Philanthropy beat: Foundation job seekers face stingy prospects

  • Article by: JEAN HOPFENSPERGER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 20, 2012 - 5:23 PM

If you're dreaming of a career working at a foundation, make sure you have a Plan B. That, at least, was the advice from a panel of grantmakers at the Minnesota Council on Foundations this month.

The jobs are few, they said, and competition is fierce. But if that doesn't faze you, start getting some experience now, they said.

For example, the McKnight Foundation posted one program officer position in the past year, and 360 people applied for it, said Bernadette Christiansen, vice president of administration at McKnight.

The job was filled by an internal promotion of a program assistant. When that assistant job opened, 344 people applied for it. And more than 40 of the applicants met all the criteria for the job, she said.

The rush of applicants reflects the relative dearth of jobs in the world of foundations. Philanthropy Potluck, a blog of the Council on Foundations, reports that the majority of Minnesota foundations have zero staff positions.

And of the foundations with staff, most have one or two employees, the blog said. Not exactly a bonanza for job hunters.

That said, the foundations that belong to the council employ about 1,100 people.

Even if a job seeker lands a job, it might not be exactly what he or she was expecting, said Brad Kruse, program director for the Hugh J. Andersen Foundation.

"A lot of people think, 'This is great. I get to give money away,''' said Kruse. "But you have to say 'no' more often than you say 'yes.'"

Even when the answer is yes, program officers and other foundation staff members don't make the decisions about which nonprofits and causes to fund, he said. That's the job of the board of directors.

"You have to get jazzed up about being an intermediary,'' he said.

"A foundation is a little like publishing,'' added Kruse. "There's a lot of great manuscripts, but they don't all make it to books.''

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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