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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Program Officer: Negotiating the Politics of Philanthropy


As a part of a larger study on the relationship between private philanthropy and farmworker organizing and community development across California’s Central Valley, this paper concentrates on the central role of the foundation program officer in negotiating the process of grant making. The work of the program officer is revealed as both containing and opening up spaces for addressing political and economic inequity. It is argued that the work of the foundation program officer often limits the approach of granted organizations through professional processes and program frameworks that make poor people responsible for their own betterment while excluding the economic relationships that created the situations the programs seek to ameliorate. Yet findings also point to the role of the program officer as one of significant risk taking and advocacy during non-movement times. Data was gathered through in-depth interviews with foundation program officers, consultants, and grantees, review of foundation program materials, and participant observation at foundation gatherings and presentations.

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