Nominating Committee: Making It Work for You

Those of us who have served on nominating committees know the experience can be either a joy or a tragedy. Some years everyone we call says yes, grateful for the opportunity to give something back to the congregation that means so much to them and wondering why we hadn't called sooner. In other years, no one knows our name.

What makes the difference? Is there a formula for success for nominating committees?

Start early, says William Hartung, nominating chair at the UU Church of Silver Spring, MD (252 members). The committee begins to line up candidates in late spring for the November election. Last year it filled three board positions with two phone calls each.

It's not always that easy, says Hartung. Finding a board president can still be a challenge. By starting early, you give candidates time to think about what they're being asked to do before they decide. Don't tell them that you "need" to fill a slot; instead, say why they'd be good at a particular job.

When John Blevins was chair of the nominating committee at All Souls UU Church, Kansas City, MO (326), he initiated the practice of interviewing candidates. "We kept it congenial," he says. "but it was very effective in helping candidates take the job more seriously, and we actually got to know people better, rather than just finding a person who was willing to say yes. I felt it also raised the level of appreciation for the job in the eyes of the congregation, just by their being aware that interviews were being done."

Interviews are also done for governing board positions at First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto, ON (414). "We try to start five months in advance," says former board chair Catherine Schuler, now a member of the nominating committee. "When we interview them, we want questions both ways so they can decide if it's the right job for that point in their lives." Other tips:

  • Keep a file of folks who say "maybe next year" for next year's committee with a list of who was contacted this year.
  • If no one wants the job, consider dividing it or having a shorter term––two years, not three.
  • Survey all members on their interests and expertise and survey board members on how their experience serving could have been better.

Failure to find a taker often happens if there's no clear job description, says Mary Higgins, UUA Florida District executive: "People don't like to say yes to a black hole. They want to know what's involved, how many meetings, how many years. And they need to believe their contribution can have a positive effect. If the board has a history of conflict and micromanagement, people might be willing to grit their teeth and put up with it for a year or so, but what they really want is a chance to make a difference."

Plan for the long term, says Margaret Sanders, UUA trustee from Florida: "Who can be president in three years with the right experience this coming year? Recruitment should be serious and intentional. If the position is a key one, it should be face-to-face at a time other than coffee hour. Phone recruitment can work, but the more responsibility, the more personal the effort should be. E-mail is not a good idea. Have the job description available in print."

If someone says no, find out why, she says. "Is it the position, other people, or lack of comfort with the role? Sometimes training is available at the church, another congregation, or at a nonprofit.

I once sent a church member to a nominating committee training seminar at the Voluntary Action Center, and she agreed to take the job with enthusiasm."

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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