Learn How to Take a Virtual Retreat With NFP Partner’s Makalah Emanuel

Social distancing feels anything but social and has made it hard for a lot of businesses and nonprofits to connect with their staff. 

The pandemic has shown us the power of going digital but it also has people overworked and burnt out. Makalah Emanuel saw the power a retreat had on her staff in 2019 and knew that she had to work against the pandemic to make it happen in 2020. Her team at NFP Partners had a virtual retreat and she shares with us how she did it. 

Makalah is the Marketing Specialist and coordinator for their retreat and found that with some love, time and the help of Zoom she could make it work even better than expected. Makalah shares how
  • A virtual retreat impacted her team’s morale and brought them together
  • The technical challenges and tools that come with planning a virtual retreat
  • How she created custom care packages and delivered them to staff to pull the experience offline

Official Transcript

Learn how today's guest Makahlah planned a virtual retreat to boost her organization's morale.

Hello and welcome to Driven's Fundraising Superheroes podcast I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente, and here are Driven. We're determined to deliver the latest in non-profit news and technology. As a non-profit software solution. We are here to help you unlock the true power of your data, save hours in admin and raise more funds. We would love to talk to you about your fundraising goals so reach out to us at trustdriven.com.

 The last few months have been incredibly stressful. In March, we had to learn how to adapt in a virtual environment and for some of us, we still haven't returned to the office.

I don't know about you, but as a social person, this has really taken a toll on me. Some of the best parts of working in an office is getting to talk with your coworkers, bounce ideas off each other and just participate in office culture. I know with covid right now that has become really hard, but luckily there is some stuff you can do about it. McCaleb And you will recognize that her team did it pick me up and a few months ago had a virtual retreat to bring the staff at NFP Partners together.

McKeyla is the marketing manager at NFP Partners and is here to discuss how she put together their retreat and kept morale high in their virtual office despite the pandemic. I'm very excited to have her on the show again. Thank you, Makalah, for joining us.

Thanks. I'm super excited to be here and chat some more.

So most people are really missing out on the office right now, even though we're all connected virtually. There are still a lot of employees out there that feel alone. I think a virtual retreat is a great way to bring people together while keeping that safe distance. So can you explain to our listeners what your retreat looks like? Would you guys do?

Yeah, we felt the same, we had an in-person retreat in 2019 that was a really big hit and was great at kind of bringing our team back together and refocusing on why we do the work we do.

And we wanted to keep that momentum going even in 2020, but of course with a little bit of a twist. And so we came up with this idea for a virtual retreat. We ended up doing something a little different than we did the year before. But before it was a couple of days, there were four days we were all together. We were able to do volunteer events. We had presentations. We had lunch together with 2020. That not being the case, we pivoted to three days, but instead of full days, we had them three hours each day.

So we had three hours in the morning on three separate days. Then we kind of just spaced out what we wanted to do and we wanted to get done in those three different hour marks. It was really fun to be able to take a break from the retreat and still get some work done but also come back to it the next day. We really emphasize team building. Even though we weren't in the office or all together, we really wanted to keep that component of team building and getting to know one another and then just having things be fun and light.

And so each day we had a team-building activity that we did. We played a bunch of different virtual games.

We were able to also just have breakout rooms in Zoom where we were able to kind of just get to know one another on a deeper level before diving into some of the nitty gritty of what we want to get done and achieve the following year as a business.

Yeah, that's a great idea. Just taking those few minutes to get to know the people you work with on a personal level can make a huge difference in the workplace. One thing that our team did this year was we played Among Us. I don't know if you heard about the game online and it was just so nice to be able to sit with the people because we have a lot of employees all over Canada and we also have some employees in India. So it was really nice for us to kind of get to know each other, some of us who are in different departments and don't really get to interact.

So I think that you know, a virtual retreat is a great option for people right now, especially because we don't really know where the pandemic is going to end. Right.

And what we did is we also included boxes. And so everyone got some kind of, like, retreat box during the retreat. And in the box, we had different swag items for them to still enjoy. But we also had items that were very personalized to them. We sent the parents of our group books for their children and stickers. We sent everyone funny Halloween glasses and so we can take a group photo on Zoom in our Halloween glasses.

We had dog treats for our dog moms. And so it was we were still able to have that virtual I mean, have that team-building perspective, but also being able to allow folks the opportunity to still feel a part of the team in a way that wasn't just in the Zoom form.

Oh, totally.

It sounds like you put a lot of effort into creating a personal experience for all the employees. How long did it take you to put this retreat together? And what kind of tools did you use? Like what did it take to kind of get this retreat done?

Yeah, it took us, I'd say, about two and a half months to really go down and get it all said and done with, I was meeting with our director of operations, Michelle Lee, and our leadership team with Laura Jorstad and Stephanie Underwood on a regular basis, just to make sure that the direction that our agenda was going was the direction that was going to be most conducive for folks time away from work. We wanted to make sure that if we were going to take these hours outside of catering to our clients, that they were going to be good for the team and also good for what's to come.

And so we spent two and a half months meeting regularly trying to interview with different consultants. We had a consultant come in on our third day to help with a workshop to help us think about our work style continuum and how we can work better as a group.

And yeah, meeting once a week every week until all of the details were finalized. We started with our agenda then from that broke it down into kind of our story. We started with our objectives and then that broke it down into an agenda for our objectives. Here's what we want to accomplish in day one, day two, day three. Then from that, digging down a little bit more narrow and asking our team, what do you all want to see?

What would be fun for you all to hear about or what activities which you all like to engage in and then sprinkling those into the retreat and finalizing our agenda in the format of hour one, hour two. Hour three, then day two day one hour, or day two day three, hour one or two or three on each day. And so that's kind of how we were able to map it out in our heads and then execute.

That's great.

Why was it important for you to hold this event? I know that we talked about people feeling alone right now, but I'm sure that building a sense of community in any business or nonprofit is so important. What benefits did you see after holding the virtual event?

Yeah, like I mentioned in 2019, we had a really strong virtual retreat, it was our first retreat as a team and the amount of just motivation and collaboration that we sensed as a team after that retreat was so inspiring to us. I think we in some ways, some folks are really looking forward to the next year, like, oh, we can't wait until, you know, the next retreat. This is so awesome. And so when 2020 hit and all the challenges that came with 2020, we were kind of put in a position, I think similar to a lot of non-profits of do we do something virtual or do we just let folks have the time back to take care of themselves, to do what they need.

And it boiled down to that wanting to support the team, wanting to be the team's partners, even through a crazy year. And the best way we thought to be able to do that was with the retreat similar to what we did in 2019 instead of in person, we would still offer that support and still let folks know that we appreciate their work. And we are excited for what's coming down in our line of work in the next year and one wanting our team to feel appreciated and feel heard, but also get a chance to get to know all the other folks we work with.

NFP is unique in the sense that we were primarily virtual before the pandemic hit.

And so once the epidemic hit, we did not have that much of a shift from being virtual to being remote. It was all the same for us. I think what was different, though, is having kids at home and having school or still trying to do our work with clients who aren't used to being virtual, aren't used to being remote, and how do we help and support them when they can't get in the office to go to the filing cabinet and find receipts?

Or they can't use their computers in their office with the same software, how can we still support them? And so it was a lot of adjustments in that way. And we figured that a retreat might be the best way to kind of put a bow on it and let folks know that even despite it all, we still appreciate them and the hard work and are looking forward to the next year.

It's fantastic. Yeah, we were also a remote office. So when the pandemic hit, it was kind of the same scenario. I found that in my personal life I was helping my family members get adjusted to working online. And I know that my colleagues worked really closely with our clients as well to get some of their fundraisers up and running virtually. So it's amazing that you extended that helping hand to your clients as well as your colleagues.

Yeah, it was a I think a lot of a lot of shifting.

A lot of maybe this will work. OK, we're going to help in this way. OK, now our team like how do we encourage folks to take care of themselves? How do we also support the work? How do we also take care of ourselves? And so, yeah, it was it was a lot of shifting and like you said, it's shifting even if you're virtual before the pandemic. If you plan on being virtual after the pandemic, there's still a lot of pivoting to do.

Oh, definitely. Since we've been online for so long now, there's a lot of people out there who are experiencing virtual burnout from all the time they are spending online. Did you find this within your organization? I know virtual events are a great way to bring people together, and I think that setting those personal care packages was a beautiful touch. But do you feel like virtual social events still are a positive thing, helping to bring people together, even though, you know, everything's online and some people are feeling burnt out?

Yeah, I think it is.

I think that we were really worried about that, the burnout. And that's why we decided to instead of having four full days of retreats, kind of break it out into separate days so folks don't have to be online all day. And also wanting to be conscious of folks' burnout. We decided to send in their boxes like table toys. And so if they were feeling overwhelmed or zoning out, they can play with their table toys to kind of reenergize themselves or to find something to help stimulate their brain some more.

We sent little Rubix cubes or some little like sticky hands and some things like that, just some noisemakers so that folks, if they were feeling that burn out, they can they had something tangible that that can help them stay engaged or help them kind of get the juices back. And I think that in this time, while a lot of folks have been in so many calls, so many remote calls, being able to find fun and unique and creative ways to offer the content or to do the work that you need to do in a way that is still remote but is still ever-changing.

And the difference, I think is the biggest piece of what we took out of our retreat is a lot of folks really enjoyed the breakout rooms. We are a team of accountants. So a lot of folks enjoy being able to talk in smaller groups instead of having a larger group activity. And so that that was one way. Once we learned that, then how can we kind of thread that through meetings from here moving forward? How can we have smaller conversations that folks are enjoying even though it's on another?

Or how can we thread that through? Folks really enjoyed the grounding and setting up the framing around team building. And so how can we start our calls with a fun and interesting fact about ourselves, our fun story that we can tell or different ways to kind of connect the dots between team members? Once we start to do that, then we're noticing folks aren't feeling that that burnout. You're on another Zoome call, but you're not in agonizing pain on another subject.

So it's a little bit more fun and manageable in that way. Oh, totally.

And I think that allowing for those breakout sessions is a great way to kind of ad agency back into the digital workspace because if you think about like a typical office, people can go for coffee breaks and they can just call in their colleagues whenever they can walk up to another person's desk and have a chat. So I think that was a great idea to allow people to choose where they want to go. And then adding that addition of like the table toys and going back to the personal care packages is a great way to kind of bring that virtual experience into the physical world.

And it's also nice like it's a nice little reminder that people at your work are thinking about you.

Yeah, yeah. I think all of that is 100 percent true. Another thing is leading from within. I think that for me, especially if I was planning it all, I need to think of the best ideas ever. And they need to be so cool and so fun and so great. And then when I took a step back and just asked the team, like, what do you all want to see? What would be fun for you? All those ideas were so much better than I think I could have ever imagined.

We had a Q and A on our team with some of the most veteran folks being the folks answering questions and then the rest of the team just being able to pick their brains about it.

Different things are being able to pick their brain about different things, and that was so enjoyable not only for me as a planner, to be able to sit back and be like, oh, yeah, here's an idea that I don't have to put a ton of work into or try to think of how it's going to work. It is an easy, fun and engaging task that they enjoyed that I can enjoy and would have come if I didn't ask from within.

And so I think that that is another tip that I'm telling folks is it's not always on you. It doesn't always have to flow from one point. It can touch multiple different areas and still be really great.

Oh, exactly. I think one of the conversations I've had a lot over the last few weeks is the ability for some people to just let go, especially in a leadership role. It's really hard to make concrete decisions right now because we don't know what's going on with everything. Yeah, everything feels like it's changing. And again, like going back to the pandemic. This is the first time, I think, in anyone's life that they're experiencing something like this.

So even something as fun as a retreat can be a great community opportunity in itself, in the planning, you know, getting people's opinion and it gets them invested. And it's a great little reminder that you know, we can call on our colleagues for help. You don't have to do, like you said, everything on our own.

Exactly. Exactly.

So finally, moving forward through the New Year, how important do you feel team-building activities will be? Do you recommend this? Any organization that hasn't done so yet?

Yeah, I 100 percent recommended it. I think that one thing that I've learned is similar to our retreat in 2019, it didn't stop and start with the retreat. We, we had the retreat in 2020 and then we are seeing the impact in 2021. How are we incorporating what we learned about each other, how we're incorporating what was fun and engaging from our retreat in 2021 and our team calls or how we celebrate one another's birthdays or how we acknowledge team members work a bursary.

So even though the retreat happened in 2020, we're still seeing how it is being bled through in so many different areas of our work in twenty, twenty-one and hopefully beyond. And I think the same could be true for any nonprofit, for any organization that is wanting to support its team in a way that feels authentic and in a way that feels appropriate, given just the world and using a team retreat as a way to, if nothing else, just hold space for folks to enjoy where they work and come back to why they do what they do, I think is a brilliant and a really fun way to to keep things lively.

I also think about it in terms of fundraising. A lot of nonprofits had to our clients even had to pivot their fundraising efforts, change their big fall fundraiser or their spring fundraiser into something virtual. And how can you do that while still tackling all of the things that you have to tackle as a remote business now or through whatever hurdles you have to jump through while navigating the pandemic and having a virtual retreat is very similar to having a virtual fundraiser in the sense that the purpose is to help for a cause greater than one person.

And then the purpose is to bring something fun and engaging in lighthearted but enjoyable and worthwhile to a group of people. And I think that it is just the most exciting thing when you think about it in that light and kind of get past that the planning and the overwhelming that can come from. How do we even do this? Where do we start? And so I would just offer up that it can be this fun, exciting thing. It does take a little bit of work, but it is also totally worthwhile and can have some long-term benefits.

Definitely. Well, thank you so much, Makalah, for coming on and sharing your experience, planning the whole trip. Yeah, I'm super excited.

Thank you again for the opportunity. Well, that's all for today, if any of you recognize the name NFP partners, that is because they have been on the show before. We spoke with Laura, who's an accountant at NFP, about the best way to get ready for auditing, especially with covid and some accounting tips for nonprofits. It was a really great interview and I have it linked in the description box for you to check out. If you need help with anything to do with financials or accounting, definitely check out NFP partners.

Their mission is to help nonprofits become stronger financial managers, and they accomplish this by providing expert outsourced nonprofit accounting services. And they have a ton of great technology tools. So give them a visit at NFPPartners.Com and if you want to staff data and everything about Fundraising Superheroes, we would love for you to subscribe or you listen to your podcasts, believe a rating or review if you can, and give us a follow at trust driven on Linkedin and driven software on facebook.

We are very active on Facebook and LinkedIn and would love to connect with you again. Thank you so much for listening. We really appreciate you guys taking the time to support the show and we'll see you next time on Fundraising Superheroes.

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Podcast Mar 17, 2021, 12:00 AM

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