Budget matters - and the board retreats! | npENGAGE

Budget matters and the Board Retreats!

By on Apr 23, 2013


Board of Directors

In my co-worker and friend’s recent blog, she spoke eloquently about the importance of putting together a nonprofit budget that meets your mission.  She gives excellent advice on how to keep notes through the year to make sure that your budget is meeting the goals and the nonprofit’s expectations.

So I don’t need to remind you.

Setting the annual organizational budget can be a tedious task, yet it is the most critical.  Everything should stem from that money in, money out document.  Too often, this budget is done before the annual retreat and before you have revised your strategic plan for the year.

So don’t do that!

Retreat is such a funny word.  We want our boards to be engaged and helpful – not running for their lives.   Be that as it may, the annual nonprofit board retreat is a critical time to come together as a board and re-focus, revive, re-energize, and relax knowing that they are doing the very best thing for their community.

Do the right thing, right from the start

Author and consultant, Tom Iselin stresses developing a culture of authentic passion for your nonprofit where everything flows from that principle – your programs, your budget, your fundraising.  More often than not, board retreats focus on S.W.O.T. analysis, fundraising program discussions and a lot of complaining about why we can’t get anything done.  I would challenge you to first take a look at your culture.  Do your board members really WANT to be there?  Do they genuinely still believe in your nonprofit?  Or are they just filling seats?

Before this year’s retreat, ask some hard questions.  I am a big believer in hiring a consultant or a facilitator to interview each board member prior to the retreat.   This person can ask some questions that staff or peers really can’t – well, can’t get a good answer at least!

  • Why are you here?
  • What do you see as the most pressing problems in our community?
  • How do you see our nonprofit solving them?

The purpose of these pre-interviews is to align the collective passion.  Get everyone focused on why your nonprofit exists and get them to commit to being part of the solution.  If they don’t, there is always someone else who will need them.


Effective board retreats – Top retreats take planning.  You need to make sure that the key stakeholders have really identified the three to five challenges that must be met in the coming year.  You should take the time to look at what other nonprofits are doing in your community.  What do you do better or different?  One the most effective board retreats is the Drucker Method by noted business guru, Peter Drucker.  He does several short board-focused sessions on five key questions:

  • What is our mission?
  • Who is our customer?
  • What does our customer value?
  • What are our results?
  • What is our plan?

This type of approach keeps any nonprofit from focusing too much inward and more on the community that they serve.

Now the money

And finally, how will you pay for it?  One of the key points that Mr. Drucker makes is that in order to do new things, quite often we must be able to abandon those things that no longer work.  If your gala no longer makes money, don’t do it anymore.  If one of your programs is extremely difficult to manage and someone else can do it, then let them.

Do what you can.  Do it right.  Do it with passion.  And make sure you have the money to pay for it.


Debbi Stanley is manager of the Blackbaud client success team. As certified fundraising executive, Debbi has raised more than $15 million for nonprofit agencies and is a recognized expert in strategic, succession and resource development planning. During her nonprofit career, she served in many positions including development director for health and human services agencies and she was a successful consultant teaching nonprofits approaches to organizational development that properly leverage resources for project sustainability. Her expertise in situational leadership and her knowledge of funding strategies has helped hundreds of nonprofits do more for their communities. An avid fan, Debbi is blessed to have two sons who are great athletes at both forms of football – the American and the International version.

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