The Board of the Rings: Assembling an Epic Board to Save Your NPO (and Maybe Middle Earth)

Building a Board of Directors might not seem like the most exciting part of running a nonprofit, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Don’t think of it as a necessary headache or jaded amalgamation of familiar faces, recognizable names and long-time donors.

Instead, think of it as your crack team of commandos on a mission to take out an enemy stronghold, or even better, as your unlikely fellowship on a quest to save Middle Earth. Let not your hearts despair, friends! The Lord of the Rings trilogy is here to save your nonprofit by keying you in to the bare essentials of team-building.

Seek Your Heroes in Unlikely Places

Our first key to pulling together a fantastic board of directors: seek out volunteers in unlikely places. It seems counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t you choose the most respected or “most qualified” people? The tried and tested warriors of the boardroom? Not necessarily. Sometimes they are the most unknown and unassuming folk who make the best board members—people who work diligently behind the scenes. Often, value isn’t obvious at first.

For example, Frodo’s value wasn’t that he was strong, but that his heart was pure enough to resist the corrupting powers of the Ring. Who’s your Frodo? Bring new people to the table—people with all kinds of talents.

Keep the Quest Central and Engage Early

Our next key is to engage members early on and keep focus on the quest. This means making sure they know the strategy and the significance of their mission. For Frodo and friends, this meant realizing the gravity of the situation: certain world enslavement by a dark lord should they fail in their quest to take the Ring to Mordor.

For your board members consequences probably won’t be that extreme, but whether your nonprofit protects the environment or funds cancer research, the cause and the road towards achieving that cause is everything, and your board should keep that in mind at all times.

Don’t be Hasty When Talking Responsibility

Don’t just gloss over the responsibilities of board members in an attempt not to scare them away. Make it clear exactly what kind of time and work commitment your board has so that everyone performs their duties. It’s not always fun, but it’s the job. Being the protagonists in an epic fantasy comes with its trials and tribulations as well, but the Fellowship of the Ring stuck with it.

Fortunately, your board shouldn’t have to go to the darkest depths of Mordor. After all, board members have lives and jobs outside of your organization. Just keep expectations and responsibilities clear and realistic.

Utilize Diversity of Thought

Don’t forget to make your board vibrant, with as much diversity of thought as possible. Oftentimes we try to assemble groups that think alike and can come to a consensus quickly, but these aren’t necessarily the most effective for boards. For as brave as Frodo and his Hobbit friends were, they wouldn’t have gotten very far without the rest of the A-Team.

Case in point on diversity? Legolas and Gimli. Initially this duo didn’t get along. (It’s a well known fact that, in Middle Earth, elves and dwarves distrust each other.) Give this pair a common cause however, and they become best of friends. They capitalize on each others’ strengths to cooperate and succeed. Embrace diversity on your board, as more often than not it brings out the best in people when they’re moving in the right direction together.

Maximize Key Roles

A great team starts with a great leader. If you’re on a quest to Mordor you need a wizard like Gandalf. If you’re on a quest to the boardroom, you need a kick-butt chairman who can motivate and direct the group as well as delegate tasks. Props if the chairman of your board slays Balrogs in his or her spare time, but it certainly isn’t a requirement.

Behind every great leader is a great second-in-command like Aragorn. Just like Frodo, Aragorn doesn’t assume too much. He works behind the scenes protecting the people of Middle Earth and lopping off Orc heads, but he is also the heir of kings and has the potential to become a great leader—a role he’s suddenly thrust into in the Lord of the Rings. You should also have someone on your board that you can count on to get things done and take over if needed.

A board of directors shouldn’t feel like an inconvenience or the Eye of Sauron peeking over your shoulder. It’s there to help you! By diversifying and engaging your team, you can take your nonprofit from “eh” to epic (and maybe save Middle Earth too).

If you’re needing more fuel for your board other than lembas bread, check out this article on bringing the best to nonprofit boardrooms.

How do you put together the best fellowship for your nonprofit’s board?


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Will Folsom

Will is everyone’s favorite intern on the Hub team. Tucked cozily in between his colleagues’ desks, you can find Will researching, writing, and drinking coffee from his John Wayne mug. Will brings his humor, youthful energy and a fresh perspective to the Nonprofit Hub team. He is passionate about history, marketing and bringing to light new ways in which nonprofits can succeed.

June 24, 2014

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