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Hiring the Best Board Retreat Facilitators: Are They Worth the Money?

Updated: Apr 25

black woman at Tom Iselin's best board retreat facilitator event - facilitation

Hiring the Best Board Retreat Facilitators: Are They Worth the Money?

Yes! More often than not, you get what you pay for when hiring a board retreat facilitator. We’ve all sat through exhausting retreats that drag on and on, listening to a boring, monotone, and uninformed facilitator, who’s content is dull and irrelevant. We stare at the clock, watching the minutes crawl by as we did in grade school, itching to get away from the teacher and out on the playground for recess.

If you’re in the process of hosting a board retreat, now is not the time to be penny wise and dollar foolish. It’s time to be thinking of making a quality investment in a facilitator, not a wasted expense. An inspiring and experienced facilitator can propel a board to the next level of engagement, performance, impact, fundraising, governance, diversity, and much more. They can get members motivated to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities, and make authentic commitments to rolling up their sleeves to do the work required to fulfill the obligations they signed up to do . . . and to have some fun in the process!

Where do you find the best board retreat facilitators?

Ok, you want to bring on a top dog, but where do you find one? The best method of finding an outstanding, knock-your-socks-off facilitator is word-of-mouth. Bigger organizations with larger budgets can afford to hire the better facilitators so try to get a referral from one these organizations. You can also ask peers at respected organizations around town, or around the country. And remember, consider hiring someone from outside your region, even outside your state lines. Some of the best retreat facilitators may live a state or two away, or across the country, and not charge any more than a facilitator ten miles away.

Watch out for hucksters!

There is no shortage of facilitators and trainers on the Web. But watch out for hucksters lurking to rip you off! There are hundreds of self-proclaiming “facilitators” out there who have never run a nonprofit. And there are hundreds more whose credentials are nothing more than an online course they took for $500. These are the worst! They have no idea what they are doing. When asked one tough question, they cower. These hucksters will leave you feeling disappointed and scammed. Advice: Hire wisely and vet thoroughly.

How much can you expect to pay for the best retreat facilitators?

The best board retreat facilitators scale their fees. They know a small organization with a budget of $300,000 doesn’t have the same amount of funds available for a facilitator as an organization with a budget of $3,000,000. They typically scale their fees on budget size, number of people attending, amount time, type of retreat offered, whether or not travel expenses are included, and other services provided.

In general, for a full-day retreat, based on the following budget sizes, here’s what you can expect to pay:

Under $500,000: $4,500 to $7,000

Between $500,000 and $2,500,000 $6,500 to $8,500

Between $2,500,000 and $6,000,000 $7,500 to $10,000

Over $6,000,000 $9,000 to $13,000

What follows is a checklist of attributes you can use when scouting for the “best” board retreat facilitator.

1. In-the-Trenches Experience

Watch out! More than 80 percent of nonprofit board retreat facilitators have never run a nonprofit. The best facilitators have started or run multiple nonprofits. They can empathize with where you are because they’ve been where you are. They know firsthand the hardships of engaging board members, raising money, and managing unruly board members. And they can provide key insights that prove invaluable because they can draw from the successes and perils of their in-the-trenches experience.

2. Credibility

If a facilitator does good work, people will happily sing their praises. The best board retreat facilitators have dozens of written and video testimonials on their websites. They will have long lists of clients and references. They often have books, blogs, and podcasts. If you visit a prospective facilitator’s site and it looks like a messy kitchen and lists only a few testimonials, or worse yet, no testimonials . . . run!

3. Impact-Driven

It’s fair to expect exceptional service and outcomes from a facilitator. And why not . . . you’re paying good money! You want to hire a facilitator who is as passionate about improving the quality of your board as you are. Look for someone with a record of going above and beyond, and exceeding expectations. In the end, your board should leave feeling inspired and unified. Most importantly, board members should leave feeling motivated to make the changes necessary that will take your board to the next level of performance and impact so your mission can soar!

4. Facilitates and Engages with Confidence

We’ve all taken part in board retreats where the day was steamrolled by strong personalities, and it’s maddening. The best facilitators will confidently take you on a journey of exploration, education, discussion, and planning. Look for a facilitator who uses tactics to control hijackers, manage disputes, give everyone a voice, create buy-in, and build consensus. They will also have people up and moving around doing thoughtful, interactive exercises, usually in small groups to facilitate discussion and collaboration.

5. Makes the Day Fun!

Tired of squirming through board retreats that fall short of your expectations? Boring retreats provide no value and waste everyone’s time. The best facilitators make their retreats fun and lively, and are quick witted and funny themselves. They incorporate engaging team-building exercises and icebreakers to break up the day with some laughs and to build relationships.

6. Enthusiastic, Inspirational, and Exceptional Communicator

No one wants to listen to a stoic facilitator pontificate behind a lectern reading lame PowerPoint slides. Yuck! The best facilitators are professional, intentional, and practical, but that doesn’t mean they are dull. Look for a facilitator who is enthusiastic, high-energy, motivational, a master storyteller, and uses retreat tactics to make the day fun, meaningful, and memorable.

7. Asks the Right Questions

Anyone can ask canned questions that lead to canned responses. What distinguishes the best facilitators from average ones is knowing the right questions to ask at the right moment to yield outstanding results. They don’t a follow a script. Ascertaining this is difficult when interviewing a facilitator, but you can glean insights from former clients, which is why you want to watch testimonial videos and call references. Facilitating a high-impact, memorable retreat is an art and the best facilitators are master artists.

8. Uses a Pre-Retreat Assessment Process

The best facilitators spend a lot time collecting information before the retreat. They use online surveys, analyze metrics, review marketing collateral, assess board culture, and review key information about an organization. They do their homework. They will make calls to select board members and staff, and solicit feedback from stakeholders if required. If a facilitator lacks a pre-retreat process for collecting, analyzing, and presenting key information about the board and organization, move on to the next candidate.

9. Offers High-Quality Accountability and Management Tools

Why spend a bunch of money on a retreat if the outcomes sit in a file and collect dust? The best board retreat facilitators provide a post-retreat implementation process, and they provide on-going support services. This includes an accountability process to ensure the people overseeing the execution of the outcomes get things done. Facilitators should also provide some type of management tool (dashboard) to manage retreat outcomes . . . and make sure it’s not some cheesy Word document that squishes all the actions plans into a few columns.

Hiring the Best Board Retreat Facilitators: Are They Worth the Money?

To learn more, visit:


Tom Iselin

“Rated one of America’s 10 Best Retreat Facilitators”

Tom Iselin is “Rated One America’s 10 Best Retreat Facilitators.” He’s built four sector-leading nonprofits and four foundations. He’s written six books, sits on six boards, and hosts a video blog and podcast. Each year, Tom speaks to more than 5,000 nonprofit leaders at conferences across the country. He is considered a leading authority on high-performance nonprofits, and his impact on the industry has been featured on CNN, Nightline, and in Newsweek. Tom is the president of First Things First, a business specializing in board retreats, strategic planning, fundraising, and executive coaching. To relax, he loves mountain biking, hiking, skiing, tennis, and baking.

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