Philanthropy’s ambassador in muddy boots: Jenna Wachtmann

By Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy staff |

If you’re planning a career in the nonprofit sector after completing a degree, Jenna Wachtmann recommends investing in a sturdy pair of boots.

The Ball Brothers Foundation program officer says that when she interviewed leaders from several influential foundations for her master’s degree thesis, “They all had one thing in common: an insistence on what I’ve come to call ‘muddy boots.’ It’s this idea that no matter what job we’re headed into in the philanthropic world, we must not sit behind our desks — rather, we must be out in the field, listening and learning first-hand.

“In preparation for my job with Ball Brothers Foundation, I bought this pair of boots that I wear all the time to visit construction sites, nature preserves, and such, and over the past year they”ve gotten very, very muddy,” Wachtmann said. “As philanthropy professionals, some of our best and greatest insights come when we take time to really listen, whether it’s to our grantees, to the nonprofit organizations, or to the donors we’re working with.”

At the foundation, Wachtmann researches program funding areas and projects, reviews grant proposals and reports and provides technical assistance to grantees.

The Ball Brothers Foundation, a family philanthropy with a grant-making emphasis on East Central Indiana, provides support for organizations and services including the arts, culture, humanities; education; environment; health; human services; and public society benefit. The foundation currently is focusing early childhood education, workforce development, emergency management, outdoor education and recreation and quality of place initiatives, offering lots of opportunities for Wachtmann to pull on those boots.

In May, Wachtmann earned an executive master’s degree in philanthropic studies from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy with a focus on international philanthropy and the intersection between U.S. philanthropic organizations and foreign policy.

Wachtmann was among the school’s 53 May graduates, the largest number of Philanthropic Studies students ever to graduate from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and its predecessor, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. Graduates earning Ph.D., master of arts best online casino or bachelor of arts degrees in Philanthropic Studies, as well as the Graduate Certificate in Philanthropic Studies, represented a wide range of experience from veteran philanthropic sector leaders completing graduate-level programs to civically engaged undergraduates.

In 2013 while a student in the executive master’s degree program, she was awarded a grant from the Rockefeller Archive Center to conduct research in the recently released Ford Foundation’s archive, one of a very few scholars endowed with exclusive access to these documents and records. The research was key to her thesis, which compared the grant-making approaches of three major philanthropic organizations and their contribution of resources to post-Communist Russia.

Prior to receiving this prestigious award, Wachtmann participated in the “Virtual Student Foreign Service” (VSFS) internship program through the U.S. Department of State. She received rave reviews for her exemplary performance. Students in VSFS participate in projects that aid in the reporting of issues relating to human rights, economics and the environment. Wachtmann took the lead working with a team of students to help design a program concept for awards in innovation to empower employees in embassies worldwide.

“My experience as an intern with the U.S. Department of State was very informative and has given me a unique vantage point from which to assess the boundaries between civil society and the government,” said Wachtmann.

Whether within Indiana’s borders or across continents and cultures, Wachtmann said, “The work that nonprofit professionals do every day is challenging and complex work — addressing poverty, building civil societies, fighting for human rights — but is also important and noble work. It is work which, to be done well, requires a great deal of humility and a profound sense of shared humanity. In the end, it is work that matters deeply and I am proud to be a part of it.