Dan River Basin Association

Since 2002, the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) has brought people along the Virginia-North Carolina border together to preserve the natural beauty of their watershed. DRBA inspires people of all ages to take ownership of and responsibility for the precious natural resources around them through educational, recreational, and stewardship programs. From curious schoolchildren to devoted naturalists, first-time kayakers to seasoned outdoorspeople—DRBA invites everyone to discover the wilderness stream in their own way.

When DRBA’s board of directors began planning a retreat centered on fundraising, they reached out to Benefactor Group. According to Tiffany Haworth, executive director, “Our board chair heard Laura MacDonald speak as part of a webinar—she was very impressed. When we received the grant to conduct a board retreat, our chair put Laura forth as the number one choice.” Laura created a plan for a one-day in-person retreat that would give these passionate and knowledgeable board members the guidance they needed to become effective advocates and fundraisers for DRBA.

As it was scheduled for spring of 2020, the retreat did not take place as originally planned. The COVID-19 health crisis precluded travel, but the retreat went on with a change in format. This reimagined event took place via videoconference, spread over three one-hour sessions to avoid “Zoom fatigue.” These sessions were scheduled over a four-week period. Between each session, board members completed assignments—such as writing their own personal DRBA stories, and conducting “donor interviews,” in which they learned how friends and family members determine their philanthropic priorities and make decisions about giving and volunteering.

The new format kept the topics of donor identification and cultivation front of mind for the participants for a whole month, enriching the experience in ways that surprised Haworth: “What impressed me the most about Laura’s training is that my board members actually were talking about fundraising. They conducted the donor interviews and said, ‘that wasn’t so hard!’ That to me was the most important thing—it started a conversation.”

Session agendas centered on the importance of storytelling, making connections between potential donors’ interests and DRBA’s many programs, and addressing tough donor questions. Role playing was key to creating confidence, and board and staff took turns running through scenarios: setting up appointments, uncovering philanthropic passions, and inviting commitment. Haworth found the experience valuable, remarking that she was “astonished at how willing our board members were to engage in the role play activities.”

Haworth declared the new format “better than an in-person retreat! We had greater participation this way because our board members are so spread out geographically.” This retreat in cyberspace fostered connection in a time of isolation, and encouraged participants to think deeply about their role in the fundraising process.

As social distancing measures continue, virtual events have become essential—as vital to board development as they are to donor engagement. Benefactor Group is dedicated to serving clients in creative ways, and using moments of change to spur invention.

If you have an upcoming board retreat going digital, please contact us to discuss how to make the most of the digital medium.