment and pre-work; seek to transfer learning through an inclusive learner-focused environment; and focus on implementation by helping learners apply the information learned. It is important for any staff retreat to be memorable, so don’t forget the fun!
According to the Indiana Society of Association Executives blog, staff retreat planners to think about including the following ideas in their next staff retreat:
- Ask every staff member to list their favorite song
- Create a staff retreat photo album
- Establish a retreat hashtag to share on social media
- Find out what you really know about each other
- Have the staff read the same book and discuss it
- Plan a community service project
- Ask each person to describe their greatest fiscal year success
- Survey staff members and share their talents with the group
- Look at a situation through a cross-functional panel
- Set up an “ask me anything” session.
When looking at various staff retreat ideas and practices, I feel our staff retreat met many of the ideas shared by various contributors to this topic. The goal of a staff retreat should be to have staff members feel comfortable and relaxed about the retreat and be ready to participate by sharing themselves. Early feedback from our staff retreat was positive.
I asked for staff input in the design of the retreat and will soon have a staff meeting to critique this retreat. My hope is to have a staff retreat on an annual basis, led by an outside facilitator and staff. A staff retreat is important to the mental health of your staff and yourself. Through this process, you will be surprised at what you learn about your staff and yourself!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, IN plus Adjunct Professor for Olivet Nazarene University. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.