So, You Want a Job in Philanthropy?

If you are looking at this webpage, you are likely considering a career transition into philanthropy or simply searching for your first job.

Philanthropy New York provides valuable resources for grantmaking institutions in the New York region. We hope that this webpage can contribute to the development of a capable and well-informed job seeking pool, and that you will find it useful and continue to refer to it as you consider a job in philanthropy.

Join us for our career series

Philanthropy New York hosts group informational interviews three times per year to explore career paths in the philanthropic sector. We'll include a link here when there is an upcoming session.

What types of jobs exist? Where can I find one?

Many people seeking a job at a foundation are primarily interested in the position most responsible for grantmaking: a program staff member. Program staff are responsible for creating and implementing a grantmaking portfolio for the foundation that effectively addresses the foundation's core mission. Conducting thorough research, evaluation, and analysis of potential programs, partnerships, and initiatives allows program staff to determine a course of action that helps the foundation address its primary issue areas. Among the skills and activities involved in program work are:

  • Adaptability: becoming knowledgeable about a broad range of areas or becoming a specialist
  • Offering thoughtful analysis of proposals
  • The ability to synthesize large amounts of data
  • Strong research skills
  • Reading proposals
  • Writing reports and evaluations
  • Programmatic due diligence
  • Financial due diligence
  • Legal compliance
  • Reading financial statements
  • Visiting prospective grantees
  • Communicating with one’s board and staff
  • Answering questions from both potential grantees and from your colleagues

In addition to program-related work, there are numerous other positions that foundations rely on in order to run their daily operations, including: operational management, communications, accounting, research, financial skills, and more. Depending on the size of the foundation and the scope of its projects, there may be a diverse range of staff positions. However, the number of staff at each foundation also varies tremendously depending on region, endowment size, and the type of foundation.

The Foundation Center surveyed foundations in 2009 and found that the average number of staff was 6.2 individuals—but while jobs at philanthropic institutions are sparse and competitive, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find one.

Here is a look at what sort of employment one may find:

Foundation Board: All foundations operate with a board at the top of their organizational structure. Boards are composed of a wide range of individuals, often including (but not limited to) the founding funder’s family.

The Board has the ultimate responsibility to manage the foundation, set the strategic direction, and oversee and approve all grants. The Board typically has the most interaction with Senior Management and directly oversees the Chief Executive Officer.

While serving on a board is not a typical jobseeker position, it is important to understand the role of the Board in providing governance at foundations.

Senior Management: Oversees and directs entire staff, works with Boards, strategizes, has discretionary power. These positions may compose the Senior Management team:

  • Chief Executive Officer
  • Chief Giving Officer
  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Association Director
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Controller

Finance: Manage investment assets, accounting activities, work with Treasurer (Board Officer responsible for overseeing proper fiscal management of the organization), maintain financial records, and prepare financial statements. Types of positions available in Finance:

  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Controller
  • Chief Investment Officer
  • Assistant Treasurer
  • Accountant
  • Accounting Clerk

Programs: Manage grantmaking programs, evaluate grant proposals, research. Types of positions:

  • Vice President, Programs: Directs the program activities of the foundation, including the grantmaking program and special projects or programs operated by the foundation. Responsible for establishing policies and procedures to manage programs.
  • Program Director: Manages the grantmaking program for a particular subject area or geographic region. Recommends (or has authority to approve) distribution of grant dollars within budget for the program area.
  • Senior Program Officer: Supervises other program staff in implementing grantmaking or in-house programs in addition to performing duties of the program officer.
  • Program Officer: Investigates and evaluates grant proposals and/or implements in-house projects. In organizations with few paid staff, program officers are usually responsible for most aspects of the grantmaking process.
  • Program Associate: Evaluates grant proposals, conducts background research, and prepares proposals for funding. This is often an entry-level program position in grantmaking organizations with several paid staff members.
  • Program Assistant: Assists the program officers with duties and provides some administrative support. May also keep track of grants if there is no grants manager/administrator.

Communications: Responsible for production of communication pieces—press releases, website, annual reports, brochures, newsletters. Manage and create social media presence. Related positions:

  • Director of Communications
  • Communications Associate

Administration/Human Resources: Daily operations, benefits management, training, hiring, scheduling, recruitment, and clerical work. Types of Admin./HR positions:

  • Chief Administration Officer
  • Chief Operating Officer - Director of Administration
  • Director of Information Services
  • Computer Professional
  • Office Manager
  • Director of Human Resources
  • Human Resources Professional
  • Executive Assistant
  • Administrative Assistant
  • Receptionist

Donor Relations: Asset development, donor services, fundraising, gift recognition, marketing. Types of positions:

  • Vice President or Chief Development/ Advancement Officer: Responsible for the asset development and donor services function of the foundation. Oversees donor services, fundraising, gift recognition, special events, and marketing activities. Responsible for creation of new funds and maintenance of services to donors.
  • Director of Donor Services/Donor Services Officer
  • Director of Gift Planning/Gift Planning Officer
  • Donor Services/Development/Advancement Assistant

Research: Research, prepare written reports. These job functions are primarily found at foundations that operate similarly to think tanks and produce their own independent research connected to their grantmaking priorities. Types of positions:

  • Research Director
  • Research Associate
  • Librarian

Grants Management: Grants processing and management, knowledgeable about grantees, regulatory compliance, internal processes. Track grants made and grant reports. Efficient with new technology and databases. Types of positions:

  • Director of Grants Management: Enhances foundation’s long-range planning, strategy implementation, and communication efforts with knowledge of grantees, foundation history, and pertinent regulations. Ensures quality and timeliness of all aspects of grants processing and management.
  • Grants Manager/Administrator: Monitors grants made by the organization, obtains and maintains reports required from grantees.
  • Grant Management Assistant: Provides administrative support for grants processing, including tracking grants made by the organization and obtaining and maintaining reports required from grantees.
  • More information: Grants Managers Network, Staffing Grants Management.

In addition to considering which role is your best fit, you may also want to consider thinking about office culture. Consider which factors you find most important—this insightful Common Good Careers’ article may provide helpful guidance through that process.