Ottumwa Legacy Foundation Joins GlassPockets

Meet Our New GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Kelly Genners, President & CEO, Ottumwa Legacy Foundation

This post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have joined us in building a movement for transparency that now surpasses 100 foundations publicly participating in the "Who Has GlassPockets?" self-assessment. This blog series highlights reflections on why transparency is important, how openness evolves inside foundations over time, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

The Ottumwa Legacy Foundation in southeastern Iowa, established as a healthcare conversion foundation in 2010, was formed to create ongoing public benefit and enhance well- being in its community. The foundation’s strategic priorities include economic prosperity, educational opportunity, quality of life, and housing availability. Recognizing its own legacy areas as well as its role in serving as a catalyst in the community, the foundation also directs supports to innovation, capacity building, cancer treatment, and scholarships.

The Ottumwa Legacy Foundation is among our newest GlassPockets participants. In this interview with GlassPockets’ Janet Camarena, Kelly Genners, President & CEO of the Legacy Foundation, explains why transparency and public engagement are key to its philanthropic approach.

Janet Camarena
: The last 18 months have been a very unpredictable and challenging time for us all, and much of what is shaping philanthropy today stems from responding to multiple crises unfolding from the pandemic, systemic inequities, and a variant surge that is currently straining healthcare providers. How is the Ottumwa Legacy Foundation responding to these unprecedented times, and has this led to the foundation engaging differently in the community or rethinking how you work in any way?

Kelly Genners: While we have always prided ourselves in being responsive, our changing health and social environment has certainly caused us to step up our game! A priority for us has been to take the time to listen to our partners to examine what their needs were in terms of the pandemic, this involved more concise applications and reporting guidelines and most importantly, the redirection of funding to unrestricted general operating support which is what they needed most of all.

We have also made a deliberate decision to integrate more inclusive language into our systems and support efforts that promote inclusivity. For us, DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) is not a catch-phrase but part of our culture and a continued opportunity for learning and growth.

Janet: The process described on your website for how the Legacy Foundation developed its strategic plan sounds very transparent and participatory. For example, you reference engaging in “hundreds of community conversations” before defining your direction. Why would you say it’s important that private foundations take the time and resources to create such a public and transparent engagement process?

Kelly: The simple answer is yes, whenever possible there is definitely value to getting input and feedback on not only the projects or initiatives that you are working on but also on how impactful you are as an organization. We learned early on that our work was much more impactful with partnership and collaboration.

"We learned early on that our work was much more impactful with partnership and collaboration."

Janet: One of the biggest barriers we encounter when it comes to foundations embracing a more transparent approach is a lack of understanding of the return on the investment of time and effort. Can you share a story about how opening up and illuminating the work that you are doing has helped you to better achieve your organization’s goals, or advanced your work in some unanticipated way?

Kelly: I have found throughout my career that more often than not when people are upset with something you are doing it is because they don’t have enough information or good information. Having a grant database on our website that lists our community investments in detail has been extremely helpful for us as a communication tool. It is a tool we can immediately point to that “sets the record straight” when misinformation is prevalent and can ultimately turn a critic into a champion.

Janet: Your foundation has the unique distinction of having both a GuideStar Transparency Seal as well as now a GlassPockets Transparency Badge. How did these processes help you improve or better understand the Legacy Foundation’s level of transparency, and why should your peers participate?

Kelly: I would say that the process itself was very eye-opening to us - not only in those conversations we were having about what would share externally - but also with our internal team. We sometimes take for granted that everyone is on the same page and has the same information but that is not always the case. I would definitely encourage others to participate in the process. We have always tried to serve as a model for sound nonprofit management practice and this is yet another opportunity for those in philanthropy to serve as an example for others.

Janet: Since ideally, transparency is always evolving and there is always more that can be shared, what are some of your aspirations for how the Ottumwa Legacy Foundation will continue to open up its work in new ways in the future?

Kelly: It is so timely that you ask this question! Over the past year we have made a lot of changes in how we communicate to our stakeholders. While we have tried many different methods with varying success we still felt as though we could do better. After much thoughtful consideration, we recently made the decision to have a presence on social media platforms. I will tell you that, historically, social media is something that those of us in philanthropy have been wary of – both in terms of time management needed but also because of the exposure to criticism that often comes with it. In our efforts to better communicate about our Foundation and our work, we now feel like the benefits will outweigh the risks and are excited for another opportunity to connect. Find us on Facebook at Ottumwa Legacy Foundation.


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