Program Officer Competency Model©

Chart a path toward transformative grantmaking and trust-based relationships.

Foundation program officers play a critical, nuanced role at the intersection of resources, strategies, and stakeholders. The Program Officer Competency Model captures this complexity.

Development of the model included an analysis of more than 100 job descriptions, a review by competency model experts, and the input of nine focus groups with grantmakers and nonprofit leaders to determine and define the essential competencies of the program officer role.

This model elevates the importance of demonstrating core KSAOs over the holding of traditional credentials and formal networks — all in the service of supporting professional and personal fulfillment.

  • Current and prospective program officers: Use the model to check in on and advance your own learning and proficiency.
  • Hiring managers: Adopt competency-based hiring practices by utilizing the model in position descriptions, interviews, and hiring.
  • Leadership: Amp up your grantmaking strategies by ensuring your team has the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

We encourage you to use, adapt, and share this model to map your professional journey, structure position descriptions, design training programs, and so much more.

Download the PDF or explore the interactive model below!

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The role of the modern foundation program officer is ever-changing, but not well understood or supported. This competency model work from the Johnson Center is one of the first concrete steps towards synthesizing what we have come to know makes a program officer particularly effective at navigating both the internal and external demands of the role — and ultimately adding value.”

Allen Smart

PhilanthropywoRx

Allen Smart

PhilanthropywoRx

It was an honor to be invited to the ‘table’ as a contributor to the development of the Program Officer Competency Model. I was deeply appreciative that the team I worked with took the time to hear my thoughts, see my point of view, see me as a contributor in all the identities I represent, and to reassure me and other participating colleagues that our voices matter and that our lived experiences are valuable in the shaping of future leaders within the nonprofit sector that serves our community.”

Christine Mwangi

Founder & President, Be a Rose, Inc.

Christine Mwangi

Founder & President, Be a Rose, Inc.

With its new competency model, the Johnson Center has taken an exhaustive deep dive into the role of foundation program officer. The model unpacks many of the facets of this profession and is a useful frame both for foundations who are in the market for talented program staff and for people who are interested in advancing in their philanthropy careers and want to be thoughtful about what additional skills they need to develop.”

Caroline Altman Smith

Deputy Director of Education, The Kresge Foundation

Caroline Altman Smith

Deputy Director of Education, The Kresge Foundation

This is an impressive leap forward for a field that has never before been able to define exactly what comprises good practice by program officers. The entire Johnson Center team deserves enormous credit for this invaluable contribution to the emerging profession.”

Joel Orosz, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor of Philanthropic Studies Emeritus, Grand Valley State University

Joel Orosz, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor of Philanthropic Studies Emeritus, Grand Valley State University

Key Definitions

Competencies

The knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) that are required for effective performance in a particular job or profession.

Competency Model

A collection of competencies that are relevant to performance in a particular job, job family, or functional area.

Competency Dimension

One of a cluster of closely related competencies.

Behaviors

The observable activities demonstrated by individuals proficient in a particular competency.

Sources: Campion et al., 2011; Shippmann et al., 2000

Reuse and Licensing Information

We encourage you to adapt, share, and otherwise use this competency model to advance your own work and partnerships in philanthropy. The terms of that use include:

  • Attribution: You must give proper credit to the work of the Johnson Center in any materials you use, create, or distribute. This attribution must include a link to this license and make clear that use of this model does not in any way imply an endorsement of your work by the Johnson Center (unless by prior arrangement). Attribution should appear as follows:

The Program Officer Competency Model was created by the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University © 2021. Use under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

  • NonCommercial: You may not use this material for any commercial purposes, unless by prior arrangement.
  • ShareAlike: Any materials you create and distribute must be subject to the same terms as this license.

Program Officer Competency Model by the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University is licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International.

For inquiries, please contact the Johnson Center at jcp@gvsu.edu.

Interested in learning more? Let’s talk.

The Johnson Center offers a variety of competency-based professional development — open courses, private courses for organizations and networks, and fully customized programs — to support you and your team. Do you have questions about competency models or training opportunities? We're here to help.