Takeaways from an Introduction to the World of Philanthropy

Phil Kozenski

Among its many effects, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the experiences of many college students, preventing them from attending on-campus classes or experiencing traditional internships. At Oberlin College, third-year students had the opportunity to complete virtual micro-internships at a variety of organizations. This program was meant to enhance students’ knowledge and skills in areas of professional interest. CEP was fortunate to host Phil Kozenski, an Archeological Studies major from Indiana, for a micro-internship in the fall of 2020.

In this post, Phil reflects on his time with CEP. We are thankful to the Oberlin College Career Development Center for organizing this opportunity, and very grateful to Phil for his contributions to our organization last fall.

Before March last year, my plans for 2020 had been fairly straightforward: to finish my second year at Oberlin College as a student studying archaeology, come home in May, and return in the fall to start my third year of classes. But then our classes on campus were cancelled and students were sent home to finish the academic year online. The chance to participate in a summer internship seemed to have dwindled under the weight of the coronavirus’s impact, so I waited to see what was next. When Oberlin decided that I, among most members of my class, would not begin school again until Winter 2021, a project offered by the college led me to an internship with CEP in the fall.

I had never considered any sort of internship in the philanthropic sector before coming (albeit virtually) to CEP last fall, but the knowledge that I gained from this opportunity has advanced and expanded the way I think about philanthropy and its relationship with my own fields of study. Not only that, being introduced to philanthropy in such a tumultuous time has given me a perspective that would have been different had I interned at CEP even just a year earlier. Indeed, my own experience arriving at CEP was led by changes brought about by COVID-19, and the way I learned about philanthropy was inseparable from the impact that the pandemic has had on me and philanthropy as a whole.

My work at CEP revolved around grantee survey data — primarily reviewing grantees’ opinions about the foundation gathering their feedback through the Grantee Perception Report, redacting sensitive information, and qualitatively analyzing and categorizing grantees’ answers. As an intermediary of the funder-grantee relationship in this way, I learned about the grantee needs that have and have not been met by foundations in the wake of COVID-19.

Grantees and foundations alike are dealing with the unique challenges of COVID-19. One particular foundation using the GPR whose feedback I analyzed had made many beneficial changes and increased the flexibility of their grants to accommodate these challenges. As one of the foundation’s grantees wrote, “The Foundation’s emergency funding and loosening of restrictions post-COVID-19 has been invaluable.” However, even for large organizations like foundations, functioning under the stress of the pandemic without leaving any partners behind can be demanding, which is why listening to grantees candidly and comprehensively is so essential.

Reflecting on my experience, it is satisfying to hope that my work will be able to help that foundation and their grantees keep their relationships running as smoothly as possible.

At the beginning of the internship, I’ll admit that I did not see much connection between my studies in archaeology and CEP’s work. I entered it expecting something new; I got that, but the internship also led me to look at my own field in a way that I hadn’t before.

What draws me to archaeology is its ability to let us in on the lives and cultures of humanity’s ancestors. While I have focused on the substance of archaeology as a practice, my time at CEP helped in examining the operational side of preserving and researching material culture. It is not a connection that I immediately made, but philanthropy helps to fund a great deal of archaeology and archaeology-adjacent projects. (Among foundation grantees whose feedback I worked with were organizations representing museums and universities.) In this way, while the specific data I analyzed was not directly involved with archaeology, it opened my eyes to the organizational structures behind archaeology as a practice — structures in which philanthropy is deeply entwined. I can now see the ways in which effective philanthropic practice can help or hinder the archaeological practices that are central to my interests.

Through reviewing lots of feedback from grantees about how philanthropic dollars — as well as grantees’ relationships with their funders — impact their work, this internship has taught me a great deal about the grant process. When I think about my field, archaeologists receive grants from a variety of organizations, whether they be philanthropic or governmental, for a variety of purposes. I would not be surprised to find myself applying for a grant of some kind in my future career. Having this experience with CEP, in which I gained insight into the funder-grantee relationship, is helpful preparation for entering such grant-funded work down the road. Indeed, I learned a lot about what foundations seek from grant applicants — as well as issues that grantees should be prepared for in working with funders.

Interning at CEP was an opportunity that I would never have had without the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as my plans changed in the past year, the field of philanthropy now finds itself navigating many changes brought on by the pandemic as well. Learning about philanthropy in this rapidly shifting time has been beneficial to my understanding of the field, as well as my own area of interest. I look forward to continuing in my studies — and later career — with the knowledge I acquired through my time with CEP.

Phil Kozenski is a third-year student at Oberlin College majoring in Archaeological Studies. Phil interned with CEP in fall 2020 as part of Oberlin’s Career Communities Micro-Internship program.

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