Almost all social workers are familiar with the non-profit sector – the branch of society in which social service organizations function to meet individual and community level needs. The government certainly plays a part in providing for the people of the nation through programs that provide food and employment assistance, veterans services, subsidized healthcare, and public school education.

But it is non-profit organizations that seem to bear the responsibility of providing services and programs that address the multi-faceted needs of society beyond the basic government offerings available.

In our current national economy, non-profit organizations rely on competitive grant funding opportunities to carry out their vital work with diverse groups in society. While most non-profits operate through mixed-funding strategies, grant funding is usually a principal funding source.

Philanthropic donation

Grants are made by many private philanthropic foundations who manage large sums of money from family endowments, philanthropists, or other sources, and administer the distribution of funds to non-profit organizations or individuals.

These foundations have various focuses, often depending on the personal interests and values of the founders that may be organized into various programs, priority areas, or regions.

There are many opportunities for social workers to apply their knowledge and skills as part of the philanthropic foundation’s team. Generally, a program officer and her team oversees the grant-making process within a specific program, area, or region. A program officer exercises considerable influence in the social service and non-profit sector, making funding decisions and providing ongoing oversight to funded organizations.

A social worker employed in this role is able to utilize his/her knowledge of service delivery, program effectiveness, organizational assessment, and societal needs and resources in order to determine which organizations and programs receive funding to carry out the work they propose.

Request for Proposals

Program officers and other members of the foundation team develop a call for proposals geared toward specific types of projects or programs under their jurisdiction, such as youth development or HIV/AIDS outreach, and stipulate specific requirements for applicants.

These stipulations will include program-specific guidelines, such as a minimum number of participants for the proposed program or project, as well as organizational guidelines, such as minimum qualifications of key staff members and proof of fiscal solubility. They will then thoroughly evaluate all submitted proposals in order to make funding decisions.

Ongoing Evaluation and Support

Once grant determinations have been made, the foundation team oversees the use of grant funds by conducting site visits with grantee organizations and reviewing progress reports. Through these measures, foundation teams work with grantee organizations to ensure that they are implementing programs and services according to grant specifications and assist organizations in meeting their established goals for maximum social impact.

Members of the foundation team often assist grantee organizations by providing trainings and resources that will help them to accomplish their short and long term goals. Ongoing evaluations of each grantee organization’s success assists foundations in making decisions about providing future funding to the same organization, through grant renewals or new proposals.

Informing the Public

Based on information gathered from each grantee organization, members of the foundation team are able to write reports and other publications describing the impact of their program areas. Their knowledge of grantee organizations implementing diverse interventions allows them to evaluate community needs on a broad scale, assess effectiveness of programs and services, and act as advocates for community improvement as they engage with donors, policy makers, and other grant makers.

Thus, foundation team members become experts in the current state of a particular issue, community, or program area, and are able to contribute to discourse surrounding it through publications, press releases, meetings with stakeholders, and more.

Social workers are well-suited for careers in philanthropic foundations where they will be able to apply their knowledge and skills towards work with a number of grantee organizations and focus on specific societal issues through defined program areas. For those who are well-trained in assessing organizational capacity, evaluating program effectiveness, and deftly managing resources, a foundation career is certainly one to consider.