Looking For A Philanthropy Job? 20 Resources To Help You

When I was searching for my first foundation job, the CEO of a prominent family foundation told me:

“Philanthropy is a closed world, but once you’re in, you’re in. Take any program officer job you are offered, even if it’s a different content area than what you are interested in. Once you are working at a foundation, you’re seen as an “insider” and can network with other funders.”

That was accurate advice ten years ago, and I think it continues to be true. Although I think foundations are generally more open and accessible today than they were then, it can be difficult for someone to “break into” the field.  I was lucky enough to land a position at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which was tremendously helpful in training me to be a strategic grantmaker, and introduced me to many amazing program officers and foundation leaders.  I learned about this position the old-fashioned way – by networking – but in this economy no stone should be left unturned in a job search.

With that in mind I wanted to share some resources to help you land your next foundation job:

7 Websites With Foundation Job Listings

  1. The Council on Foundation’s Career Center provides national job listings at foundations. Anyone can search for positions, and for $25 you can post your resume (free to members).
  2. The Foundation Center’s Job Corner provides listings of current full-time job openings at U.S.-based foundations and nonprofit organizations. You can also search by organization type, job function, and state.
  3. Grantmakers Without Borders offers job listing with a focus on global issues and social change.
  4. Regional Associations of Grantmakers are great resources for local job listings.  For example, Ohio Grantmakers Forum and Philanthropy Northwest both have job listings on their websites. The Giving Forum lists jobs available at other regional associations, and you can also search for grantmaker associations near you.
  5. OnPhilanthropy’s Dot.Org.Jobs site includes some foundation jobs, although primarily lists nonprofit positions
  6. OpportunityKnocks lists foundation and nonprofit jobs nationally. You can post a resume and also get advice through their Nonprofit Jobs Resource Center.
  7. If you are looking for a nonprofit position, the Donor’s Forum provides a list of over 30 websites posting nonprofit jobs.

Most foundations also list their job openings on their websites. Some, like the Ford and Gates foundations, allow you to apply online.

Search Firms

Larger funders often turn to executive search firms to help them identify qualified candidates. Some popular firms include The 360 Group, Martha Montag Brown & Associates, DHR International, Bridgespan, and Phillips Oppenheim.

Anthony Tansimore, Executive Vice President of the search firm DHR International, offers this advice to job seekers:

It’s not easy to get a job in a foundation and there are many paths. The first thing I do is issue a caution. I talk to quite a lot of people who want to make the jump into a foundation from a nonprofit or from the corporate sector. They think the work is easier and they will make more money.

Second, think about what you’re passionate about. Think about what kind of difference you want to make in the world, and investigate the foundations that are doing that work. Get to know the program officers and ask for an informational interview.

Third, ask about fellowships that encourage people to pursue careers in philanthropy or the nonprofit sector. The San Francisco Foundation, for instance, has a fellowship program to encourage more people of color to enter philanthropy, and the typical fellow is younger in age and career.

Fourth, become informed and share your knowledge. If you know a lot about an issue, write and speak about it so that you are seen as an expert and someone to whom foundations will turn to gain more knowledge on the subject.

Lastly, when you reach out to a search consultant, know that that person’s client is the organization that wishes to hire staff. Do not expect the consultant to serve as an agent to place you in a terrific position, so limit your expectations to meeting someone new and sharing your resume.

If you are under forty years of age and new to philanthropy work, you should check out Emerging Practioners in Philanthropy, which provides terrific networking and educational opportunities. And if you prefer to hang out your own shingle you should check out two of my earlier posts, “So, You Want To Be A Philanthropy Consultant,” and “Starting A Consulting Business? 15 Things To Do Right Now.

How did you land your first foundation job? Do you recommend other resources for finding a position in philanthropy?  Leave a comment and let us know. If you found this blog post useful, please subscribe! On Twitter? Follow Philanthropy411 at @Philanthropy411.

Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2010.

15 thoughts on “Looking For A Philanthropy Job? 20 Resources To Help You”

  1. Great suggestions! So many of us get involved in philanthropy and/or nonprofit development via luck and circumstance. Follow your heart. If you think you can contribute to a nonprofit because of your overall skill set (even if there isn’t an obvious match), go for it! Let your life values lead the way. Would love to put a link to this site on my blogroll, just let me know!

  2. Great post with good resources!

    I will definitely agree with the assessment that “once your’re in, you are an insider.” I was fortunate to gain my entry into the foundation world via an academic program. As a requirement for completion, I had to do one semester in the foundation world. The program facilitator had many contacts within the field but I actually obatined my internship on my own. At the time I was a member of a women’s philanthropy group and a fellow member happened to be a program officer for The Field Foundation–a name synonymous with Chicago.

    I was very fortunate to be able to dive right into my responsibilites as a program officer–conducting my own site visits, proposal reviews and defending my decisions before our Board of Directors. Talk about an invaluable experience! That one semester stretched into an entire year of program work. It was the most educational and immersive eperience into the field of philanthropy I could have hoped for.

    While I had to segue out of the field, I am still in nonprofit and the public affairs area. I hope to someday be able to work again for a foundation in the area of public/government affairs.

    There will always be a place in my heart for grantmaking and philanthropy!

      1. I work in Government Affairs for the Shedd Aquarium. I love the organization. I am definitely broadening my experience as well but it is not where I expected to end up. Down the road my goal is to move back into the foundation world in a Public Affairs role.

  3. I also really appreciated your post. I just started at a Foundation and am now thinking about how I prepare myself for the next step of honing my skills to be able to eventually move into a Program Officer position. I’m intrigued by your suggestion of writing to show expertise in an area. I’ve been playing around with the idea of starting a blog, but am worried about how to bring expertise I’ve gained through work experience to a blog without crossing any professional/personal lines. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the specialist/generalist issue in the foundation world. Should we drive to be specialists in the field or is it better to have a broad issue understanding to bring to the work?

    1. Hi Leah,
      Congratulations on your new foundation job! I suggest that you get involved with Emerging Practioners in Philanthropy, as that organization was created by and for people just like you. Depending on your foundation, it might be difficult to move from a junior-level position such as program assistant or program associate into a program officer role. You might need to change foundations to make that leap. I suggest lots of informational interviews with program officers in your area to find out how they got their job. The specialist/generalist issue is interesting. I think it really should be based on your personal preference for your life. If you are passionate about one cause – such as green energy – then go for it. If you can be passionate about many issues, or if focusing on one issue for the next 10 years sounds boring, then be a generalist. Funders are looking for both. Good luck!

  4. Kris – great post. While the world of philanthropy might seem opaque and closed to outsiders, foundation staff are not as unapproachable as they might seem – and I say that as one who has been in the “inner sanctum” for a long time. I try to make it a point to respond to inquiries, particularly from young people considering a career in the sector, as I remember how appreciative I was of those who opened their doors for me when I was a youngster in the field. I was given one of my best pieces of career advice when someone told me that if I was thinking of a career in a particular field, I should talk to someone who had been working in the field for twenty years and that would give me a glimpse into what the world might look like for me twenty years hence should I choose to pursue that career path.

    Of course, foundation staff are generally very busy – as Kris hints at above – and are also regularly being pitched for grants, even for things completely outside of their foundation’s program areas so consider both of these facts when approaching. Do your homework about the foundation in question and the person you are reaching out to, try to work within their time constraints (e.g., meeting them at or near their work) and be up front that you are not looking for a grant, or perhaps even a job. Do this and I think you will find some receptive folks willing to tell you more about this awesome field that I believe is in its renaissance period. And, most importantly, share your own ideas when you get that informational interview. Philanthropy is a profession of ideas and of problem solving and, as we all know, ideas can come from the darnedest of places, including from a young person who has randomly reached out for an informational interview to learn more about your sector.

    1. Kyle, great advice about informational interviews. I’m a big fan of doing those. It’s how I chose my masters degree program (social work) and ruled out others (law school, public policy, public health). An informational interview also led me to my current profession of philanthropy consulting. Glad to connect!

  5. Thank you! I appreciate the links and the advice. As a recent graduate searching for just such a job, this post (and your blog in general) was very encouraging!

  6. But when you don’t have enough money, it suddenly takes over every thought and moment and robs you of your quality of life. Money means a lot more to those who have none or can’t make ends meet.

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