Foundations program manager

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This page contains all notes on foundations program managers over and above what we put in our career profile. Read the profile first, here.

Profile type


What is this career path?

What a foundation is

What is a foundation?

What does the work involve?

What are the major stages of this career?

"...program officers review and recommend grant proposals for funding and program directors supervise and make decisions regarding grant proposals. Investment professionals manage the financial resources and endowment for private foundations and invest to safeguard the future of the foundation. Grants administrators oversee the centralized processing of grants, but at most large foundations they are not involved in the decisions about awarding grants."[1]

What are the major sub-options within this path?

What is it like day-to-day?

What are the people like?


Women represented 75% of all foundation staff in 2010 Women represented 56% of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs)/Chief Giving Officers (CGOs) At larger foundations, women represent 34% of CEOs/CGOs [2]


10% of foundation staff is under 30 2 out of 5 foundation staff is 50 or older [3]

Personal fit

Entry requirements.

"A survey of the top ten foundations by asset size shows that program associates require around 5+ years of prior relevant experience, and program officers require around 8+ years of prior relevant experience plus a Masters degree or Ph.D." [4]

From How to get a job at a Foundation:

"For example, one program officer gave the usual advice about experience in the field, but she herself got her job by coming in as the foundation's human resources manager and was then transferred to grantmaking in a field where she had no prior experience."

"Take an entry-level job and move up from there, or an administrative job and move over to grantmaking from there. Consultant Kris Putnam quotes a foundation CEO who once told her: "Philanthropy is a closed world, but once you’re in, you’re in . . . Once you are working at a foundation, you’re seen as an 'insider' and can network with other funders." This may be true even if you haven’t been particularly successful at work. Like managers of professional sports teams, foundation staff have a way of recycling even if they screw up.

Many grantmakers started as grants administrators (keeping track of grants made, payments, report submissions, and so on), administrative assistants, program assistants, and interns. People hired from the inside are more likely to be young and inexperienced. They may have little background with nonprofits and little to no knowledge of the relevant field. (Of course, this is the opposite of what foundations often say they are seeking.)"

What does it take to progress?

Who should especially consider this option?

GiveWell - What sort of person makes a good program staffer?


Career capital

Common exits


Exploration value

Role impact

Direct impact potential

"In 2012, as reported by the National Center for Charitable Statistics, charitable giving was $316.23 billion, a 0.6 percent increase over 2011; foundations gave $50.9 billion that year, less than one percent increase over the previous year."[5]

Earnings potential,_Foundation/Salary

"...relatively high-paying posts like program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (mid-level program officers make $150,000)" [6]

Advocacy potential

Job satisfaction


Past experience

Take action

Learn more

Next steps

Best resources

Remaining issues

Research process


Our old profile on Foundations Program Managers

Quick Anecdotes on Working in a Foundation from Someone I Know Who Works in a Foundation - Peter Hurford