You may not automatically associate the world of investment banking with that of philanthropy, said Roman Jackson ’07, but this is exactly the professional space occupied by the former government and legal studies major. Jackson, program officer with the Private Foundation Services division of JPMorgan Chase & Co., is responsible for handling a lot of money on behalf of some of the global financial firm’s clients, and for helping direct those funds to worthy causes.
Jackson delivered the keynote address at Building Bridges: Crossing the Divide Through Nonprofit Work, a symposium sponsored by Career Planning. Jackson spoke with Bowdoin News about his work, career path, education.
Describe how your job bridges the worlds of investment banking and philanthropy?
It’s funny because the role of a foundation in the nonprofit world is the same as an investment bank in the corporate world. Investment banks provide financing for corporations to fund growth, and foundations provide financing to nonprofits to build capacity. My role as program officer is the same as an investment banking analyst. I analyze a nonprofit’s programs, impact, and financials, to determine if they are capable of achieving the goals laid out in their proposal.
There are two opportunities for corporations in the philanthropic sector: one is through their own charitable activities—many corporations have set up foundations and volunteer programs as a way of using their expertise to make a social impact and also to build their reputation in the communities that they work in; the second part of it is participating in the $375 billion philanthropic sector as advisors and wealth managers. As strategic philanthropy becomes more popular with individual donors, there’s more demand for professionals who can provide guidance on their philanthropic endeavors. Although my job is philanthropic in nature, I’m providing a valuable service to clients who are willing to pay for my work.
Are there certain nonprofits that you work with?
I encounter hundreds of nonprofit organizations through the fifty foundations I work with. These foundations have various objectives, whether it’s a $300,000 prize that goes to an artist each year, or funds for advocacy work addressing issues like Alzheimer’s disease. One nonprofit that I’m especially proud to work with, for personal reasons, is Broadway Housing Communities. It was created by Bowdoin alum Ellen Baxter ’75 to provide housing to those well below the poverty line. I was inspired by the mission of the organization and also thrilled that a Bowdoin graduate would create an innovative program that’s impacting the community I grew up in. It is an honor to serve as a board member and help with fundraising as the chair of the development committee. Another nonprofit that personally inspired me is the Harlem Children’s Zone. As a former participant and current donor, HCZ has opened doors for me that would not exist if I did not have this organization in my life.
You said in your talk that there is no established career path for your type of job. How did you end up in your position?
I never thought I would have a career in philanthropy, I just happened to land here. I was offered an internship with a philanthropic institution and grew into the role. I think most people currently in the field have an unconventional path. They are either referred, or just come across an opportunity. People working at foundations generally tend to have some experience working in the nonprofit sector, or a specific area that the foundation is interested in. Many corporate philanthropy positions are occupied by people who either have marketing backgrounds, or may have worked in another part of the company and transferred into philanthropy. This is a growing sector, which is why I think it’s important for current students to be aware of opportunities and set themselves up to take on these roles as demand for such positions increases.
Can you offer more career advice for Bowdoin students wanting to enter your field?
Sure. I have four pieces of advice:
1. Know what jobs are out there. Philanthropic jobs are posted on places like LinkedIn and Idealist. Search for philanthropic jobs to get a picture of what opportunities are available and determine what job you would like to have in the social sector. Once you get an idea of what you would like to do, it will be easier for you to position yourself to become competitive to attain the position.
2. Get involved. Internships and volunteer opportunities are the best way to get initial experience in the social sector. Volunteer at local community groups, become politically engaged in your community and attend talks and lectors on social topics of your interest.
3. Stay Informed. Follow various social sector resources such as the Stanford Social Innovation Review, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and other research publications that focus on your topic of interest.
4. Reach out to alumni in the field: There are many Bowdoin alumni working in the social sector. Reach out to them and learn about how they got to where they are now.
How did your Bowdoin education prepare you for your career?
As a generalist I’m required to know about many programmatic areas. Because of this, I’m not an expert in any field, however I often have to be a fast learner. At Bowdoin I developed the skill of learning and adapting quickly while also gaining an appreciation for learning and expanding my knowledge.
Roman Jackson ’07 was the keynote speaker for the 6th Annual Nonprofit Symposium, Building Bridges: Crossing the Divide Through Nonprofit Work.’ The annual symposium is sponsored by Career Planning and coordinated and moderated by Meg Springer, Assistant Director. It is generously funded by the Preston Public Career Interest Fund. In attendance were seventy two Bowdoin students, and twenty six community nonprofit professionals, including nine Bowdoin staff members and thirteen Bowdoin alums. In addition to the keynote, there was a panel, Reach Out Now: The Broad Impact of Community Engagement, plus roundtable discussions exploring the role of nonprofits in the community.