Game of Boards

This was a wild year for me. Since joining Mission Capital’s Consulting team in February of 2017, I’ve been learning everything I can about nonprofit best practices. It’s a lot of information to take in eight wight_walker_kinghours a day, five days a week, so my free time was spent embarrassingly nerding out on pop culture of all kinds. Signifying that I truly love what I do, I found myself connecting a tv show starring wight walker winter zombies and news headlines about mismanaged organizations to my work at Mission Capital. I made two conclusions: A) Dragons are great; let’s protect them and B) Many boards of directors are not great; let’s fix them. Seeing as dragons aren’t real, let’s talk about Conclusion B.

Hold the Board (Accountable)

hold-the-board2017 was a heavy year to watch leaders from nonprofit and for-profit sectors fall from grace for nefarious reasons. As those individuals stepped down, scrutiny rightly turned towards the boards of directors, those responsible for providing oversight to the organizations led by the individuals in question. In most cases, the search for blame led to board member resignations, sometimes by the handful. The more board development trainings I facilitated last year, the more I realized that organizations don’t need to be on the verge of a scandal to have a dysfunctional board and board service doesn’t have to be dark and full of terrors.

To be fair, it’s not easy to be a board member. Board responsibility is usually someone’s second or third full-time job, and the first to get pushed to the back burner. Theoretically speaking, when eight hours of a person’s attention belong to a day job, eight hours belong to beauty rest (notice I said “theoretically”) and the other eight hours belong to family, friends, and the excruciating pain of Austin traffic – where is the time in any given day to do all the wonderful things good board members should do?

A Board Member Always Pays Their Debts?

Brace-Yourself-LearningSome of the best boards I’ve seen run on the backs of a few, dedicated individuals who take on more responsibility than their fellow directors, those whose sole investment in an organization may chalk up to no more than a minimum annual donation. Is that really the best approach? What happens if a dedicated board member must step down? What happens if an absentee board member stays too long? What happens if the minimum number of board members was never even met? If a board of directors is anything like the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, then serving on a board means so much more than having the coffer of a Lannister or the resilience of a Stark to accomplish great things.

Learning From the Failures of the Seven Kingdoms


Not that it’s hard, but I think boards of directors can truly learn from the failures of the Seven Kingdoms. The age of boards consisting of houses with castles, financial means and name recognition, run solely by men should be left behind with the Wall.

To be a strong and truly mission-oriented organization, you can start by taking these five steps:

  1.  Set expectations for board members grounded in your by-laws.
  2.  Fill gaps in expertise (not just donations) as needed.
  3.  Recruit board members that are reflective of the communities your organization serves.
  4.  Require new board members to complete an orientation.
  5.  Take a serious role in evaluating and managing the chief executive.

Some of these steps are a mere starting point, or steps your organization has already taken. At Mission Capital, we may not have a three-eyed raven or maesters to teach you to be an all-knowing board member, but we’ve got Board Essentials, our most popular Learning & Leadership offering designed to give attendees a clear understanding of the many facets of board service. After all, I’m still holding out hope that stellar boards can have dragons too.

Now, we want to hear from you! Does your organization require your board to participate in trainings? What are your board’s strengths? What are some opportunities of growth? Join the conversation!

Member resources and discussions require a login to the online member community, an exclusive networking tool for Mission Capital Members. If you have any questions regarding access or are part of a member organization, but don’t yet have an account, please contact Chelsea Hartness at 512-477-5955 ext. 232.

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