Crafting a Charge to Lead the Charge for a New Leader

MANP is pleased to present the following guest blog post by Mary Budd of Starboard Leadership Consulting, an endorsed provider of executive search services. This post is part of our ongoing Mission Driven Leadershift initiative, which offers resources, services and programs to help Maine nonprofits successfully prepare for and manage leadership transition.

If you are a board leader faced with launching an executive search on behalf of your organization, you may be wondering, “Where do I begin?” Stealing a line from Stephen Covey, we advise, “Make time for planning: Wars are won in the general’s tent.”

Search Committee Charge

Before you can lead the charge to identify your next executive director, you’ve got to craft the charge for those who will be involved most intimately with the search, meaning in most cases, a search committee. Think of this charge as the committee’s marching orders. It is a document that outlines the expectations, limitations and authority of the search committee and anticipates the questions that any board member might have. For those being recruited to the search committee it tells them: “Here’s the job we are asking you to do.” For the board, it will delineate the role of the committee and the authority the board is granting.

Ideally, the board leaders will draft the charge in consultation with the executive committee before recruiting the search committee chair and members of the committee. How you shape or format the charge is not as important as ensuring you include a clear definition of roles, responsibilities and authority; an outline of the desired process; and the anticipated timeline, as follows:

Sample Points to Include

The chair of the search committee will:

  • Coordinate with the board chair and/or executive committee to complete recruitment of a search committee composed of X or more current board members.
  • Make a recommendation regarding whether the search process will require external executive search consulting support, following an assessment of internal capacity, associated costs, and the process for selecting counsel.
  • Present a proposed budget for the search process and the on-boarding of the successful candidate and seek budget approval from the board.

The committee will:

  • Work with the chair and fellow committee members to establish a set of norms for meetings and agree upon a process and timeline.
  • Make attendance and participation at all meetings a priority.
  • Maintain the highest levels of confidentiality throughout the process.

Process guidelines:

  • The board and staff leaders will have an opportunity to offer their input regarding the skills and experience to be prioritized and the criteria to be used in the search and selection process.
  • The search process, timeline, and recruitment materials will be shared with the board prior to the public launch of the search.
  • The board and staff will receive information about how they can promote this opportunity and how they can direct or recommend candidates to the search committee.
  • The search committee will keep the board and staff apprised of the process while maintaining appropriate confidentiality regarding the names, status, and application materials of candidates.
  • The board and staff leaders will have an opportunity to meet the finalist(s) and offer their observations and comments to the search committee in a confidential manner.

Committee’s authority:

  • The board authorizes the search committee to recommend a single finalist for hire and to present a motion to the board (that has the full support of the search committee) to authorize the board chair, or appointee, to make an offer of employment to this candidate and negotiate the details of hiring (within parameters defined by the board).

Prior to bringing a finalist to the board for approval, the committee will:

  • Check references and ensure that the finalist has passed the background check that is conducted with all new employees.
  • Speak with the candidate about salary and benefit expectations and prepare for the board a recommendation regarding the offer to be made to the candidate.
  • Gather essential information to support a successful transition.

After the offer is made and accepted, the committee will:

  • Work with staff assigned to draft and send a letter of employment (to include salary information and start date).
  • Provide essential information to facilitate the development of a news release and other communications.
  • Retain all applicant and search committee materials in accordance with the organization’s personnel policies


  • It is our hope to have the successful candidate on board by [DATE].


  • Any administrative or logistical/scheduling support will be provided by [NAME].

There it is: a clear charge for your search committee and clear answers to the myriad questions of who does what, when, and how. Once you’ve documented such clarity, you’ll be ready to move full-steam ahead. At a meeting of the full board, board members should vote on a motion (or multiple motions) to approve the board chair’s appointment of the search committee chair, its members, and its charge. At this same meeting, the board should consider the search committee chair’s recommendation regarding the budget for the search process and whether the committee will need the assistance of (and budget for) a search consultant. It also makes sense to have a discussion about potential salary and benefits for your next executive director.

With the path thus illuminated, forward ho!

About the Author

Mary BuddMary Aselton Budd joined Starboard Leadership Consulting after seven years at the helm of Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor. As board president and then executive director of the nonprofit regional theatre company, she developed and implemented an ambitious strategic plan that resulted in financial stabilization, programmatic expansion, audience development, and many capital improvements. Mary first forayed behind the scenes in the performing arts as co-producer of Black Rock, a feature film shot in Downeast Maine and sold at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

Earlier Mary consulted with nonprofit and for-profit organizations nationwide working primarily to close the achievement gap in American education. Formerly, she was a staff writer and editor for New York-based Edison Schools, Inc. (now EdisonLearning), and earlier was publications director of a Boston-based education management company. She began her career as a political appointee in the U.S. Department of Education in Washington and later worked for Massachusetts Governor William Weld.

Mary’s volunteer service includes a term on the Bangor School Committee and five years on the City of Bangor Commission on Cultural Development (two as chair).