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The Search Committee

DeAnne Butterfield
On Alternatives (March 2022)
Healing the World

“It just isn’t done that way,” the experienced voice responded when a Friend of Color on the Search Committee asked why we weren’t posting the salary. The committee resumed silent reflection. “Keeping salaries confidential is a longstanding way of maintaining wage inequality, especially when persons other than White males apply, not knowing how much others are paid.” More reflection. “It is insulting to qualified young adults to ask them to go through a hiring process, then offer to pay them less than a living wage.” More reflection. In the end, the committee united around our decision to include the base salary in the solicitation.

As clerk of the General Secretary Search Committee for the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), I was spiritually nurtured by laboring with seven other Friends to bring forward a candidate for General Secretary of FCNL in November 2022. Our committee’s task was to identify the right Friend to lead the organization into the future after Diane Randall announced in February 2021 that she would retire at the end of the year, after ten years of stellar service.

The FCNL Executive Committee started by deliberately envisioning qualities that the Search Committee would need among its members, and then they sought such Friends to serve. The resulting committee achieved the leadership’s intentions for diversity in terms of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, branches of Quakerism, geography, length of FCNL experience, occupation, and nonprofit governance.

Through this diversity, each person’s discernment, perspectives, and life experiences made unique contributions to the outcome of our work. All of our meetings, interviews, and introductions were conducted in the spirit of worship.

In crafting a job announcement for the Executive Committee to consider and ultimately approve, the Search Committee began by working to identify the range of skills and experiences that would be vital for successful leadership of an organization as active and wide-ranging as FCNL. We recognized “less tangible” qualities as well as “professional” ones. Some of the qualities we determined to be essential were: courage to make “good trouble,” ability to connect with a variety of Friends and yearly meetings, dexterity in balancing ally relationships with a commitment to Quaker process, and decisiveness in facing political divisions with a spirit of peace and justice.

We cast the net as wide as possible, using the broad reach of our Quaker networks. We made special efforts to invite applications from young Friends, Friends of Color, and Friends with non-traditional career paths. Our idea was to engage all U.S. Friends as partners in our search, to help spread the word. We made specific requests to specific Friends for their ideas and nominations. We knew that the Friend we sought was “out there.” We saw our role as holding that person in the Light until we found them.

To convey to candidates that our committee was approaching our task as a project of mutual spiritual discernment, we asked potential candidates to engage in prayerful consideration of God’s guidance for their lives. Could they envision themselves serving FCNL and the Society of Friends in the role of FCNL General Secretary? What gifts did they have that FCNL needed? In addition to a resume and cover letter, we asked for a statement of how the candidate’s life and spiritual journey had led them to apply.

November 2021 was our deadline for bringing a recommendation to the annual meeting of FCNL’s General Committee, its 180-member governing body, comprising representatives from Yearly Meetings and Quaker organizations across the U.S. In April, we wondered how we could do all our work in just seven months, given the staggering range of outreach, input, and mutual discernment we sought. We reminded ourselves that we would be working in “God’s time” and that a path would be revealed. A critical factor in our success was FCNL’s decision to hire an administrative assistant to help manage all the names, tasks, and information we had to juggle. Mid-way through the twelve-week window in which we were expecting to receive applications, we had not received any. I was nervous until a couple of our committee members reminded the rest of us that we had asked candidates to engage in deep discernment. We could take it as a good sign that applicants were not being hasty or incomplete in submitting their applications.

By the deadline, we had nine applicants. Each met initially with two members of our committee, so that we could become acquainted with each, hear their sense of call to the position, fill in any gaps in the information they had submitted in writing, and discuss any questions they might have about the organization, the position, or the process. The entire Search Committee received reports about each of these conversations.

Rather than experiencing urgency at this stage of the process, the Search Committee achieved a sense of quiet, confident waiting. We took our time considering how many candidates to interview and which ones. Our first step was to discern which applicants met the basic criteria. We reminded ourselves that no individual could bring strengths in all areas and that it was our task at this stage to get to know each interviewee in depth and recognize the particular gifts of each. We united on five candidates to interview formally. As we set up those interviews, we asked each candidate again about their discernment process and repeated that we hoped to seek God’s wisdom with them.

Following those five interviews, the committee centered into deep discernment, knowing the Divine was with us at the table. Each committee member had their own ranking of candidates, based on their own sense of priorities. For example, we weighted the value of extensive lobbying experience against the value of a person having led another large nonprofit. We spent time in prayer – listening, probing, reflecting, questioning, challenging – to create a common evaluation of the special strengths and challenges of each candidate. We developed a common understanding that, beyond the minimum qualifications, the most important characteristics we sought were: spiritual groundedness as a public Friend; commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; capacity to represent FCNL to multiple external audiences; and ability to guide FCNL into democracy’s uncertain future.

We ended each conversation by explicitly noting the places where we felt a sense of unity developing and the places where we felt we still were seeking. We began each meeting by reporting individually on how our sense of discernment had evolved or solidified since we last met – sometimes only one day earlier. We knew there was a path forward. We began each meeting in worship before starting the business before us.

Some of us felt a kind of grief when a candidate we treasured was “moved down the list.” We took time to pause and acknowledge those feelings. We reminded ourselves frequently that God was part of the winnowing, that we could trust these Friends to find their own right places to serve, and that we could not know the direction of each person’s life path. We made note of each candidate’s special gifts, so that I would be able, as clerk, to express our insights and hopes for each person when I informed most of them that they were not finalists. We encouraged those Friends to strengthen their participation with FCNL in other ways.

When one candidate withdrew after we interviewed them, we did not simply proceed with fewer candidates. Rather, we stopped to ask ourselves if we might invite another applicant into the process. We faced each unexpected change in direction with a sense of intention, knowing that we could revisit previous points of discernment at any time. After two deliberative sessions, we felt clear to proceed with the set of candidates we had selected. Our committee was not making these decisions
alone; we felt the connection, support, and wisdom of Friends throughout the country, as well as the gift of God’s presence.

As one candidate rose to the top for the Search Committee, we expanded our discernment to include other perspectives. We arranged for the candidate to talk with the Senior Leadership Team of FCNL staff and with the fifteen-member FCNL Executive Committee. These, along with conversations with the candidate’s references, reinforced our sense of rightness about this candidate.

The Search Committee joyfully and confidently recommended that Bridget Moix should be appointed as the next General Secretary of FCNL. Bridget was then introduced to the entire FCNL staff and General Committee, although many already knew her from her extensive previous work with FCNL. When the General Committee held its business session on November 20, 2021, and gave its final approval of our new General Secretary, the sense of enthusiasm and gratitude among Friends throughout FCNL was palpable.

Bridget Moix began her role as the fifth General Secretary of FCNL in January 2022.  ~~~

DeAnne Butterfield is a retired public policy analyst who has been part of the FCNL community since the 1980s. She is active in the civic life of Boulder, CO, where she is a member of Boulder Friends Meeting (IMYM).

Friends Committee on National Legislation Search Committee Nominating Committee

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