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Michele Hickey

About Michele

Nonprofit CEO Search: Do We Really Need a Search Committee?

A CEO search requires so much work! A job profile needs to be developed and publicized. Potential candidates need to be identified, contacted, and screened. In-person interviews will eat up even more of the time that no one has to begin with. The thought of adding a committee to this—recruiting and managing volunteers, coordinating a half-dozen busy schedules, and adding even more meetings to the calendar—would leave any nonprofit professional cold.

Dennis C. Miller

Editor's note: This article is coauthored by Dennis C. Miller, the Managing Director of The Nonprofit Search Group. Dennis is a nationally recognized strategic leadership coach and executive search consultant with more than thirty-five years of experience working with nonprofit board leadership and chief executives across the country. He is also an expert in board governance, leadership development, philanthropy, and succession planning. In addition, he is a sought-after motivational speaker, retreat facilitator, and leadership performance coach.

Why Form a CEO Search Committee?

In the first analysis, you’re absolutely right. A search committee will mean more phone calls, meetings, memos, and email blasts. But there are two excellent reasons to form and implement a search committee for your CEO search:

First, while an ad hoc committee will require time and tending, five or so dedicated members can also shoulder some of the load. They can help screen, schedule, and interview candidates. As the old saying goes, “many hands make light work.”

Second, a thoughtfully constructed committee will provide a variety of expertise, experience, and perspectives. This will be invaluable in determining the ideal candidate profile for the position, and in discerning which applicants most closely fit the role.

Guidelines for Your Search Committee

Every organization is unique and therefore search committees are not “one size fits all.” We can, however, offer a few time-tested guidelines.

A Committee of Five to Seven

Although committee size may depend on the size of your board, a committee of five to seven tends to work best. It will provide enough individual perspectives to make the committee matter, while also remaining manageable and nimble when decisions need to be made. The board chairperson should be part of the committee, if not the committee chair.

Assign a Senior Staff Member as Committee Liason

A member of the senior staff should be assigned the role of committee liaison. This individual will support information gathering, scheduling, etc. The liaison should not, however, be put in the position of selecting the liaison’s next boss, and therefore should not be part of the screening and interviewing processes.

Do NOT Have Outgoing CEO Serve on the Committee

The outgoing executive should not serve on the committee. This person might be able to offer helpful insights into the requirements of the position, but remember that the search process is about moving the organization forward. Don’t dwell on the past; instead, prepare for a new day.

Have a clear charge for your search committee chair. The committee chair should be prepared to:

  • Communicate to the full board of trustees, especially the board chair if someone other than the board chair is chairing the committee;
  • Recruit and select the members of the committee, making sure that each is prepared for the anticipated time required for the role;
  • Establish the committee structure and provide leadership. The chair will need to ensure that all members of the committee agree on the direction of the organization and that there is a shared vision of the ideal person to fill the executive role;
  • Develop the agenda and timelines for the search;
  • Create a system for identifying, recruiting, screening, interviewing, and selecting candidates;
  • Ensure that reference checking is completed and the terms of compensation have been approved;
  • Lead the process of negotiating terms with the finalist; and
  • Make sure that candidates who were not selected are contacted and thanked for their participation. For candidates who made it to the final round, this outreach should be by phone.

No matter how you slice it, a chief executive search is a heavy lift. That’s why many organizations opt to hire a professional executive search firm. The fee for this service is typically calculated as a percentage of the starting salary. Before you dismiss the idea of spending resources on a search firm, take a minute to consider what you will gain in terms of services—screening, initial interviewing, and reference checking will be taken off your plate. A full-service firm will also assist in developing not only a job profile but an ideal candidate profile. Search professionals will lead and support your board to ensure that candidate competencies are measured against the organization’s vision for the future. They can even negotiate the offer on the committee’s behalf and create a plan for onboarding the finalist.

Armed with a good plan, dedicated volunteers, and experienced search professionals, your chances of recruiting the right executive will improve considerably. The pay-off? A stronger organization that is ready to achieve its highest vision.

Book From CharityChannel Press:

The Intentional Board: Why Your Board Doesn’t Work . . . And How to Fix It

Author: M. Kent Stroman, CFRE
The Intentional Board: Why Your Board Doesn’t Work . . . And How to Fix It, by M. Kent Stroman, CFRE

The Intentional Board: Why Your Board Doesn’t Work . . . And How to Fix It, by M. Kent Stroman, CFRE

Ever feel like you're just spinning your wheels in the boardroom? That you aren't on the same page with other members of the board and senior staff? Do you sometimes wonder if you're really accomplishing the purpose for which the organization was created?

If so, please realize this: You are not alone!

The Intentional Board was written specifically with these frustrations in mind.

Available at leading booksellers, including:

Barnes & Noble



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