In 2013 and 2014, the Board had in-person meetings in North America, and there will be another this October. What is your opinion on Board retreats and their outcomes so far?
As a participant in the previous two annual meetings, in my opinion they were eminently worthwhile. Board retreats/annual meetings are a recognized best practice of non-profit organizations in general for the same reason that they have been very valuable for the OTW, and will continue to be: they allow directors and other key personnel the chance to work together in one location on specific issues facing the organization for a concentrated chunk of time and are an invaluable chance to build interpersonal relationships. That last aspect is particularly relevant to the OTW, which conducts most of its business digitally. For example, I would estimate conservatively that the 2014 retreat condensed at least three months of work at the regular organizational pace into just three days, on top of the opportunity for directors and staffers to connect with each other face-to-face. It was intense, but it was well worth it, and I think the outcomes of both the meetings were very positive for the OTW as a whole.
How would you as a Board member, go about choosing who and what committees are invited to the annual retreat?
We have chosen which committees to invite based on the topic of the annual meeting itself and have given committees discretion about which staff members to send based on their inclination/availability, although we have generally requested that they send at least one chair or co-chair due to their experience. This general method has worked well so far, and I would predict that we’ll continue to use it.
Last year the board’s in person meeting cost $18,355.21, 17% amount of the OTW’s total expenses. Do you have any ideas how to do this meeting a more cost effective way going forward?
The 2014 retreat was extremely cost-effective, particularly given the fact that 17 people attended it. 17% of the annual budget sounds like a lot, but particularly given the topic of the 2014 retreat (strategic planning for the entire organization) and the fact that the retreat brought the relevant stakeholders together in one room at one time in a way that would have been impossible over the internet, it was well worth it. Since the OTW at the time had (and still has) significant cash reserves, the cost of the 2014 retreat was not any kind of financial risk to the organization. (It’s also a reasonable assumption that the share of the budget devoted to the retreat will decrease over time as our overall operating budget grows.) That said, I sympathize with and share the desire to keep costs down, which is only responsible. That’s why the Board reviews potential locations and the budget, proposed venues, and logistical arrangements for each of the retreats in order to make sure that the costs for each item are reasonable, and we will continue to do so. (One of the reasons we chose to hold the 2015 retreat in Vancouver, Canada was the current favorable exchange rate with the U.S. dollar, which is the OTW’s operating currency; we effectively received a significant discount on all our at-retreat costs.) Do we as directors have a responsibility not to spend the organization’s money frivolously? Yes, absolutely. Is the annual retreat a frivolous expense? No, absolutely not.