× Close


Setting Ground Rules and Expectations for a Nonprofit Hiring Committee

Let’s set the stage:

You have the honored and vital role of being a member of a hiring committee.  Your task is to find someone who will lead your nonprofit to the next level of success.  This is exciting and a bit overwhelming, but you know you have 4 other people working alongside you on the committee to make the best decision possible.

You are anticipating healthy interaction with the committee members as you zero in on the best candidate.  There is no thought of significant conflict or ongoing frustration.  You are predicting that everyone will move in a unified manner to achieve the goal of hiring an impressive leader.

While this flawless dream has a small possibility of coming to fruition, our experience as a 48-year-old search firm with lots of experience with hiring committees is that this dream will start to fray within the first few weeks.  Take heart, some righting of expectations and some predetermined ground rules can go a long way to making your team effective – and enjoyable.

What Went Wrong with the Hiring Committee?

Team conflict may blindside you.  After all, there are so many reasons why you should be a highly successful team.

  • Everyone on the committee has the best interests of the nonprofit in mind.
  • Everyone is a professional and knows how to make excellent decisions.
  • Everyone is nice enough and seemingly easy to get along with.


You have never had to work as a unified team to achieve an end result – and that’s the clincher.

Working with other people, no matter how great they are, is challenging.  This article provides guidance to help you avoid the biggest pitfalls.

Your Committee Must Know the End Goal

You may have a general idea of your end goal but is it crystal clear to everyone on the team?  For a hiring committee, your end goal is more than hiring someone, you want to hire the right someone.  To know what the ideal person looks like there needs to be some discussion. It is possible that each person on the committee has a different picture in mind.

A discussion about the ideal candidate should involve framing up the must-have qualifications versus the nice-to-have qualification.  It is also vital to know what senior leadership and the board of directors are looking for in an ideal candidate.  This information will help form the correct target to aim for.

Apart from this discussion each of the committee members may have a different end goal in mind and this is sure to cause frustration.

Commit the Necessary Time

Once you establish what qualifications you are looking for, it can take some time to find the right person. Even when you have an outside search firm helping with the time-consuming sourcing and vetting, the interview process can be lengthy.  There must be enough availability in each person’s schedule to accommodate interviews.  Take into consideration that you are trying to align several calendars to make these interviews happen.

In addition to the interviews, there will be regular check-in meetings and debriefs to discuss the current candidates.  This is not a process you want to repeat, so it is critical that you take the time to do it right the first time.

Be Dedicated to Moving the Process Along

Speaking of time, the best searches move at a steady pace.  The reality is that candidates who get hung up in a long hiring process will lose interest or will get another job offer.  (You can read more about that here.) The committee’s ability to communicate and make decisions effectively will greatly impact the success of the search.

Holding interviews, providing feedback and determining next steps must be done in a timely manner.  This may seem like a reasonable request but it’s something each committee member must understand and agree to.  Many times, a hiring committee is made up of people with full-time jobs apart from the nonprofit.  That means they need to carve out the necessary time to move the hiring process along in addition to attending to their other professional responsibilities.

Communicate Within the Committee and Beyond

Another ground rule that should be determined at the beginning of the search is communication expectations.  This can be broken down into two parts.

  1. Committee members must share any new information with the search committee and the other major stakeholders. If something significant changes, the key players all need to be aware and be on the same page.
  2. Committee members must be committed to communicating regularly and in a short amount of time. This one is tied to the need to move the process along.  Sending out and replying to communication in a timely manner is the only way to keep the entire committee moving forward together.

Other Considerations for Committee Dynamics

There may be other ground rules that you need to establish when working with a team.  You can find abundant research on team development.  One popular concept is from Bruce Tuckman.  According to Bruce Tuckman (1965), there are four key stages in a group’s development. Forming, storming, norming and performing.  (Adjourning was added later).  All teams must go through phases where they get to know each other and get used to working with each other by testing out the rules of the group.  His work can shed additional light on the development of a team.

How to Achieve Committee Alignment

Quite often it is nice to have an outside third party to help navigate these ground rules and the discussions around them.  This is a service Centennial provides to our clients who have partnered with us for an executive search.  Our goal is to see both the candidate and client be successful long-term and that can only happen when the hiring committee is aligned with what they are seeking.

Partnering with a search firm can give you the neutral voice needed to help galvanize a team.  The Centennial team would love to come alongside of you to find the best person for your leadership role.  Connect with us about how we can help.