Managing Expectations, Coping With Realities

by Lee Draper

Every year, scores of individuals are recruited to join the program staff of foundations. As program officers or directors, they allocate billions of dollars to the nonprofit organizations doing work in our communities and abroad.

Despite being charged with such responsibility, newcomers to the field of philanthropy are typically brought in without much formal orientation, training, coaching or mentoring. Often they are thrown into their positions like a novice swimmer pushed off the diving board into the deep end. They are shown the office and thepiles of proposals to review. Colleagues expect them to walk in and, from the get-go, evaluate funding requests, assess financial statements and effectively interact with nonprofit leaders.

People who join foundations come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. There is no institutionalized credentialing or degree process for those new to the field. Although many have nonprofit management experience, the grantmaker perspective that they must adopt is dramatically different. Those who arrive from the business, academic or public sectors experience a significant learning curve. Whatever their previous employment, newcomers can find their new role and responsibilities challenging, unfamiliar and stressful.


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