Joe Saxton warned that the successful bidder would risk a conflict of interest if it commissioned itself to carry out research.
"Commissioning and doing should be completely separate," he said. "We need to learn the lessons of how the hubs were constructed to build a model for clarity and transparency."
Adrian Sargeant, professor of philanthropy at the University of Indiana, said: "Research contracts should not be awarded on the basis of personal contacts."
Diana Leat, director of the creative philanthropy programme at Carnegie Trust UK, one of the centre's funders, said all contracts would be awarded on merit.
At least 18 consortia are thought to be preparing bids to run the centre.
One source told Third Sector that preparations for setting it up were fraught with "rumour and misinformation".