Foundation Program Officers: Is It a Privilege? (Part 2 of 2)

Earlier this week, I posted a blog on CEP’s recent report: “Benchmarking: Program Officer Roles & Responsibilities.” I shared some general reactions, but I have a few more thoughts to share.

It’s fascinating – and worrisome – that only 52% of the program officers who responded to the survey believe that they are working towards the same goals as their Board of Directors. Typically, Board Members have to vote on, and approve all grantmaking decisions. If there is little to no alignment, then the staff and Board are not on the same page, which can lead to ineffective investments in the community. 90% of respondents said their foundation’s leadership accepts their funding recommendations often or very often. So how involved is the Board – or are they rubberstamping decisions?

I also thought it was interesting that 38% of the respondents aren’t sure if they will stay in philanthropy for the remainder of their careers. I wonder if this is because they miss doing the actual work, or if they are frustrated by the lack of impact that they don’t see. 36% of the respondents said that “developing and maintaining relationships” take up the greatest amount of their time, and 53% indicated that they wish they could spend more time doing this. With whom do they want to develop relationships? Grantees? Other funders? Thought partners?

Overall, I found the report to be intriguing…but it left me with more questions than answers. I would love to see CEP take the next step: interview hundreds of program officers and ask harder, deeper questions. I want to hear the stories and truly understand what it means to be a program officer. My very first experience with a program officer – almost 18 years ago – was one where she “raked me over the coals.” I was surprised when my organization actually received a grant. More recently, I was struck when a foundation staff member said, “It is a privilege to be in this position.” I’d love to confirm that all program officers feel the same way. 

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