Program Officers as Champions

A New Leadership Program for Experienced Program Officers

You’ve been a program officer or director for several years now and you increasingly recognize the complexity of your role. You’ve developed relationships within the foundation, with grantees and with fellow funders in your field. Now you’re facing new challenges: staying fresh in your work, exiting relationships, taking on more responsibility crafting portfolio objectives for your grantmaking program and more.

You see change that needs to happen in the world. You’ve chosen to work in philanthropy to help bring about that change. Now you want to push yourself to be the most effective champion you can within your role as program officer.

With support from our members through the Fund for 2025, Philanthropy New York is piloting a new leadership program for experienced program officers and directors. Program Officers as Champions will provide a small cohort of participants with opportunities to learn and grow in their positions as leaders within their institutions and fields of expertise.

Program Goals and Intended Learning Outcomes

Program Officers as Champions is designed to help experienced program staff build capacity for reflective practice, peer-to-peer learning, and mobilizing for impact. The program challenges participants to hone their capacity both inside foundations with colleagues, as well as out in the field with grantees and with other leaders in the ecosystem.

Upon completing Program Officers as Champions, participants will be better able to:

  1. Identify strategies for exercising leadership – within your field, with grantees, and within your organization
  2. Recognize power and equity issues and when implicit bias is at play
  3. Demonstrate an understanding of how your philanthropic work fits into a larger ecosystem
  4. Recognize and approach ethical issues, as well as other challenges that come with more complex relationships and longer tenure
  5. Identify ways to contribute to the learning culture within your organization
  6. Recognize ways to champion the values and issues you care about via learning, strategy setting and assessment processes
  7. Understand your organization’s risk appetite and identify strategies for managing organizational risk
  8. Identify right-sized advocacy strategies that align with you and your organization’s values
  9. Demonstrate effective inquiry and listening skills
  10. Apply skills learned to strengthen your relationships with colleagues in philanthropy and with grantees

What to Expect

This is an intense, highly interactive leadership development program. The cohort will be small (18 participants) so attendees can build relationships with peers and develop a peer learning framework that will enhance your practice and network going forward.

The program will be facilitated by PNY staff and is structured to draw on the wisdom, curiosity, humility and rigorous thinking of participants. It will require participants to bring their full energy to each day and invest in their own and their peers’ learning and development. It will also require carving out time in between sessions for prep work that is critical to the success of the in-person sessions.

Facilitated sessions and pre-work will include activities that:

  1. Help participants assess their personal and organizational skills and capacities;
  2. Expose participants to frameworks, tools, and skills-building opportunities through interactive, peer-based learning;
  3. Create opportunities for participants to engage in teaching and learning, bringing their own real-life scenarios for peer discussion; and
  4. Provide support to help participants apply learnings to practice (individual action planning)


Designed for

Program Officers as Champions is designed for midcareer program officers and directors – individuals with more than 5 years of program officer experience and at least 10 years of professional work experience in or outside philanthropy.

In selecting participants, we are looking for individuals who will bring a willingness to self-reflect and engage in courageous conversations with peers to improve their grantmaking practice; and evidence that they exercise leadership, going beyond more typical functions of a program officer (e.g., such as serving as a point person in a funder collaborative, developing a program or portfolio strategy, doing more capacity building work with grantees, advocating for field-wide change on issues, etc).

This program is open only to Philanthropy New York members.

Application and Selection Process

We had to change our timeline for our inaugural program in 2020 and are finishing up the program in 2021. We plan to launch a new cohort in 2022.

When building cohorts for deep-dive programs, we consider both the individual’s fit with the program and the composition of the cohort as a group. For the inaugural cohort, we received strong interest from folks with longer tenure in their professional and philanthropy careers and prioritized folks with more tenure in the field. We also pay attention to the demographic diversity of the cohort and prioritize the participation of Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color as part of PNY’s commitment to racial equity and valuing lived experience.

Please reach out to Kristen Ruff with any questions.

Program Fee: The fee to participate is $1,500/person

Developing and offering this program requires a significant investment by Philanthropy New York. We are charging participating members a registration fee to offset only the direct expenses associated with delivering this program.