It’s time to completely reimagine the role of foundation program officers
Over a decade—and a million white hairs—ago I ran an after-school program serving low-income kids. The program went well, until one day when two-third of the kids didn’t show up. This was demoralizing. The program had started gradually decreasing in attendance, but this was the worst it had been. I literally slid down a wall and sat on the floor after the day ended, feeling like a complete loser. Strangely enough, the first person I thought about calling was one of our funders. So I called her. “Muriel,” I said, “most of the kids didn’t show up today! We are terrible human beings! Maybe you should just take the money back and give it to a program that isn’t garbage!”
Muriel was extremely calm. “Vu,” she said, “you are not terrible. Your program is great. This is happening across the city. It’s spring in Seattle. Kids want to be outside. All the programs are having this issue.” I looked out the window; it was one of eight days of sunshine we get each year. Muriel saved me from having a breakdown that day. The staff and I started including more outdoor activities; we asked the kids for their opinions on what other activities they wanted to see, and in a few days they came back.
I bring up this story because one, I often provide some really critical feedback about foundations and program officers and what they need to improve on, but it’s important to recognize that there are many amazing funders like Muriel out there. Their work and support are vital, and yet because we tend to focus on things that are not going well, we sometimes forget about our foundation allies who are behind the scenes doing important things. To those program officers, I know I don’t say it enough, but I see and appreciate you.
Source: Nonprofit AF
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