Program Officers: Foundations’ Cultural and Strategic Messengers
Author: Allen Smart
The foundation program officer has always had a difficult role. Part gatekeeper, part bureaucracy manager, part cheerleader – and now increasingly responsible for building collaboratives, promoting equity and engendering trust.
At their best, they can hold all these skills concurrently. At their least effective, they gravitate to one competency over all others and muddle through their tasks without meeting the demands of their internal or external stakeholders. The result: program officers that aren’t providing value to their grantees, communities or foundation leadership. They are too often just getting by.
The evolution of the program officer role has followed similar shifts in private philanthropy. Beginning as bank trust officers in the early days of philanthropy and growing to influential issue experts and movement leaders in the 60s and 70s. The 80s and 90s saw the explosion of foundation staffing, process and layers of decision making. Many program officers became primarily process navigators.
When I (with my colleagues) coined the term “Program Officer of the 21st Century” for a Southeastern Council of Foundations (now Philanthropy Southeast) conference presentation a few years back, the branding was meant to reflect the need to move program officers to a more community-engaged listening and facilitative model, in an effort to diminish the inherent power dynamics in the funder-nonprofit relationship. The change also tasked the program officer with responsibilities that extended far past grantmaking — to using the social and facilitative capital of foundations. This switch from steward to activator was, and still isn’t easy, for many. The challenge is how to best support this more active and nuanced role?
For decades, philanthropy supporting organizations, sometimes described as foundation affinity groups, have organized various trainings under such titles as Foundations 101 and the Art and Science of Grantmaking – brief general exposure curriculum meant to give those new to foundations a common language. Concurrently, there developed a series of leadership and peer support programs for those younger in their career; those in specific operational roles or those from specific demographic backgrounds, as examples. What didn’t develop, however, was any training or support for the evolving role of the program officer. Nothing to respond to the basic questions of “How Can I Be Good at My Job” or “What does a Successful Program Officer Look Like and How to Get There”?
The Child Care Crisis Spares No Southern State
Author: Elliot Haspel
It has been a particularly rough few years for parents with young children, as the COVID-19 pandemic induced school and child care closures. Now that schools and child care programs are largely reopened, parents face a knock-on crisis: a crippling staffing shortage that is shearing an already-scarce child care supply. This child care crisis impacts every Southern state, and philanthropy must act to address it.
The overall child care crisis is caused by structural failure in the economic model. Because America treats child care more like a restaurant than a social good like a public school or library, programs are dependent on parent fees. Yet unlike a restaurant, the fixed costs in child care are so high due to necessarily low child-to-adult ratios – so although the price tag is staggering, programs cannot charge parents the true cost of care. Programs respond to this market failure the only way they can: by cutting educator wages. In 2020, the median wage was slightly above $12 an hour.
This reality left the child care sector barely treading water before the pandemic, but in the face of major retail and fast food companies significantly raising their base compensation, child care programs cannot keep up. As a result, although the overall U.S. economy has recovered to within 2 percent of pre-pandemic staffing levels, the child care sector is languishing more than 12 percent below, a loss of over 100,000 jobs. This is not a pandemic artifact, but the new normal.
Southern states are struggling as much as anyone. A robust study of Louisiana child care programs over the summer of 2021 found that, “84% of site leaders reported asking staff to work more hours or take on additional roles to make up for staffing shortages. Three-quarters worried that staffing issues negatively affected children at their site. Almost half indicated that they served fewer children or turned away families due to staffing challenges, and nearly two-thirds indicated they currently had a waitlist.” The story is similar in Virginia, where “almost all leaders (92%) found staffing their site difficult” and over half reported “losing valuable teachers.”
This rampant turnover creates immense stress on educators and site directors (a workforce heavily made up of women of color). It also stands in opposition to healthy child development; children thrive on caregiver reliability and consistency. In the worst-case scenarios, programs must close permanently because they simply cannot remain staffed at a level that allows for sustainable operations. State data shows that, for instance, Jefferson County (Louisville), Kentucky has lost nearly 10 percent of its child care supply since the start of the pandemic.
What's New at the SECF Lending Library
Author: Stephen Sherman
By Stephen Sherman
We’ve recently expanded our Lending Library to include the titles below and much more. SECF members have exclusive access to our virtual collection offering e-books and audiobooks on best practices in philanthropy, advancing equity, and social sector leadership. Visit our website to get started today!
Read Up On Our Annual Meeting Speakers
Get ready for the SECF 52nd Annual Meeting with these titles by our opening and closing keynote speakers, Wes Moore and Heather McGhee.
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
In December 2000, the Baltimore Sun ran a small piece about Wes Moore, a local student who had just received a Rhodes Scholarship. The same paper also ran a series of articles about four young men who had allegedly killed a police officer in a spectacularly botched armed robbery. The police were still hunting for two of the suspects who had gone on the lam, a pair of brothers. One was named Wes Moore. Wes just couldn’t shake off the unsettling coincidence, or the inkling that the two shared much more than space in the same newspaper. After following the story of the robbery, the manhunt, and the trial to its conclusion, he wrote a letter to the other Wes, now a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. His letter tentatively asked the questions that had been haunting him: Who are you? How did this happen?
The Work: Searching for a Life that Matters by Wes Moore
The Work is the story of how one young man traced a path through the world to find his life’s purpose. Wes Moore graduated from a difficult childhood in the Bronx and Baltimore to an adult life that would find him at some of the most critical moments in our recent history: as a combat officer in Afghanistan; a White House fellow in a time of wars abroad and disasters at home; and a Wall Street banker during the financial crisis. In this insightful book, Moore shares the lessons he learned from people he met along the way – from the brave Afghan translator who taught him to find his fight, to the resilient young students in Katrina-ravaged Mississippi who showed him the true meaning of grit, to his late grandfather, who taught him to find grace in service.
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee
Heather McGhee’s specialty is the American economy – and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. From the financial crisis to rising student debt to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a common root problem: racism. But not just in the most obvious indignities for people of color. Racism has costs for white people, too. It is the common denominator of our most vexing public problems, the core dysfunction of our democracy and constitutive of the spiritual and moral crises that grip us all. But how did this happen? And is there a way out? McGhee embarks on a deeply personal journey across the country from Maine to Mississippi to California, tallying what we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm – the idea that progress for some of us must come at the expense of others.
Share Your Grants Data to Show Philanthropy’s Response to 2020
Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations
As a partner on the Get on the Map campaign, SECF works with Candid to promote data sharing in the philanthropic sector. Last month, Candid launched its annual data collection campaign, and we invite our members to join this effort by sharing grants data through Candid’s eReporting program.
By joining the eReporting campaign, your organization will help inform resources like SECF’s Southern Trends Report and interactive tools like Candid’s Foundation Maps. These resources are used daily by your peers to assess gaps in funding, seek out potential partners, and determine where and how to target their investments.
Your participation is also critical to ensuring that researchers, sector leaders, policymakers, and others have a clear picture of Southern philanthropy’s response to events in 2020. Last year, Candid launched two new data portals tracking philanthropy’s efforts in responding to COVID-19 and grantmaking to promote racial equity, both of which rely heavily on data shared directly by funders. Candid’s data is also regularly cited in research in the field, including recent reports from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, the Schott Foundation for Public Education, and Media Impact Funders. We need your help to provide the most current and accurate data on foundation grantmaking for resources like these.
If your organization is already an eReporting partner, thank you! You should have received instructions from Candid for reporting FY20 and FY21 data. Please remember to share your data by June 30, 2021.
If your organization is new to eReporting, it’s easy to share your grants data. You can follow the instructions on this page, or simply email your grants data to firstname.lastname@example.org. For those who have never shared grants data before, we recommend using the “Simplified Template” available here. If you have questions, please feel free to email email@example.com.
As an added benefit, organizations that participate in eReporting receive an interactive map that visualizes their foundation’s grantmaking (see a sample here). Grants data is also incorporated into our regional giving map, available exclusively to SECF members.
Helping the Formerly Incarcerated Integrate Into the Community – and Stay Out of Prison
Author: Tristi Charpentier
For years, Louisiana incarcerated more people per capita than anywhere in the world. At an annual rate of more than $17,000 per inmate, incarceration costs Louisiana taxpayers almost $700 million each year,1 and nearly 36 percent of formerly incarcerated persons return to prison within three years of their exits.2
Since 2004, the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation has funded programs to reduce the barriers hindering the successful return of individuals to communities in Louisiana. While it may be easy to forget people behind bars, 95 percent of those imprisoned will return to our communities.3 Recidivism – the subsequent commission of a crime and reincarceration – affects every member of the community.
In 2015, the foundation embarked on a journey to become more strategic in its prison re-entry work. We recognized that in order to achieve a large-scale reduction in recidivism rates, it would be insufficient for the foundation to continue to provide small, direct-service grants. The foundation partnered with The Rensselaerville Institute to develop a Strategic Results Framework with two goals in mind: to become an investor in outcomes rather than a funder of activities, and to create an initiative focused on supporting the success of returning citizens. These two ideas came together in the form of the three-year, $3 million Prison Reentry Initiative.
One of the keys to the Initiative was a shift in the foundation’s decision-making approach: from funding of activities to investing in results. Applications for the Initiative were evaluated from the perspective of an investor answering three critical questions:
- What results are being proposed?
- How likely is it that this group can achieve the proposed results?
- Is this the best possible use of foundation funds?
Research Library Updates for 1st Quarter of 2020
Author: Stephen Sherman
In order to provide our members with the latest data and analysis on philanthropy and the issues it seeks to address, we continually make updates to the SECF.org Research Library, available exclusively to members (login required). Members can browse hundreds of research reports, websites, case studies, and other resources that we’ve cultivated to help Southern funders stay abreast of trends in the field and learn about emerging best practices in philanthropy.
This post captures some of the most recent additions to the Research Library. If you would like to suggest a resource or have other feedback, contact Stephen Sherman, SECF’s Research and Data Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (404) 524-0911.
Funding for coronavirus (COVID-19)
Candid has set up a pop-up resource page to provide the latest information on the philanthropic response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The page includes sections listing funding opportunities, national and local response funds, related news items, and blog posts addressing philanthropy's response to the crisis.
Leadership in Difficult Times: Guidance for Donors and Giving Families: Responding to the Emerging COVID-19 and Economic Crises
National Center for Family Philanthropy (2020)
In response to inquiries from member families and funders, NCFP has developed this guide as an initial compilation of lessons and inspirations to help funders and families respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in the near-term. The guide offers ideas and resources from philanthropic families, family foundations, philanthropic support organizations, philanthropic advisors, and NCFP’s team, many drawn from responses to previous crises.
SECF's Lending Library Is Now Online!
Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations
Today marks the debut of the SECF Lending Library – a members-only source of books and audiobooks on philanthropy, equity, leadership and more!
Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen that SECF members are eager for resources to inform and inspire their work. The SECF Lending Library makes obtaining these easier than ever – our curated collection is accessible from most of the devices you’re using at home, including laptops, smartphones, tablets and Kindle devices!
You can check out titles from the SECF Lending Library starting now! Our selections include works by national experts and thought leaders, plus recent Annual Meeting speakers like Bryan Stevenson and Isabel Wilkerson!
The Lending Library will also serve as the platform for the upcoming Chair’s Book Club, a key initiative inspired by our Equity Framework. We look forward to revealing the first Chair’s Book Club selection soon!
SECF has partnered with OverDrive to provide this new benefit – OverDrive works with hundreds of public library systems across the country to offer e-books and audiobooks to patrons free of charge. Just like these public libraries, the SECF Lending Library catalog will be accessible from Libby, a user-friendly app for iOS and Android devices that allows for borrowing and reading all in one place as well as Kindle devices.
You can view our full guide to the SECF Lending Library here. If you’re ready to get started, click here to view all our available titles!
If you have questions or recommendations for future Lending Library titles, contact Stephen Sherman, SECF’s director of research and data, at email@example.com or by calling (404) 524-0911.
COVID-19 Coronavirus: What Foundations Need to Know
Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations
UPDATE (March 16, 2020): New guidance from the CDC released March 15 recommends postponing all gatherings of 50 people or more for at least two months.
The SECF staff is working remotely but remains available to support our members. You can reach our team via e-mail or by calling (404) 524-0911. Read more about our response here.
UPDATE (March 12, 2020): We have added new information from the CDC on steps foundations can take to slow the spread of the virus. See the links below in the How Foundations Can Prepare section.
UPDATE (March 8, 2020): New guidance from the CDC recommends that anyone in a higher-risk group for becoming very sick due to COVID-19 should "stay home as much as possible." Those at higher risk include "older adults and people who have severe, chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease."
More than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 coronavirus have been reported in the United States since January 21 – this includes cases reported in 10 of 11 states in the SECF footprint.
The spread of the virus has sparked discussion of not only how philanthropy can best respond, but also of how foundations can best operate in an environment where fears of the disease are running high and where separating fact from rumor and misinformation can be difficult.
SECF has put together a collection of resources to help members deal with the impact of this growing pandemic. In addition, our staff is available to provide further assistance if needed – please contact us at (404) 524-0911 if you need our support.
Fall 2019 Issue of SECF’s Inspiration Magazine Now Available!
Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations
The latest issue of Inspiration, SECF’s quarterly magazine dedicated to sharing stories of Southern philanthropy’s impact, is now available at SECF.org, with print editions arriving this week in the mail as well.
The fall 2019 issue includes:
- A look into the health equity work being pursued by the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, which was established six years ago and, since day one, has been focused on addressing the root causes of health outcome disparities in its community.
- The final installment of our Then, Now & What’s Next series marking SECF’s 50th Anniversary. Our retrospective look at SECF’s history and impact on the field concludes by examining the evolution of foundation leadership in the South. Significant changes in the last 50 years include an increasingly diverse crop of leaders and growing complexity in duties and responsibilities.
- FSG, which will present a special postconference session at the Annual Meeting, walks through out changes made internally to advance equity can help a foundation do the same in its community.
Also in this issue: a message from SECF President & CEO Janine Lee, updates on new hires and promotions, a round-up of the latest members to join the SECF family and more, including a profile of a longtime SECF staff member who will attend her final Annual Meeting this year.
A print copy of Inspiration is mailed to each member organization as well as individual Hull Fellows alumni. Members can also login to SECF.org to download a PDF version.
If you have a story idea for an upcoming issue of Inspiration, contact David Miller, director of marketing and communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Youth Organizing Can Be a Powerful Strategy for Funders
Author: Eric Braxton
Part of the power of youth organizing is that it connects individual transformation to systemic change, and supporting youth-led change is an important grantmaking strategy. It brings together the right people with the right strategies to create social change and protects our other investments by cultivating a leadership pipeline for the future. From the Civil Rights Movement to current efforts for safe communities and just schools, young people from across the South have always been at the forefront of advocating for just and equitable communities. Building on this proud tradition, a new generation of Southern young people is leading efforts to advance health, justice, equity and dignity. At the same time, new research is showing that engaging young people in organizing to create lasting change in their communities is one of the best ways to support their development. Youth organizing efforts in the South have succeeded in achieving real change for their communities such as:
The Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO), in collaboration with Grantmakers for Southern Progress, The Highlander Research and Education Center, Project South, The Southeastern Council of Foundations, Southern Echo, Inc., Southern Vision Alliance and The United Way of Greater Atlanta is holding a funder briefing on June 4 from 10:00am to 5:00pm at the Loudermilk Conference Center in Atlanta, Georgia, to engage with youth leaders and local and national funders to discuss how to support young people as drivers of community change across the South. We urge funders across the region to join us.
Attendees can expect three takeaways from this interactive day: