Program Officer, Civic Engagement and Government | Ford Foundation

Program Officer, Civic Engagement and Government
New York, NY


The Ford Foundation’s U.S. Program in Civic Engagement and Government (CEG) seeks a collaborative, strategic, team-oriented Program Officer to help evolve and implement the foundation’s efforts to strengthen representation, participation, and leadership in U.S. democracy nationally as well as in priority regions across the U.S.  In particular, the foundation seeks a dynamic, credible, proven field leader who brings a strong intersectional analysis to the work with a particular emphasis on gender and racial justice.  The Program Officer must have a proven track record of working closely with communities that have been historically marginalized from the systems that affect their lives so as to always keep the lived experiences of people and communities at the center of CEG’s grantmaking approach.

In order to advance foundation priorities, the Program Officer should have proven experience and substantive knowledge in the formal and informal structures, practices, and processes of democracy, ranging from civic participation and community organizing to formal democracy reforms, policymaking, and approaches to co-governance.  The Program Officer should also have experience in building networks, communities of practice, and/or cultivating ecosystems needed for intersectional movement-building, both internally across funding areas and externally with the fields in which the CEG program engages.  At this critical moment, the ideal candidate would be able to help anticipate how the work must evolve to realize the promise of democracy through a government-centered approach to civic engagement.


The foundation’s core mission is to help reduce inequality in all its forms: political, economic, and cultural.  At the heart of the CEG program strategy is the notion that everyday people can and should directly shape and influence the issues, policies, and systems that affect their lives.  We support efforts to tackle the longstanding problem of unequal access to government decision-making and allocation of public resources, particularly for communities of color, women, immigrants, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and young people. 

Our theory of change posits that strong civic organizations and community organizing groups are required in order to engage everyday people in civic life and solve public problems that address the material conditions of people’s everyday lives, especially for those who have been historically excluded from decision-making.  Paired with efforts to reform formal approaches to representation (e.g. voting rights and census), and facilitating engagement between policymakers and community-led priorities, government will be more representative of a changing American demographic, decision-making will be a more inclusive enterprise, and public institutions will be more responsive.

The Foundation strives to achieve this by working with critical stakeholders and partners in government, civil society, academia, the private sector, and across the philanthropic sector to expand participation, promote equitable public decision-making, and to build power in communities so they can effectively engage with the public institutions that affect their lives.

The Program Officer will support partners to develop, test and demonstrate models of powerful civic engagement with government that build strategic civic capability, achieve structural change and policy outcomes that prioritize improving the material conditions of historically excluded communities, help make government more responsive, and over time contribute to increased trust and faith in the positive and essential role of government in daily life and American democracy.

The Program Officer will particularly inform work on expanding democratic participation to ensure that communities have greater voice and power to shape the policy decisions that impact their lives. In collaboration with the Director and the full team, the Program Officer will oversee a body of work in a few domains, some of which overlap with other program officers on the team: youth and community organizing groups; groups that build capacity for civic organizations; and leadership development for civic engagement.  In addition, the Program Officer will develop emerging areas of work related to participatory co-governance approaches, inclusion of people with disabilities, and/or building technological intuition into the work of civic engagement organizations.  S/he will also collaboratively develop a body of work primarily focused on building the field’s ability to develop and deploy effective inside/outside strategies, where the external pressure created by social movements is connected with the cultivation of civic leaders, elite influencers, and other allies, contributing to more representative and responsive governments. 

The Program Officer will work under the direct supervision of the foundation’s Director of Civic Engagement and Government, and alongside two other program officers, a department coordinator, program assistants, grants managers, and a technology fellow.  The Program Officer will collaboratively assess the CEG field, identify key ecosystems, and work with relevant actors and other funders to analyze challenges and opportunities, seek rigorous evidence about program effectiveness, identify levers of change, and play a leading role in shaping specific grant activities. The Program Officer will share substantive knowledge with foundation colleagues; collaborate broadly across CEG and other thematic areas; serve as a ‘connector’ of grantees; promote thoughtful learning for continuous improvement and adaptation; and work with practitioners, government officials, scholars, NGOs, other donors and corporate sector leaders as relevant on issues of common concern for positive impact.

Program Officer’s Core Responsibilities

Reporting to the CEG Director and working with a multidisciplinary team of Program Officers, the Program Officer will:

  • Work collaboratively with other team members to develop, define and implement program strategies to achieve significant and scalable impact toward team goals.
  • Continually scan the fields related to democracy in the US (and globally to learn lessons for the US context), follow key developments and debates, keep abreast of the academic and popular literature, share key findings and lessons among colleagues and the field.
  • Develop grant-making activities in a team-oriented context, with a ‘grantee-in-the-driver’s-seat’ orientation, that are aligned to the strategic goals of a thematic area and support a connected ‘ecosystem’ of work where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Promote engagement with grantees to review opportunities, challenges and advances and encourage collaboration, learning, exchange and strategic partnerships.
  • Manage, monitor and coordinate a grants portfolio, including: long-term grant planning; identifying and working with prospective grantees to develop proposals for grant recommendations (including helping determine the goals for a grant, its activities, expected results, indicators of success and budget); conducting organizational assessments; undertaking periodic reviews of progress with grantees; and reviewing financial and narrative reports.
  • Represent the Foundation and its work to the government, media, academic, business, philanthropic, and civic leaders through meetings, updates, speeches, blogposts, briefings and interviews, with guidance from the CEG Director.
  • Promote and participate in fostering open-mindedness and a culture of learning – including learning and evaluation activities to guide the evolution of programmatic work – seeking to continually ask hard questions, gather independent and rigorous data and evidence about effectiveness of the foundation and grantees’ strategies, and help adapt practice as needed.
  • Write and communicate in lucid and accessible manner; develop and implement grant-making approaches that support the use of strategic communications as part of the program strategy.
  • Contribute to the thinking and work of colleagues in the CEG team and foundation overall and advancing team building and team effectiveness.


  • A minimum of eight years leading social justice strategies and/or subject-matter expertise related to the ideas and approaches outlined above, including significant experience with demonstrable impact in communities of color and/or other historically disadvantaged communities.
  • Astrong sense of how to apply racial and gender justice analyses to strategy is required, as well as an understanding of comparative perspectives on political systems, the policymaking process, and how government works.
  • Familiarity and experience working with social justice concepts and frameworks such as racial equity, gender analyses, economic justice, intersectionality, and implicit and structural bias.
  • Action-oriented and entrepreneurial self-starter who can work well independently and in teams.
  • Intellectually curious; demonstrated openness to new ideas.
  • Written and oral fluency in English (required) and Spanish (preferred).
  • Exceptional communications skills: active listening, cogent and polished writing, constructive yet humble speaking, and comfort with public speaking and presentation.
  • Demonstrated ability to be a productive member of a community of people at work, respecting differences while working toward shared goals, comfort with periods of ambiguity, constructive participation in ongoing organizational development.
  • A master’s degree in relevant field of study or a bachelor’s degree plus substantial experience with growing responsibility and leadership; terminal degree (J.D. / Ph.D.) preferred.
  • Demonstrated experience as a connector and convener across relevant sectors and parties, including grantees, practitioners, government officials, scholars, and civil society players.
  • Exceptional leadership presence—internally and externally, but with a flexible, collaborative, team orientation.
  • Superb analytical skills and ability to strategize, plan, prioritize and identify/assess opportunities, challenges and institutions with which to engage.


  • This position is primarily a sedentary role. However, the person in this position may need to occasionally move about inside the office to liaise with internal staff, access files, office machinery and a copy machine/printer. Additionally, domestic/international travel will be expected, approximately 20%; some travel is directly related to grantmaking, but also to attend team conferences, retreats and meetings.


  • Commitment to the Foundation’s mission and core values of dignity, inclusion, fairness and diversity
  • Personal qualities of humility, capacity for self-reflection, and a sense of humor
  • Discretion and ability to handle confidential issues
  • Action-orientated and entrepreneurial self-starter who can work well independently and in teams

Location: New York, NY                                                

Target Date: Summer 2019                                          

Salary: is based on experience and on the Foundation’s commitment to internal equity. A generous benefits package is provided.

To apply: Please visit  as soon as possible

Equal employment opportunity and having a diverse staff are fundamental principles at The Ford Foundation, where employment and promotional opportunities are based upon individual capabilities and qualifications without regard to race, color, religion, gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation preference, age, national origin, marital status, citizenship, disability, veteran status or any other protected characteristic as established under law.