Building An Effective CEO Search Committee

Posted On by

By Heather Eddy
President and CEO, KEES

Building an Executive Director or CEO Search Committee requires intentionality and thought. It is not a committee that a nonprofit Board Chair should fill by putting out a call for volunteers. Specific people should be asked to join for specific reasons.

Keep these elements in mind when forming your Search Committee:

Composition: Recommended size is 5 – 9 members. The Board is ultimately responsible for hiring/ firing/reviewing the top executive leader, and best practices show that the majority of the Search Committee (at least 60%) should be current board members. The rest of the committee could include past (or immediate future?) board members, donors, key partners, etc. Invite people that you know have the time to commit; people for “name only” do not work well for this type of committee. If there are a larger number of external voices/perspectives you would like to involve, consider inviting them to be on a community interview panel. Staff input is best included on an Interview Committee. Be intentional about diversity – racial, gender, experiential, and perspective. If your organizational Founder is available, their perspective will be invaluable to the process but could change the course of the Search Committee as a whole. Be intentional about how they are involved, yet make sure their voice is heard.

Orientation: Board members that are forward-facing and will be on the Board with at least one full term, if not two or more, should comprise at least half the committee membership. Past wisdom from board leaders is important, but the new CEO will need to work most closely with current board members into the future. Most definitely include 1-2 historical perspectives and voices on the committee, but the bulk should be those that will work with the leader going forward.

Obligation: The time commitment needed will vary greatly on the type of search (i.e. self-search, utilizing a search firm, other). Anticipate a minimum of 15 hours if using a professional executive search firm and at least 50 hours if doing a self-search. Be clear with committee members on what you need from them and estimate the time it will take. If working with an executive search firm, ask them for input based on their experience.

Leadership: The Chair and the Treasurer are often the two Board leadership roles that the CEO works with the most and can provide the best insights into potential CEO candidates. Their presence on the Search Committee adds tremendous value, both to the process and the learning of candidates. If the next Chair beyond the current Chair has already been named, include them as well.