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A Hiring Committee and Hundreds of Opinions

Toilynn O’Neal Turner’s experience leading a hiring committee for a nonprofit with lots of stakeholders

Finding the best person to lead your nonprofit organization is a challenge. Add to that the need to work effectively with your fellow hiring team members as well as allow for the many external constituents that want a voice in the hiring decision, and you have yourself a daunting task.

Headshot of Toilynn O'Neal Turner, Cincinnati-based nonprofit leader

Toilynn O’Neal Turner

Having a solid and unified hiring committee is key to taking on this formidable responsibility.  Toilynn O’Neal Turner, art aficionado, founding director of ROMAC*, nonprofit leader and former Director of Diversity at Saint Ursula Academy, experienced the challenges of overseeing a search for an Executive Director role.  This article shares her challenges, the resources that made the process easier and a valuable lesson she learned about the lack of perfect people in the world.

Toilynn chaired the hiring committee during Cincinnati Preschool Promise’s (CPP) search for a new Executive Director in 2019. This was her first time leading a hiring committee and the Centennial team had the privilege of partnering with her to find the best candidate for the job.

Here is what she had to say about the process.


What Did You Learn from The Hiring Process?

It is extremely important to find the right person who will live out the mission and have the necessary skills to do the job.  I went into the process thinking there would be lots of talented people who could do the job.  My initial concern was how we would narrow down the candidate pool. However, we found that it was hard to find people who were qualified and willing to deal with the dynamics, politics and community impact of Cincinnati Preschool Promise.

Centennial was super important in presenting the candidates who fit with the mission and could take the organization to the next level. Even so, our options were limited due to our stringent criteria.

I came face to face with the political side of Cincinnati Preschool Promise – which is something a lot of nonprofits must manage.  You must juggle the community needs versus the business community needs. There is a battle for who is going to win and you are in the middle of it.

The ultimate goal is to see the community win, but that can only happen by keeping the businesses happy.  Funding comes from the businesses so it is critical to let them have a voice and then take the necessary action to see that their opinions are taken into consideration.

What Were the Biggest Challenges to Working with A Hiring Committee?

The hiring committee was great.  We were a unified group of five who met on a regular basis. There were definitely strong opinions, but we were able to work together.  Everyone listened to each other and was patient as we worked through the process.

The challenges came when we brought in outside constituents.  We had so many stakeholders who wanted to be heard.  Their voices were loud – but for a good reason.  Our hiring decision impacted a lot of people.  Consequently, we heard from educators, corporate leaders, community leaders, parents, and preachers, each one wanting to weigh in on who we would pick to lead CPP.

What Do You Recommend to Other People Leading a Hiring Committee?

Plan well and get a good understanding of what kind of person will be successful in the role you are filling.  Get the board to provide their thoughts.  The more you are in tune with how the organization works and what it needs, the better informed you are to make a hiring decision.

Using Centennial was a tremendous help in finding the right candidate.  Becky Scheeler (from Centennial’s team) is the most awesome person in the world.  Her patience and her sensitivity to the applicants and the board were outstanding.  She was able to maneuver around schedules and keep everyone informed with regular communication.

Becky’s sensitivity and patience were especially important because the search involved so many outside opinions about who we should pick.  She was a good filter and helped the committee think through what they should, and should not do, to work at a professional level.

What Backgrounds and Experiences Should Be Represented by People on The Committee?

Our hiring committee had a representation of the major constituents in the community. There wasn’t one side or the other that was stronger.  For example, we had a client of our services, a preschool provider, and someone from the business sector.  This gave us a balanced approach to finding the best candidate.

Are There Any Ground Rules That Should Be Established Before You Start the Search Process?

Everyone on the CPP hiring committee willingly committed the time to be there.  Even though it was tough to find just the right person, everyone was dedicated to putting in the time to make the right choice. Each person took it very seriously that the new hire had to be committed to the organization and willing and grow with it.  That’s an important ground rule – be willing to put in the time.

What Are Unrealistic Expectations Committee Members May Have?

You will not find a perfect person to hire.  Perfect people do not exist.  This was a helpful realization.

Centennial helped us to see that knowing a candidate’s weaknesses is a healthy start to helping them be successful.  If you meet a candidate who hits 95% of your qualifications, you need to decide if the other 5% falls into areas that can be developed or supported.

It is unrealistic to think you will search and search until you find the perfect candidate.  However, knowing the most critical qualifications will help you make a confident hiring decision.

The Conclusion

Toilynn discovered that her experience with the hiring committee helped her get a better grasp of the important work being done by Cincinnati Preschool Promise.  She gained a greater understanding of the infrastructure and became a more engaged and passionate board member.  It compelled her to be more of a doer rather than just a listener.

Just as Centennial came alongside Cincinnati Preschool Promise during their search for an Executive Director, we have done the same for numerous other nonprofits.  Our team helps sort through the necessary criteria, finds talented, passionate leaders and introduces them to your hiring committee.  If that is a service you need, please let us know!


*The Robert O’Neal Multicultural Arts Center was established in 2019 to celebrate African and African American arts, history and culture. If you would like to learn more about supporting the preservation of African and African American culture and arts within the City of Cincinnati, the ROMAC website should be your first stop.