New CEP Research Shares Comprehensive Data on Program Officers

It’s no news that the role of program officer at foundations is a significant one — especially to the grantees whose experiences with funders are greatly shaped by their interactions and relationships with their program officers. Yet, there has been a shortage of research that looks deeply into the role that program officers play.

Benchmarking_PO_pages2.pngA new report we released earlier this week seeks to help fill that gap. Based on survey responses from 150 randomly selected program officers at foundations that give at least $5 million annually, Benchmarking Program Officer Roles and Responsibilitiesprovides a comprehensive collection of benchmarking data on foundation program officers. Data in the report span topics from technical information about the structure of the program officer role, to program officers’ backgrounds, to program officers’ perspectives on certain parts of their work like the funder-grantee dynamic.

For example, 62 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. 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 for them to be most effective.

“The program officer role at foundations is a vital, complicated, and sometimes ill-defined one,” said CEP President Phil Buchanan in a press release about the research. “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.”

Manager, Research, Jennifer Glickman, introduced the research with a blog post earlier this week diving into several of the report’s data points. Caroline Altman Smith, deputy director of education at The Kresge Foundation, also reflected on the report’s findings on the blog, sharing several tips for program officers to strengthen their relationships with their grantees amid the busy schedules and limited time that accompanies their role. You can download and read the report in full here. We welcome your thoughts and reactions.

2017 Conference Videos Are Now Up!

Hoping to revisit moments from the 2017 CEP Conference or share what you experienced with your colleagues? Couldn’t join us and want to see what you missed? Videos and presentations from select conference sessions are now available on our website.

Watch video of several plenaries — including panels on approaches to combatting the roots and effects of inequality and engaging with different perspectives on philanthropy’s influence — and download slide presentations including Raj Chetty’s on his research on mobility and economic opportunities for low-income children.

Stay tuned — and be sure to have your colleagues sign up for our newsletter — to not miss any news or announcements about the 2019 conference!

Foundations in a New Political Era: What’s Happening on the CEP Blog

Several guest authors on the CEP blog reacted to data in Shifting Winds, CEP’s recently-published report on how foundation leaders are experiencing — and responding to — a changed national political context:

  • Walter & Elise Haas Fund Executive Director Pam David lays out several ways in which funders can increase their effectiveness given the demands of the moment, including increasing giving, amplifying the voices and leadership of trustees, and forming true and meaningful collaborations.
  • NCRP’s Jennifer Choi implores funders considering how to respond to the moment to “consider one simple idea: be bold, thoughtful, and inclusive.”
  • Jehan Velji of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation discusses the importance of listening to beneficiaries, especially in the current climate. Velji writes: “After all, it is by listening to beneficiaries that we can hear the anxiety many immigrants feel about the administration’s stance on immigration. It is by listening to beneficiaries that we can understand the connections between trauma, mental health, and violence. It is by listening to beneficiaries that we can better understand the connection between physical health and a clean environment.”
  • Kristen Cambell, executive director of Philanthropy for Active Engagement (PACE), points to examples of how civic engagement work is one way in which funders are tapping into “citizen power” as a source of strength to respond to an altered political landscape.
  • And John Esterle, co-executive director of the Whitman Institute, argues that foundations considering how best to respond to challenges posed by a new administration should revisit the assumption of perpetuity when it comes to their organizations’ lifespans.

Elsewhere on the blog, Surdna Foundation President Phillip Henderson highlights several common governance practices that CEOs and board members of family foundations identified in interviews with CEP’s advisory services team. (These conversations are written up in CEP’s recent publication, Family Ties: Multigenerational Family Foundation Board Engagement.)

Reflecting on a session at the CEP conference in which program beneficiaries described their experiences providing feedback,Melinda Tuan of the Fund for Shared Insight discusses the need for funders to understand the perspectives of those they seek to help.

ClearWay Minnesota CEO David Willoughby, one of the foundation leaders interviewed for CEP’s report on limited life philanthropy published earlier this year, describes how working in a set timeframe has helped ClearWay in its work to reduce tobacco use in Minnesota. Also on the blog, CEP’s Ethan McCoy shared three case studies that accompanied this research publication: on the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundationthe Lenfest Foundation, and the Brainerd Foundation, respectively.

And Laura Hollod, senior manager for monitoring and evaluation at Johnson & Johnson Global Community Impact,discusses how when it comes to capacity-building grants for evaluation, an approach that puts the goals of grantees first is crucial.

CEP publishes posts on various topics relevant to effective philanthropy twice weekly on our blog. Subscribe to receive each new post directly in your inbox and don’t miss a thing.

CEP in the News

In May, Phil Buchanan contributed a piece to the “Advancing Collaboration” series on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog. In the post, Buchanan presents four interrelated barriers that stand in the way of foundation leaders effectively collaborating: 1) the “biznification” of philanthropy; 2) misaligned measurement incentives; 3) power dynamics; and 4) ego. Read the full post and leave your thoughts in a comment here.

Additionally, CEP research’s on impact investing was recently cited in a piece by former Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams on The Atlantic’s CityLab, while another story in Fast Company pointed to CEP’s report on limited life foundations.

A Year in Review at CEP

2016 was a busy year for CEP! In our 15th year, we published major research reports on transparency, evaluation, and the future of foundation philanthropy; added new questions drawn from our research findings to our assessments and completed 88 assessment and advisory services engagements; updated our website and shared thought-provoking commentaries on the CEP blog; and our YouthTruth initiative crossed the threshold of a half million students surveyed in its history.

Catch up with all our activities in 2016 in our just-published Annual Report.