Essential Skills and Strategies for Program Officers

Philanthropy New York's Essential Skills and Strategies for Program Officers (ESS) orients newer program officers and directors to their role as funders. This intensive course helps philanthropy newcomers build a framework for understanding and implementing ethical and effective grantmaking. It is a part of our PNY Core offerings.

The program prepares program officers and directors for the “science” of philanthropy – offering training on the tools and skills to be effective grantmakers and philanthropy professionals overall. Through highly interactive sessions with peers, it also offers strategies for managing the “art” of philanthropy – building participant intuitive skills that bring greater clarity regarding their role and help build self-awareness of their unique contributions within the larger sphere of social change.

We intentionally keep the class size small (25 participants) so attendees can build relationships with peers and develop a peer learning framework that will enhance their practice going forward.

Intended Outcomes

Upon completing ESS, participants will be able to employ reflective practices, tools and skills learned to:

  • Explore how program officers come to funding recommendations
  • Identify legal and ethical issues
  • Communicate effectively as directors and program officers
  • Discuss evaluation and learning methods used in philanthropy
  • Recognize variables that help or hinder capacity to maximize grant impact
  • Apply reflective practice in their philanthropy careers, which includes:
    • A personal strategy: how to recognize and analyze the interplay between role, self and the systems context
    • Relationship building: how to approach and grow relationships authentically, with colleagues in philanthropy and with grantees

(Since PNY offers an extensive financial series, this course will not cover financial analysis.)

2024 Schedule (Tentative)

Virtual sessions will be 9:30 am - 12 pm. In-person sessions will be 9:30 am - 4:30 pm at Philanthropy New York's office (320 E 43rd Street, New York, NY, 10017).

In-Person Opening Session
  • Tuesday, February 6th
Virtual Sessions
  • Tuesday, February 13th and Thursday, February 15th
  • Wednesday, February 28th and Friday, March 1st
  • Tuesday, March 5th and Friday, March 8th
  • Tuesday, March 12th and Friday, March 15th
  • Tuesday, March 19th and Friday, March 22nd
  • Tuesday, March 26th
In-Person Closing Session
  • Thursday, March 28th


The curriculum is designed for and open to program officers and directors who have the following responsibilities:

  • Programmatic due diligence of potential grants (i.e., proposal review, site visits)
  • Communicate funding recommendations and decisions to foundation stakeholders (i.e., CEO and/or Board, grantees)
  • Assessment of grant performance and evaluation of grantmaking portfolio

Please apply only if grantmaking is the core component of your position as the curriculum focuses almost exclusively on grantmaking.

ESS is ideal for program officers/directors who have been through a grantmaking cycle at their foundation since the curriculum relies heavily on knowing your own institution's grantmaking practices. Priority is given to individuals who have been in their roles for more time.

We suggest members take PNY's Philanthropy 101 course before taking ESS.

Given the high demand for this program, ESS is only open to Philanthropy New York members. Space is limited to 25 individuals. We limit participation per organization in order to accommodate as many member organizations as we can and support folks in building relationships outside their organization.

Application Process

The application process for 2024 will open in Q1 of 2024. You may preview previous applications below.


Additional Info

Currently, there is no fee for PNY members to participate in ESS.

Questions? Contact Kristen Ruff, Senior Vice President, or Carolyn Peters, Manager of Learning.

The Essential Skills & Strategies curriculum was developed through a national partnership between regional grantmaking associations, the United Philanthropy Forum and the Council on Foundations in 2005-2006. For more background information on the original curriculum and design team, see Philanthropy New York has since adapted the curriculum in partnership with PNY members who have served as ESS faculty and refreshed the entire curriculum in 2016 with the support of Anna Pond.