Best Practices for Boards of Trustees Hiring a Firm to Assist with a Presidential Search (NCACCT Business Partner Article)

Best Practices for Boards of Trustees Hiring a Firm

 to Assist with a Presidential Search

by Kennon Briggs, ACCT Presidential Search Consultant

and Julie Golder, ACCT Vice President for Search Services


A Board of Trustees’ legal authority is defined in both North Carolina General Statutes (N.C.G.S.) and State Board of Community College Code (SBCCC). The clearest expression of a local Board’s authority is found in N.C.G.S. 115D-20.  This statute enumerates the powers and duties of each local Board in the North Carolina Community College System.


The first power delegated to the local Board is the election of a President. The significance of this authority being delegated to the local Board reflects the intent of the General Assembly that the Board would unquestionably be the governing body of the College, but through a model of shared governance, would employ a President to manage the daily operations of and provide executive leadership to the institution. It has been generally understood that perhaps the most important decision the local Board will ever make is the selection of its President.


In the presidential selection process, local Boards often seek a search firm to assist them with the selection of a President. While there are different models which can lead to a successful outcome and there is State Board policy that governs the search process, it should be understood that the Board owns and is responsible for the process.


Setting the stage for an open, transparent, equitable and participatory process is the essential foundation of a strong and healthy presidential search. As such, both the search process itself and the process to identify a Board’s search firm should be a competitive process. Competition is healthy and helps ensure the best possible presidential “fit” and outcome. A Board should consider working with its Procurement Officer, and if necessary its General Counsel, to fully understand internal and statewide regulations and guidelines. The Board will want to issue a Request For Proposals (RFP) for search services. The Board should also consider the following:

  •    * Identify the specific search services needed by the college within the RFP to ensure accurate cost estimates.
  •    * Be certain that a wide range of search firms receive the RFP.
  •    * Create a process for reviewing and scoring proposals. Invite the top three or four ranked firms to interview with either the full Board or Search Committee.
  •    * The Search Consultant will serve as the “face” of the search to potential candidates. It is critical that the Board or Search Committee is comfortable with its Search Consultant selection.


Before selecting a search firm, the Board should request and call references. Ask references about the outcomes of their searches, firm responsiveness, communication strategy, and any other concerns the Board may have. Also, to be fair and consistent, the same questions should be posed to each reference.


Search firms provide a variety of services. Therefore, as the Board assesses potential firms, they should consider the following:

  •    *Research the firm’s record for recruiting women and candidates of color.
  •    *Recruitment Strategy: Does the firm have experience recruiting candidates from within the System, in the State of North Carolina and nationally?
  •    *Communication Strategy: Do they provide draft communication materials throughout the process?
  •    *Background Reference Checks: Are they compliant with State Board Code, and do they contact on and off-list references on all final candidates?
  •    *Services Contract: Examine the contract to determine what services are/are not included as part of the base fee.
  •    *Confidentiality: Candidate applications should not go to the college, especially if there is a possibility of having an internal candidate.
  •    *Finalists: At the end of the search process, once the final candidates are selected, most colleges go public with the names of finalists and have finalists participate in open public forums. Having final candidates participate in open forums furthers the Board’s commitment to a participatory, fair, equitable and transparent process.


In partnership with the College Attorney, the Board should review the outgoing president’s contract. The full Board should be familiar with the contract, seek advice on where it needs improvement , discuss compensation, and be compliant with State Board Code.

Keep in mind with respect to search firms: “Cheap can ultimately be expensive.” This is true with both presidential compensation, hiring the right firm and selecting the best consultant.

In summary, a Board of Trustees should take their time, be intentional, and select the search firm that that will result in selection of the best fit for the Board, college and community.


Julie Golder ( / 202.384.5816) is Vice President for Search Services and Kennon Briggs ( / 919.621.7988) is a Presidential Search Consultant at the Association of Community Colleges Trustees (ACCT) in Washington, D.C.  ACCT is the national membership organization for Boards of Trustees and an NCACCT Business Partner. Both Ms. Golder and Mr. Briggs are available to provide additional information or respond to questions about the search process.