For organizations that serve others, every penny helps keep the mission moving forward. But an injection of $100,000 all at once? A donation like that changes everything.
That’s the simple, yet incredibly effective, mission of Impact 100, a nonprofit organization that exists solely to provide funding to other nonprofit organizations in Baldwin County. It began in 2008 with a straightforward idea: What if a group of women contributed $1,000 each, pooled the money and made one large donation to a deserving group?
That year, 82 women did just that. Eleven years later, the group has over 500 members and has donated $3.6 million to nearly 40 nonprofits. In 2019, five $101,000 grants were awarded.
Those who run nonprofits are often visionaries whose dreams for their organization outpace funding — just about every one of them could immediately articulate how they’d use $100,000 to increase their organization’s effectiveness and reach. A sampling of the projects completed through Impact 100 grants over the past 11 years is a stunning illustration of what happens when community service gets a meaningful boost.
At the Fairhope/Point Clear Rotary Youth Program, a dilapidated, rodent-infested gym was transformed into a pristine space that now serves over 150 children daily, providing a safe space to learn and play after school.
“We couldn’t use the space because it didn’t meet the state’s minimum safety standards,” says Executive Director Tracey Miller. “Our kids were playing outside, and, as you know, it gets so hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Now, it’s comfortable and energy-efficient. We use it for recreational activities, and our library and technology rooms are housed there as well.”
At the South Baldwin Literacy Council building in Foley, youth tutoring for at-risk students, adult ESL classes, GED classes, citizenship test preparation and workforce development programs were once all run out of the same small room. Over 230 students and 40 volunteers shared the tiny space.
“Six months ago, the tutoring room was first come first serve, and multiple types of learning were happening in the same small space,” says Executive Director Mitchell Lee. “Imagine someone going over quadratic equations, a child learning to read and someone studying for a citizenship exam all crammed together in one room. It was not ideal.”
Since the completion of the Impact 100 project in October 2019, four new rooms now provide plenty of space where students and tutors can concentrate on learning.
“We have rooms devoted just to one-on-one tutoring, a computer lab and a room that is only for children,” Lee says. “Our tutors and students are already reaching better outcomes because there are fewer distractions.”
How It Works
In 2008, founder Irene Meehan began talking to a few friends about the Impact 100 concept — she’d heard of similar groups in other cities like Pensacola, Philadelphia and Cincinnati.
The organization is solely comprised of volunteers so 100 percent of donations go directly to grantees. No building overhead. No staff salaries.
“The way we make that work is having a diverse group of women who are willing to donate their expertise,” says President Suzanne Thornburg. “We have marketing professionals, accountants, attorneys, administrators and more. We pull from their skill sets to chair the different committees.”
Each member chooses her level of involvement. Some simply donate $1,000 and vote for the grant winners. Many commit to meeting once a week for eight weeks as part of a focus group that narrows down grant applicants to two finalists per category. Others serve on subcommittees that handle an array of essential tasks.
In addition to avoiding overhead costs, accountability and fiscal responsibility are essential to Impact 100’s success.
“We’ve never had anyone misuse the money,” says Judy Thompson, who has been a member since 2014. “When a nonprofit submits a grant, it has to give us a detailed budget and timeline. We follow through with that by being intimately involved in the process. We don’t write one big check — we pay the contractors or purchase the equipment directly. Each of the project’s bills is paid directly by us.”
After receiving a grant, organizations have two years to complete their projects.
“They have to meet their deadline, and we are a part of the project every step of the way,” Thornburg says. “We look at contractor bids, proposals, invoices. We stay in touch.”
When the end is in sight and the vision is complete, “It’s very special for our members,” she says.
For 2020, Thompson says the organization hopes to reach a membership of 600.
“There’s an emphasis on bringing in younger women this year,” she says. “We’re really trying to continue diversifying our membership and bringing in the next generation of women.”
Thornburg says intergenerational relationships are one of the biggest benefits to members.
“I’m middle-aged, but I’ve made connections and true friendships with women from all backgrounds, walks of life, ages and stages. It’s really been powerful to see those women come together across generations to continue moving this organization and our community forward.”
Impact 100 Baldwin County awards grants in five categories:
Arts & Culture
Environment, Recreation and Preservation
Health & Wellness
Membership is open to all women over the age of 18. Membership drive ends March 31 each year. For more information, visit impact100baldwincounty.org