On February 14, The Fund Raising School will host the webinar “Advice from the Funders.” Featured will be two alumni from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy who have experience working with and for foundations.
Jenna Wachtmann, M.A.’15, program officer at Ball Brothers Foundation in Muncie, Indiana, and Jeff Small, M.A.’05, vice president of programs at Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust in Indianapolis, Indiana, will share valuable insights of the grant process from the perspective of the funder.
These insights are bolstered from the perspective that both Wachtmann and Small served “on the other side.”
Before her position at Ball Brothers Foundation, Wachtmann served as the development coordinator for Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center for seven years. She initially learned grant writing through a position with a service-learning program at her undergraduate university. When she moved to Indianapolis and began working at Mary Rigg, a mentor told Wachtmann to check out the then-Center on Philanthropy to grow her fundraising abilities.
She did, enrolling in the executive master’s program while continuing to work at Mary Rigg and build its development program from the ground up.
“I was able to take everything that I learned in my courses and directly apply it to the program at Mary Rigg,” she explained.
Wachtmann also elected to write a thesis during her time as a master’s student, focusing on foundation roles before, during, and after the fall of Communist Russia. Through her experiences interviewing former program officers and digging through foundations’ archives, she learned about the internal operations of how foundations made grants, what grant requests during that time looked like, and how program officers interact with grantees.
“Throughout the process, I discovered what went well with foundation relationships with their grantees and what didn’t,” Wachtmann said.
Shortly before she finished her thesis, Wachtmann began her position at Ball Brothers Foundation. As a result of her experiences as a fundraiser and grant writer at Mary Rigg and writing her thesis, she’s able to appreciate the time and effort nonprofits spend carrying out their missions, as well as the nervous feeling some have when approaching a foundation for money.
“I remember feeling fear and trepidation when I approached the first foundation,” she said. “There’s a power dynamic between grantmakers and grant seekers explicit in the work that both do. It’s been important throughout my work at Ball Brothers Foundation to remember that power dynamic, but to also remind grant seekers that we need them as much as they need us.”
Small agrees, although he arrived at these conclusions through a different career path. After completing his undergraduate degree and two years of service in AmeriCorps at local Indianapolis nonprofit Peace Learning Center, he arrived at the then-Center on Philanthropy as a full-time student.
While at the center, Small served as both a research assistant, working with projects such as Giving USA, and as an intern at the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, where he gained an understanding for the inner workings of a foundation.
After graduating, he worked in fundraising and program development at the Boys & Girls Club of Indianapolis, neighborhood development for the city of Indianapolis, a writer and editor for multiple projects for the school’s research department, and in writing and project management for Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates, a fundraising consulting firm.
Throughout his professional experiences, Small also spent time writing grant proposals to foundations. Like Wachtmann, he noticed the power imbalance between grantmaker and grant seeker.
“Sometimes, nonprofit professionals think, ‘here’s this opportunity with a foundation that has this resource that’s needed. If I can do this process correctly, then we are granted this proposal,’ ” Small said.
“At times, that thought process skewed my thinking, and made me anxious about approaching foundations. As a result, you get into a mindset where you approach the grant process from a position of need, which can cause stress on a fundraiser and make them question the proposal and react in ways that aren’t in the best interest of the organization.
“It’s draining to come from a position of a need because it’s not sustainable for a professional to feel that way, or for an organization to act in that way. You didn’t create poverty or hunger. What you’re doing is positive and productive, so it’s important to think of yourself as an equal.”
Want to learn more about fundraising from foundations? Wachtmann and Small have much more to share in the webinar.