Opportunities seized and lessons learned

Wow! Whoever coined the phrase “time flies” knew what they were talking about. As I write this, it’s been a few days since the end of my year-long internship with the Field Foundation and what a ride it has been! There were lots of hugs and cake to go around and I realized at that moment this was just one aspect of the job I would miss the most: The feeling of family. The small size of the foundation made it the ideal training ground for learning the field. Officially entering the field of philanthropy a year ago I realized how fortunate I was to be able to practice my craft immediately. Knowing how scarce jobs are in our field, the chance to be a program officer from day one was a blessing. I can’t begin to tell you how nervous I was those first few weeks—learning the ins and outs of program work (the organization’s capacity to carry out a program); analyzing a nonprofit’s finances (a surplus may preclude a case for funding-who knew?); arguing for or against funding support in our weekly staff meetings (which sometimes involved very vigorous dialogue); the site visits and the correct way to probe for the answers I need (what’s their sustainability plan for the program?). Not to mention speaking in defense of my grants at the first board meeting (which was nerve-wracking). As is my nature I over-prepared but everything turned out fine. By my third board meeting I was very much at ease.

It has been a robust and exhilarating learning experience. With that education came a comfort and rapport I established with my grantees (yes I will always consider them “my grantees”) which to this day I maintain. Some program officers out there may frown on this “too close for comfort” feeling but allowing myself to develop relationships with organizations facilitated my ability to do my job and do it well. I truly saw this as a partnership and collaboration. Treat others the way you want to be treated and you will never go wrong.

So, as I embark on the next rung of my career ladder (I have an interview scheduled with a major corporation in their philanthropy area), I need to thank the staff at the Field Foundation for their guidance, their nurturing and the confidence they instilled in me to be a better program officer. This truly was a “stretch assignment”. Because of this mentoring my executive director has spoiled me for any other boss! Wherever I land I’ll be okay.

Paulette Pierre is a Program Officer intern at The Field Foundation of Illinois. She has a graduate certificate in Non-Profit Management and Philanthropy from Loyola University and is currently pursuing her MA in Interdisciplinary Studies at DePaul University.