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The first 5,000 miles...
Its official! I’ve passed the one year mark in to my position as a
Program Officer in MMT’s Responsive Grants program. That puts me
somewhere between a rookie and a veteran.
The journey has been mostly exhilarating and occasionally exhausting. The exhilarating part is learning about the inspiring work being done by nonprofits around the state. Some of the larger nonprofits I’ve worked with reach 60,000 people a year through a broad range of programs. Others describe themselves as “small and scrappy” but do impressively deep work with their target populations. It is a privilege to bear witness to the passion and energy people bring to their communities.
The exhausting part? Longer road trips, and keeping my schedule on track in a busy month. Here’s a look at the places I have visited this past year.
Program Officer By the Numbers
- 31 – number of grants on my work schedule that were approved for funding in the last year
- 4,177,800 – grant dollars approved for funding from my schedule
- 5,116 – miles logged on site visits and other meetings outside Portland
- 3 – number of chiropractic visits to adjust my back after long drives
- 850,000 – dollar amount for PRIs (loans) the trustees approved from my schedule
Growing up, I was the kid wandering the nonfiction section of the library, perusing books on Hinduism, cooking, or cat psychology. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was early training for an MMT Program Officer. As a general purpose funder, Meyer Memorial Trust accepts proposals from all kinds of organizations and sectors. It helps to be a generalist with a nerdy streak.
I’ll share a few of my observations along the learning curve to become a Program Officer in the Responsive Grants program.
- The process is more team-based than I expected. A team of six program officers reads all Letters of Inquiry submitted for Responsive Grants. LOIs that are approved by trustees are then assigned to a single program officer to conduct due diligence. Once the program officer prepares a draft report, it is further clarified in our peer review process before being sent to the trustees.
- Calling applicants about an award is as exciting for me as it is for you. I’ve heard laughs, whoops, happy sighs and stunned silence. But my favorite was the Development Director who said, “Excuse me—I have to ring the bell!” and informed her colleagues with some loud clangs.
- Giving feedback to declined applicants is also important. While I first dreaded making these calls, it is getting easier. I understand that my feedback may help an organization gain funding with Meyer in the future, or with another foundation. My advice to those declined is to try to find out why—even if it is uncomfortable to hear.
- Philanthropy can play multiple roles. I pictured MMT’s purpose initially as a grant maker. But I have come to understand the variety of roles a foundation can play to convene leaders around a topic, track trends, make below-market loans (program-related investments), collaborate with other funders, and engage all assets in furtherance of the mission. We constantly looking for ways to meet our mission of contributing to a “flourishing and equitable Oregon.”
I look forward to the next 5,000 miles as a Program Officer—
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