In La Crosse, Wisconsin, I passed an interesting shop. In bright lettering, the awning read, “The Board Store.”

The U.S. has 1.5 million exempt organizations. Each has a board of directors.

I wondered what tools and equipment the board store sold. Here are the tools, planks and signage the store could sell to support good governance.

Board Governs, Staff Manage: The most important distinction in board roles. Directors govern by being strategic and setting a vision. The staff and committees will work to advance that vision. The board does not micromanage or supervise.

Gavel to Gavel Authority: Directors have authority to govern at duly called meetings of the board. When the meeting is gaveled to order, it is expected that directors have prepared and will speak up as a fiduciary of the membership.

As the meeting adjourns, they no longer have authority to speak for the organization unless the chief elected officer has granted that authority. After a meeting they may wear different hats such as committee volunteer, ambassador or chapter visitor.

"The biggest misnomer is that an individual director, regardless of position, has power in between board meetings. The governing body has the authority to act as a body and not singularly. It is important to get this point across as it prevents a director from calling the executive director and making a request that shifts the focus of the professional staff team," said William Pawlucy, CAE, chair at

Squirrel! Directors are easily distracted from the agenda at hand and the strategic plan. Squirrels or bright shiny objects divert from the agenda and business at hand. The board store should sell squirrel traps.

Brief is Better: Presenters need to read body language. As ideas and reports are presented, directors are quick to lose focus.

You can see it as they pick up their phones or make their own to-do lists. Volunteers seldom read past page two of a report. Use bullets and graphics to get across highlights.

We are in the Weeds: Directors should be empowered to ask, “Are we in the weeds?” Delving into how to do something is dangerous.

One board made a motion to improve member engagement through a robust listserv. The discussion dived into who will manage it, how often will topics be posted, etc.

Boards Don’t Do Committee Work at the Board Table: A sign on the wall should remind directors they are focused on governance, a vision and advancing the strategic plan.

Committees are assigned work from the strategic plan. Leaders should not be doing lower-level committee work at board meetings.

“I just have a question?” This is the most frequent distraction at meetings. A director asks an innocent sounding question and two or three people respond with, “I know the answer.” The board chair has lost control of the meeting.

50,000 Feet: The board needs tools to maintain altitude. Leaders work at 50,000 feet, committees at 25,000’ and the staff administer at 10,000’. A sign on the wall might read, “What altitude are we at in this discussion?”

No Volleyball: A lot of good ideas are served up at the board meeting. They are often debated until the discussion tires.

At that point, the volleyball falls to the floor and a new idea is spiked. By recognizing this style of discussion, it is easier to stick to the agenda and monitor how each idea is processed.

These are the tools, planks, and platforms needed for building good governance. There should be a sale at The Board Store!