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VOL. 132 | NO. 141 | Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Pearl and Mel Shaw

Take Time to Retreat

By Mel and Pearl Shaw

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Summer is often associated with beaches, family vacations, hot sun and good fun. For those in the nonprofit sector, summer is also the season for retreats. These are times set aside to focus on programming, strategy, growth, partnerships and – many times – fundraising.

While we believe in keeping the “fun” in fundraising – and all other activities – these retreats need to blend fun and business. With this column we share a few suggestions for how to help ensure both staff and board members are well prepared for retreats.


If you are charged with helping to plan a retreat, we suggest you provide all participants with information in advance of the retreat. While not everyone will read and absorb the material, some people truly need to receive information in advance. They don’t respond in the moment – they need time to contemplate what is being asked of them in order to participate.

There are others who don’t appreciate surprises; if they are giving their time to a retreat they want to know what is being asked of them. Sending retreat material in advance to all members helps to ensure full participation.

Create an agenda that includes opportunities for participants to interact and provide input. When the focus is fundraising, make sure you clearly communicate fundraising goals and priorities, including how much needs to be raised for each priority. Share the tools available to support fundraising and provide guidance on how to use these. Update participants on the processes to measure and evaluate progress towards goals. Include time for small group activities such as creating a timeline and activity chart to guide the work of staff and board.


When you are a retreat participant you want to stay aware of what is being asked of you before, during and after the retreat. The following are a few items you want to track:

1. Do you understand the goals and mission set forth by the CEO?

2. Are you clear on ways in which you can become engaged?

3. Do you know what is asked of you and by when?

4. Is there commitment and buy-in from your fellow board members?

5. What support you can expect to receive from fellow board members and staff?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. These can include:

1. What are the challenges we face? How can we overcome these?

2. What are we selling in the philanthropic marketplace for the upcoming year?

3. What has been the track record and success of the organization to date?

4. How will we be informed throughout the process?

5. Is there a written plan that has had input from board staff and key stakeholders?

6. What is the Plan B and Plan C if Plan A falters?

Retreats – or “advances” as some now refer to these gatherings – can be most productive. Advance planning and full engagement by all participants are prerequisites. Our guidance: prepare, participate and then get to work!

Mel and Pearl Shaw, owners of fundraising consultancy firm Saad&Shaw, can be reached at 901-522-8727 or saadandshaw.com.

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