Presenting at the 2022 annual Conference on Diverse Philanthropy and Leadership, co-hosted by African American Development Officers and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, Lindauer Vice President Faith Montgomery was joined by Robert Burgett, Senior Vice President, Development at the University of Minnesota Foundation (UMF). Using their own experience as a case study, they outlined their approach to hiring the next Associate Vice President of Development at UMF. In the aftermath of the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Faith and Bob found that recruiting for diverse lived experiences required a comprehensive organizational approach at the most senior level, involving key stakeholders.
Having received incredible feedback from the session, Faith shared these core insights:
In working with the University of Minnesota Foundation, what was the first step in building this comprehensive approach to recruiting for diverse lived experience?
We talked about socializing the plan because this was a top-down decision. How do you then get your other leaders on board? And specifically, how do you communicate this intentionality to the pipeline of talent that you have on your team? Every candidate would be considered, but there was also a commitment to diversify the team.
I received Bob Burgett’s language and his message and really became his voice partner. When I walked through the intake process, and I was speaking with people, I repeated what I heard from the top: “This is why Lindauer has been engaged for this search; we are going to build a diverse slate of candidates.” This was a true partnership in the sense that I was empowered to really emphasize that dimensions of diversity add value to a work environment by enhancing productivity and fostering more creativity. Ultimately, I think socializing a plan that is intentional about delivering on the foundation’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) was an essential part of the initial process.
How did you approach building an environment or community around this new hire?
There was a true shift happening in how UMF was hiring and how they were building their team. You want to ensure that the new hire is not treated as a gratuitous, tokenized placement and they are set up for success. There was a fair amount of discussion around creating a buddy system and community, not only internally but also in the broader community and neighborhood. It required considering what the person’s full life experiences had been and what they would need to feel well acclimated — and building out who were going to be the individuals in this person’s network to help them navigate these waters. This was the first time UMF had ever thought that way.
How did you personally try to convince people of color to uproot their lives and come to a community that has very visibly shown that they may not be welcome?
My conversation with Bob during the initial intake process was level set, and it really caused him to see this is not about to be a transaction. This was going to be relational, and he was going to have to have skin in this game. At that point, he said, “I am going to be the mentor, coach, insulator, encourager, and supporter of the person that we identify. I will teach them everything I know and be there every step of the way to ensure success.” He committed to making a personal investment.
The other part was that Bob pulled out all the stops. We couldn’t waver over salary, benefits, or a relocation package. We had to be willing to think outside of the traditional box of how we were going to recruit. So yes, I’m the recruiter — but so is the institution. Upfront, it gave us an opportunity to really look at potential challenges and realize we had to think creatively to make this happen.
What was the result of your strategic approach to building a diverse pool of qualified candidates?
In the end, we brought in an incredibly diverse slate. Our two finalists were people of color, and they did end up hiring an African American man. We also talked about the hiring strategy moving forward to inspire the type of change that Bob wanted to see before he retires. A cluster hire would further illustrate the organization’s commitment to DEIB and create a community for the new hires’ experience and acclimation. It can be difficult to find a comfortable stride when you’re walking alone. The new hire may feel an unspoken burden of pressure to perform as the “representative,” which is both unfair and unreasonable. Bob and I did discuss exactly this fact, to which he said there will be several senior-level opportunities across the organization to effect change.
Is there anything the University of Minnesota should or could have done differently?
I would say nothing. Bob had really primed the pump. He had readied his team, and as much as he could mitigate surprises, he did that. There was a real investment made by the institution before engaging us so that we could do the work.
Bob also stayed committed to the process, and it served him well. Sometimes to get the best candidate and the person that you want and need, it will take longer. Especially, I think, when it comes to recruiting and retaining diverse slates.
When recruiting for diverse lived experience, organizations must take a thoughtful, deliberate, proactive approach. Leaders must make a genuine and broad commitment toward transformative outcomes and take consistent actions to achieve those outcomes. The result can be a workplace that acknowledges the individual strengths of each employee and the potential and added value they bring.
Review and editing by Lindauer Consultant Chandra Montgomery.