Foundation Friday: The Compleat Program Officer

A recent job posting at a major foundation gave us pause:

[R]esponsible for implementing programmatic aspects of the Foundation’s advocacy and direct service grantmaking, the grantee capacity building calendar and some educational programming. . . . [A]wards grants to organizations that address . . . . health.

[Tasks include:]

* Review and analyze Letters of Inquiry and Proposals . . .
* Conduct site visits with current and prospective grantees . . . .
* Staff Allocations Committee meetings.
* Develop and revise Allocations Committee orientation materials.
* Draft award and decline letters.
* Review grant reports and follow up with organizations as needed.
* Prepare annual report.
* Maintain relationships with grantee partners.
* Provide technical advice and support to potential grant applicants regarding their proposals and the foundation’s funding guidelines.
* Keep abreast of current research, policy developments and programmatic trends
regarding key issues.
* Plan and implement grantee capacity building programming– including workshops,
peer networking events, and other issue based educational programming.
* Maintain accurate records of capacity building programming.
* Collaborate on a proactive basis with . . . organizations in the design and
development of special initiative projects around advocacy and public policy in the
Foundation’s funding areas.
* Design, coordinate and implement events including symposia, roundtables, and
panels for advocacy and public policy issues.
* Prepare written reports and papers, as required.

Financial responsibilities:

* Assist with the development of the program department cost center budgets.
* Manage program department cost center budgets, as applicable.
* Represent the Foundation at conferences, meetings, and other events.
* Participate and assume a leadership role on boards, committees, and advisory groups around the foundation issue areas.
* Participate in the foundation’s advocacy efforts, as appropriate.
* Participate in the preparation and review of the foundation’s resource development efforts including proposals for support and reports on funded program activities.


  * 5 years experience in philanthropy or with a nonprofit.
  * Bachelor’s degree in relevant area (. . . sociology, organizational development, etc.); advanced degree preferred.
  * Working knowledge of software programs including Excel, Microsoft Windows, Outlook, and the GIFTS database.
  * Excellent organizational skills.
  * Attention to detail.
  * Strong verbal and written communication skills.
  * The ability to multitask and work under deadlines.

So, which is it?  You want someone who knows something about the delivery of health services, or someone who knows about sociology?  Someone who can participate meaningfully in policy discussions, or someone who can run a word-processor?  Someone who can plan useful educational programs for veteran nonprofit leaders, or someone with five years’ experience?  Someone who can write instruction manuals and keep track of RSVPs, or someone who can determine how best to allocate the foundation’s limited funds to achieve impact on its areas of concern?

Philanthropies: stop following in the footsteps of your nonprofit grantees.  Stop using expert help to run the photocopier, and stop advertising for help in terms that guarantee that anyone with an ounce of professional self-respect will throw the posting away.  Write a program officer’s job description and post it, and while you’re waiting for people to respond, hire a secretary to make sure the new program officer can do her job.

Or, to put it more succinctly: program officers are professionals.  The fact that many of them are women doesn’t automatically transform the role into a clerical one.



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