It’s amazing what women can do when they come together. Skilled, talented and intelligent women across Westchester County have been joining forces since 2014 to make a difference in our community by collective giving. Through Impact100 Westchester, these women have pooled their resources and awarded over 1.5 million dollars in grant money to local non-profits.
What is Impact100?
The concept is simple yet brilliant. The goal is to harness the energy and resources of a large group of women to achieve a transformational effect on an organization. The first Impact100 was founded in 2001 by Wendy Steele, a Cincinnati woman who recruited one hundred women to donate one thousand dollars each to help fund a dental clinic for the homeless.
“The theory is that a thousand dollars is a lot of money for some people and not so much for other people, but it is enough money that regardless of which end of the spectrum you’re in, you have skin in the game to feel like you’re tied to the money that you’re giving,” explains Armonk resident and Impact100 Westchester co-president Samantha Schwam. Since its inception, 53 chapters of Impact100 have formed around the world and over $55 million has been awarded by Impact100 groups globally.
The Westchester chapter was founded in 2012 by Edgemont resident, Sharon Salomy Douglas. After many kitchen table meetings amongst friends in Edgemont, Scarsdale, Armonk, and beyond, the first grant cycle started in 2014 with 132 members. Impact100 Westchester has since grown to 352 members and just completed its sixth grant cycle and awarded $352,000 in grants this year. Grant money is collected exclusively from membership dues of $1100 per member—$1,000 per year for the grant fund plus $100 to cover administrative costs such as accounting fees, tech support and the annual meeting.
Longtime Armonk resident and outgoing Impact100 Westchester co-president Susan Bloom was one of the original Westchester members. “My next door neighbor in Armonk had an information session at her house and as soon as I heard the idea, I thought it was a brilliant concept. The collective aspect is what really appealed to me. Here is a way that you can give money and feel like you are making a difference. You really feel like you are part of something big when you give that big check at the annual meeting,” she says.
The Mission Behind Impact100
The mission of Impact100 Westchester is to engage women in philanthropy and to fund transformational grants for Westchester non-profits. “We do that in three ways,” says Schwam, “first, by connecting like-minded women in Westchester; second, by educating women on the non-profit community and the needs in Westchester; and lastly, by hopefully transforming Westchester by granting the transformational private grants.”
The educational component has been an important focus for the current executive board. “We felt that we want all our members, not just those who are part of grant review, to understand the process. We put together a rubric to help guide members in their decision-making process,” says Bloom. “We also run educational events for our members to help educate them on specific issues in the non-profit world.”
Every grant cycle, Impact recruits and registers members. Once membership closes, the size of the grant fund is determined and announced to the public. Depending on the number of members, the transformational project grants are anywhere between $80,000 to $100,000. Applications from non-profits across Westchester are then accepted for review. Members can participate on committees, review grant applications, perform financial due diligence, attend site visits or simply vote at the annual meeting. Non-profits that do not move on to become finalists are provided with feedback from Impact’s advisory council on how they can improve their project. Grant finalists present their projects and the entire membership votes at the annual meeting.
Chappaqua resident Rachel Rader who just completed her third year at Impact says that the flexibility was one of the things that really appealed to her. “I liked the fact that I could write a check and be as involved or uninvolved as I want and then throw myself into it as time allows.” Rader has co-chaired a Chappaqua-based grant review committee for the last two years and plans to continue in the coming year.
This Year’s Grant Recipients
The 2019 grant cycle culminated in an exciting evening at the annual meeting at Brae Burn Country Club on May 21, 2019. Six finalists made it to the final round and all gave compelling presentations. Ultimately, three $100,000 transformational project grants were awarded to Gilda’s Club Westchester, Make The Road New York, and The Center Lane Pride Program at Westchester Jewish Community Services.
Gilda’s Club will use the grant money to build a teen center and to implement teen programming. Make the Road New York, located at “La Casa Azul” in White Plains will use the grant money to renovate their space to create a family center with a childcare area and private meeting space to allow them to expand their legal services and social work. The Center Lane Pride Program will use its funds to deliver “LGBTQ 101” cultural competency training to school staff, medical practitioners and parents. Center Lane also intends to create a “Youth Pride Curriculum” that can be shared at schools throughout Westchester and beyond.
The remaining three finalists did not leave empty-handed. Each was awarded a $12,333 core mission grant to help fund their ongoing operations. A $15,000 focus area grant was also awarded to an arts organization as Impact has observed over the years that arts organizations rarely make it to the final round.
One of Impact’s many success stories, Pace Women’s Justice Center, after receiving a $100,000 transformational project grant from Impact in 2016 to fund a walk-in clinic to better serve victims of abuse, was able to attract additional funding from Pace University, multiplying their grant ten-fold. Beyond the new walk-in clinic, this allowed for new office space and additional staff and lawyers. They can now serve over 500 clients each year.
Another transformational $100,000 grant recipient in 2016, Latino U, a college preparatory service for first generation Latino students, was awarded money to pilot a program to help their students successfully transition into college life. Based on the success of this pilot program, they were able to secure additional funding from New York State to continue the program for beyond Impact’s initial grant period.
“It’s so interesting how interconnected the Westchester non-profit world is,” observes Rader. “I joined Latino U as a tutor and later found out that it had been a recipient of an Impact grant. It’s cool to be on the inside of an organization that benefited from Impact.”
Unforeseen Benefits for Impact100 Members
Impact has been rewarding for its members in so many unexpected ways.
“My work with Impact has been really inspiring for me,” says Schwam. “I love sitting in a grant review meeting and hearing people’s perspectives. Everyone is coming to grant review from different personal experiences, whether having dealt with medical issues, cancer, domestic violence… Everyone is also coming from different educational backgrounds and skill sets. A finance person might be looking at the financial statements while a lawyer will approach it from a different perspective. The beauty of sitting in grant review and hearing those conversations has been a great process. I might walk in to a meeting thinking one applicant is my favorite but then I end up being swayed after listening to what someone else says and think to myself, ‘wow, I never thought about it that way.’ We try to foster a judgment-free zone where everyone feels comfortable to express their opinion.”
“For me,” says Bloom, “it has been an incredible growth experience–I joined and a couple of years later I was president,” she laughs. “Ultimately, the women that I’ve met have really blown me away. I would not have met them if not for this organization. Impact is a great way to network and for women to get outside their small bubble and get involved in something meaningful.”
“So many of us, working or not working,” says Rader, “are involved in things relating to our children’s education, our own communities, etc. It feels eye-opening to be involved in something where you’re helping people who are having a completely different experience of living in Westchester than you.”
Impact100 is always looking for new members. For more information, check out their website at impact100westchester.org