Giving Out Money Is Hard Work

A program officer at a foundation finds his MBA useful in developing fund strategies and identifying prospective grantees

I'm a program officer for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago, one of the 10 largest private foundations in the U.S., with an endowment of almost $5 billion.

As a program officer, I develop funding strategies, identify prospective grantees, and prepare recommendations for our board's approval. In my first year at the foundation, I have helped give away $25 million to arts and cultural groups and universities in the U.S. and Russia, as well as to international conservation organizations.


  In addition to grant making, I work directly with the president and other senior staff to explore, analyze, and direct new domestic and international initiatives. These include projects on human rights in Africa and technology in the developing world, plus collecting new ideas for projects to fund.

I went to Oxford University Saïd Business School as a Rhodes Scholar. Building on an undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology from Stanford University, I first completed a master's degree in refugee studies at Oxford. I realized that an MBA would provide me with practical tools like finance and marketing to have a significant impact on the world.

Over the last 10 years, nonprofits have increasingly looked to MBAs and others with private-sector experience to provide strategy, structure, and bottom-line awareness to organizations already high on vision, passion, and commitment. Increasingly, business titans like Bill Gates have shown how their business acumen and resources can have an impact on significant world issues like education, hunger, and democracy.

Here's a snapshot of a typical work day:

7:30 a.m. -- Alarm rings. Hit the snooze button once (or twice).

8:30 a.m. -- On my way to work. I recently moved into a loft in a converted shoe factory on the western edge of downtown Chicago, so I only have a 10-minute walk to the office.

9:00 a.m. -- Scan the morning papers. It's especially important to know what's going on in arts and culture, because it's one of my program areas. Check and answer e-mail.

9:30 a.m. -- Prepare the first draft of an arts and culture update that I will give at the next quarterly board meeting. Our board consists of Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners, Ivy League professors, CEOs, and former senior government officials.

10:30 a.m. -- Meet with one of my three supervisors to go over this presentation and make final plans for $1 million in grant approvals for the board meeting.

11:30 a.m. -- Complete background research on three international grants. Send files to the general counsel for review.

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