The Search Committee – Key to a Successful Search Process

published 10 10 2019

3 minute read time

The primary responsibility of a nonprofit Board is to hire and evaluate the CEO/Executive Director.  When the search for a new executive begins, the first charge of the Board is to form a Search Committee and identify its leader.  Common questions include:  What authority does a Search Committee have?  What is the role of the Search Committee?  How do you decide who should lead or serve as a member of the Search Committee?  When an executive search firm is engaged to assist in the recruitment process, they will work in close partnership and help guide the Search Committee throughout the process.

Key Responsibilities of the Search Committee:

  • Communicating appropriately with various constituents throughout the process while maintaining strict confidentiality.
  • Seeking input from various constituents as to the qualities and experience that will be valued in the next leader.
  • Contributing to and approving the position profile.
  • Screening, interviewing and selecting candidates.
  • Designing and participating in finalist visits to meet with broader stakeholders.
  • Recommending the final candidate to the Board.
  • Assisting the Board Chair with negotiations.
  • Onboarding the new leader.

Forming the Search Committee:

While Search Committees can vary in size and composition, we find that a group of five to seven is optimum, depending on the size of the organization and the size of the Board.  If the committee is too large, it will be difficult to schedule meetings.  Choosing the right Chair to lead the Search Committee is critical.  Select a well-respected Search Committee Chair or Co-Chairs who will provide leadership and sound judgement throughout the process.  Ideally, these individuals are inclusive, collaborative consensus builders with excellent listening and communication skills.  They should be comfortable with process but be decisive when needed.  The Search Committee Chair is the key point of contact for the search firm, the Board and the broader community.

When identifying Search Committee members, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Include individuals who have demonstrated leadership and commitment to the organization.
  • Identify enthusiastic ambassadors who bring a knowledge of the institution’s history and legacy and will positively represent your organization.
  • Select members who represent diversity of background, experience, and perspectives.  A diverse committee composition will result in a more diverse pool of applicants and help ensure a more equitable process.
  • Ensure participants are willing to invest a significant amount of time throughout the process.  Continuity of participation is important in reaching consensus at the end of the search.  Engage individuals who are responsive to communications and able to commit the time to review materials and attend meetings.
  • If possible, refrain from including staff members on the Search Committee as they should not be interviewing and selecting their next boss.  Establish opportunities in the early and final stages of the search process to engage staff and stakeholders and seek their input, not their vote.  (There are times when having a staff member serve as a nonvoting member of the Search Committee is helpful both in terms of coordination of the Search Committee and providing staff perspective on the organizational culture.)
  • If the outgoing leader is available and interested in participating in the process, encourage that involvement, but not as a member of the Search Committee.  We have found that while this individual can be a valued resource, their participation on a Search Committee can inhibit candid discussions and unduly influence the process.
  • Insist upon the need for confidentiality throughout the search process.  Exposing candidates can jeopardize their current position, damage reputations and even subject your organization to potential litigation if confidentiality is breached.
  • Consider individuals who can make introductions and assist in onboarding the new leader.

Selecting the right Search Committee members can dramatically influence the likelihood of a successful outcome.  The Search Committee will determine the organization’s future through the selection of its next leader.  Morris & Berger works hand in hand with Search Committees, guiding, educating and communicating throughout the search process.  There is no role more important for the Board than selecting the leader of the organization and that responsibility is entrusted to the Search Committee…so choose wisely!

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