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The Importance of Ritual in Board Retreats

This afternoon, my husband and I executed our wills. Since I had made my intentions clear in discussions in advance of today’s meeting, and my husband (a law professor) and our attorney prepared the documents carefully, I glanced at my will and asked where to sign. The both looked at each other and then at me, and said simultaneously, “But there is a signing ritual.” They then explained to me that the law requires a specific ritual to ensure that people regard and recognize the importance of the decisions they are making.

I walked home thinking about the ways in which I use the same concept of ritual in conducting nonprofit board retreats. For example, I always open by asking a board member to read the organization’s mission statement; I refer to it as the “opening prayer.” Because for nonprofits, the mission guides all decision-making; it is True North. And I always end retreats with a plan for Next Steps. And in between, I take the board through a protocol for the board to create a plan to become clearer in its role and stronger in its composition and effectiveness.

Just like with my experience with the will, I work closely with the nonprofit’s CEO and board members extensively prior to the board retreat, so that we have a good idea of where we will be going in the retreat. But the retreat is a more sacred occasion where we have a ritual experience to decide together how the board will proceed to advance itself. And we end with an agreement on a plan.AK