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CEP Report Shares New Data on the Role of Foundation Program Officers

Date: June 20, 2017

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Media Contact: Grace Nicolette, Vice President, Programming and External Relations: 617-492-0800 x236

Cambridge, MA — New research released today from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) provides a comprehensive collection of benchmarking data on foundation program officers. The report, titled Benchmarking Program Officer Roles and Responsibilities, includes data on topics ranging from the backgrounds of program officers, to technical information about the structure of the program officer role, to program officers’ perspectives on certain aspects of their work, such as the funder-grantee dynamic.

Findings in the report are based on survey responses from 150 randomly selected program officers at foundations that give at least $5 million annually.

“We know that program officers greatly shape the experiences that grantees have with foundations, but there has been a shortage of research in the field looking deeply into the intricacies of the role,” said Jennifer Glickman, research manager at CEP. “Our hope is that this data will provide insight into program officers’ vast set of responsibilities.”

Sixty-two percent of program officers responding to the survey say that internal administration is one of the responsibilities that takes up the greatest amount of their time, despite 75 percent believing it should take up less time in order to be most effective in their role. By contrast, only 36 percent say that developing and maintaining relationships is a responsibility that takes up the greatest amount of their time, while 53 percent believe it should take up the greatest amount of their time in order to be most effective in their role.

Relatedly, the study finds that program officers highly value the grantees they work with — 98 percent of respondents believe that having strong relationships with grantees is important for achieving their foundation’s goals, and 95 percent believe that learning from grantees is an integral part of their professional development.

“Our data show that program officers know just how crucial it is to learn from the on-the-ground experiences and knowledge that grantees have,” Glickman said.

Additionally, the report reveals that program officers have very positive perceptions of the workplace dynamics at their foundations — 74 percent of respondents say they admire the leadership of their respective CEOs, and 73 percent report being very or extremely satisfied with their jobs. Yet, when asked about the biggest challenges they face in their role, 84 percent of survey respondents mentioned internal challenges at their foundations, such as limited resources or capacity, a lack of independence in their role, and the need to manage a disconnect between their priorities and the priorities of their foundation’s leadership.

“The program officer role at foundations is a vital, complicated, and sometimes ill-defined one,” said CEP President Phil Buchanan. “We hope this report is useful both to foundation leaders and program officers alike as they consider how to define the role and then hire, retain, and support program officers to do their best work.”

The report is available for free download on CEP’s website.

About the Center for Effective Philanthropy

The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide data and create insight so philanthropic funders can better define, assess, and improve their effectiveness and impact. CEP received initial funding in 2001 and has offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California. For more information on CEP’s work, including its research, publications, programming, and assessment tools, visit

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