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Impact 100's New Martin County Branch Is Ready To Make A Difference For Charities On The Treasure Coast

When one woman donates $1,000, not much of a difference is made for the recipient. But when the women belonging to Impact 100’s new Martin County branch each give $1,000, a voted on local organization receives a game-changing donation.

Women do amazing things every day. And when those days add up, they make weeks, months and lifetimes of accomplishments. Women are masterful at multitasking, vital in the workplace, charitable in the community, and they still manage to be the rocks of their families.   

But, this isn’t about all women. It’s about 100 women—the women who make up Impact 100, to be exact. 

After popping up around the nation, the Impact 100 charitable model has made its way to Martin County. This structured assembly of women unites to decide—in a most democratic fashion—how best to transform the needs of a community through one powerful charitable contribution. 

“Disney has imagineers, and they spend their time imagining new rides and new fun experiences,” says Pat Austin, 70, a community volunteer, communications professional and Impact member who resides in Jensen Beach. “To me, Impact 100 is saying to our non-profit community, ‘You can be imagineers. You can imagine what you would like to do to change the trajectory of your organization. Imagine what you [could] do if you didn’t have to worry about where every dollar was going to come from. If there was this influx of money that could change the trajectory, because $100,000 changes something.’”

National Prominence

The model is simple: 100 women each donate $1,000. They accept letters of intent from local charities, whittle down the list and request more detailed applications. Then on a single occasion, they observe presentations by the finalists, vote and award $100,000 to the decidedly most deserving candidate. 

Impact 100 was founded in 2001 by Wendy Steele of Cincinnati. Eager to inspire more women to participate in philanthropy, her initial Impact group awarded a $123,000 grant in 2002. It has since donated more than $3 million to tri-state charities. 

Steele’s influence stretches far wider today. Now national, Impact 100 claims 24 chapters across the country—plus one in Australia—engaging 5,600 women to donate $29 million to 250 non-profits in 22 cities. Little wonder that in 2014 Steel received the Jefferson Award—the most acclaimed public service honor in America.

Tailor-Made For Millennials

At 33, Genevieve George is one of the millennial members of the growing group, which spans a broad age range. A financial advisor with a background in non-profits, George appreciates belonging to the organization—from the movement’s rising momentum to its ability to make something monumental from modest means.

“It’s just that feeling of being a part of something so much bigger than my own contributions,” George says. “The means might not be there to make tens of thousands or more in contributions individually. ... My $1,000 to one organization—it’s a lot to me, but it’s not going to have a big impact on one organization. But when I pool with 99 more ladies, that’s going to have a big impact.”

Just as the strict contribution requirement of $1,000 apiece creates collective financial strength, it also equalizes individual firepower, says Stacy Ranieri, president of Firefly PR and marketing, and volunteer on several non-profit boards.

“This is a small investment of time,” says Ranieri, who’s on the grants committee. “But it’s a great equalizer. We’ll have matriarchs who could give $50,000, but here they can only give $1,000. 

“The exciting part of the organization for me is there isn’t a lot of time spent on organizational policy and planning,” she adds. “You get an opportunity to take your donation, convene one time, and provide a single contribution to a single organization that will have a transformative impact in the community.”

Women’s Touch 

Women’s Touch
(L to R) Front: Linda Weiksnar, Stacy Ranieri, Anne McCormick, Elizabeth Barbella, Arati Hammond and Robin Hunt; Middle: Bonney Johnson, Pat Austin, Marianne Paulsen, Genevieve George, Ellyn Stevenson, Paula Hundt and Robin Cartwright; Back: Christine Delvecchio, Pat Williams, Deborah Johnson, Kate Freihofer, Ann Decker and Kelly Johnson

"Getting 100 women in Martin County is going to be so easy, we’re going to surpass that goal in the first year.”

Recruitment is still underway, says Ellyn Stevenson of Sewall’s Point, who’s heavily involved with community organizations and non-profits. 

“Getting 100 women in Martin County is going to be so easy, we’re going to surpass that goal in the first year,” says Stevenson, who puts membership at more than 50 so far. “A couple women are sponsoring their young adult daughters. It’s very organic. It doesn’t take a lot of organizing to get the word out. Word spreads fast. Women talk to each other.”

What excited Stevenson to become involved is the way Impact 100 infuses philanthropy with fresh perspective, challenges traditional spending and investment roles, and taps the bottomless reservoir of women’s intuition. 

“Traditionally, the decision about where to spend the money and when to spend the money has been left into the hands of men,” she says. “This puts the decisions about where to spend that money and how to spend that money squarely into the hands of the women.”

Following The Money 

Charitable giving is often done on faith. Where it all goes, donors don’t exactly know, but there’s generally an implicit trust that it’s dedicated more to the overall mission than administrative overhead. The approach of Impact 100 abides by the trust principle but builds in the verification. 

Participants bring to Impact 100 the benefit of extensive civic involvement and in many cases lengthy tenures volunteering or serving on the boards of directors for local charities and non-profits. With all that institutional knowledge comes some sense of favorites, right? Even though it’s admittedly highly unlikely, what prevents creeping bias, however subtle, or worse—alliances and angling—from manipulating the outcome?

“That’s not how it works,” Stevenson says. “We have a committee that vets all the grant proposals. It gets narrowed down to each group and then everyone gets to know the contenders and gets all the information ahead of time. The vote is not just based on a five-minute presentation. It’s based on an entire package with financials and history and all kind of stuff.”

Even if a member is rooting for another recipient, the satisfaction of seeing any respected local charity awarded with $100,000 to fully pursue its mission is worth celebrating, says Kimberly Perron, a Jensen Beach resident and interior designer who also serves on the board of the United Way.

“The women involved take more of a community view,” she says. “We can give to our favorite charities. This is different. This is an impact grant: $100,00—that’s a huge grant in our community. And if one of my favorite organization applies but they don’t get it, I’ll be sad for them. But I’ll be excited for another organization. 

“Everyone gets an equal vote,” she adds.

Impact 100 abides Matrin County