How CEOs Can Guide the Board Selection Process

foundation_ceo guide board selection June 22, 2021 By: Jenny Nelson

Board nomination and selection can be a lengthy and complex undertaking. A study from the ASAE Research Foundation highlights how CEOs and other staff can support the process for better outcomes.

The right combination of board members can make all the difference for an organization. Effective recruitment, nomination, and selection processes are critical to getting the right volunteer leadership, but CEOs have an important role to play in guiding those steps.

Governance research from the ASAE Research Foundation shows that CEOs and other staff are invaluable in facilitating the process, establishing effective connections to qualified candidates, and providing insight into candidates to ensure that the board has the right balance of experience and competencies to drive success. The Board Member Competencies and Selection Study—performed by Mark Engle, FASAE, CAE, of Association Management Center and Texas A&M professor William Brown—found that CEOs and staff at associations with effective processes have a role in most aspects of board nomination and selection, though not all.

Support the Process

CEOs and other staff are responsible for making the nomination and selection process run smoothly. That means ensuring compliance with bylaws and other requirements, managing the administration of the process, ensuring that nominating committee members and other volunteer leaders are sufficiently trained and prepared, and attending meetings and documenting decisions.

CEOs also have a role in defining and prioritizing competencies needed on the board. There is no single, most effective way to define the right competencies for an organization, but effective organizations define and recruit for needed competencies and diversity. CEOs can help volunteer leaders set priorities in relation to gaps on the board and organizational needs.

Connect the Right Candidates

CEOs and staff often serve as the first point of contact for candidates and make the connection between candidates and the nominating committee. Some CEOs and staff also keep a running list of potential candidates. After competencies are defined, CEOs or appropriate staff may reach out and recruit applicants from the list to fulfill competency gaps, advance board diversity, or provide other qualities sought for the board. This practice helps to ensure a highly qualified slate of candidates.

CEOs and staff also must ensure that messaging around the process is consistent and accurate. Whether candidates are recruited or respond to an open call, each must receive comparable information about requirements and procedures.

The connections they have with candidates also means that the CEO is the point of contact for those nominees who were not selected. Engle and Brown highlight the importance of compassion in this role. An effective practice cultivates relationships regardless of the outcome for the candidate.

Provide Insights

Given their role in the organization, CEOs often have valuable insight into candidates’ background, participation, and engagement within the association. CEOs and staff also ensure the consistency and integrity of candidate files.

In some associations, the CEO may sit in on interviews and deliberations and provide input on whether certain candidates have qualities desired for the board. The CEO may be the participant framing deliberations in relation to the overall composition of the board. CEOs can also contribute by ensuring that the process yields one or more strong board chair candidates for the future.

When to Step Back

While CEOs have a valuable role to play, they must be careful not to bias the process. Engle and Brown developed case studies that highlight a variety of different approaches, but across all cases, CEOs and staff felt a responsibility for maintaining boundaries even as they sought to support their volunteers.

To be effective, the CEO should focus on facilitating the decision-making process, not actively participating in it. When providing insight into candidates, the CEO should not weigh in on individual candidates but offer background information as requested. Though CEOs may participate in interviews or deliberations in some organizations, they should not be present during voting. 

Jenny Nelson

Jenny Nelson is director, content and knowledge resources, at ASAE.