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Impact100 makes a major impact to philanthropic programs in Oakland County




How much impact can 100 like-minded women make on one local philanthropic organization? For Impact100 Oakland County, it's $100,000.
 
Impact100 Oakland County was formed in November 2015. As a brand-new organization, their focus during that first year was primarily to secure the 100 active members in the group's name.
 
But why 100? It works like this: a minimum of 100 women join together and each pledge $1,000 per year to be donated in its entirety to a local philanthropic organization that is selected by member vote from a competitive application process. Each organization applies for the grant for a specific program, so the money is funding very specific work as opposed to going into the organization's general operating fund. That money is, at minimum, $100,000 total – a substantial grant by any standards. 
 
The original Impact100 was founded by Wendy Steele in Cincinnati in 2001 as a way for women to come together in philanthropic giving that was very powerful in its impact in a small locale where they live. The first year, Steele gathered her friends to make her vision a reality, and the concept took off from there. There are now over 30 different Impact100 organizations throughout the United States, and the concept has even crossed the ocean to appear in Australia.
 
At the end of 2015, all of the United States Impact100 organizations combined had given away $33 million. Growth has been completely organic, with women in different cities taking on leadership roles to launch local organizations of their own that are then run entirely by members who donate their time and resources.
 
2016 was the first full-year giving cycle for Impact100 Oakland County. The organization was able to reach its goal of 100 members, securing the $100,000 grant amount for the winning nonprofit.
 
"$100,000 is a big deal, enough to make a major impact to an organization," says Impact100 Oakland County Board Member Pamela Niekamp. "We were thrilled to go out to the nonprofit community last year and say, 'We have this grant that will go to a nonprofit that primarily serves Oakland County."
 
She explains that people tend to think of Oakland County strictly as a prosperous county, which it is, but "there is also a great need here."
 
"Through this I have had the opportunity to visit these organizations about the work they're doing so tirelessly and often unheralded," she says. "When you start to see the need firsthand it’s a powerful motivator try to help these organizations continue to do the great work they're doing."
 
Impact100 Oakland County will fund organizations that primarily serve or have a significant impact within Oakland County. This does not necessarily mean they have to be based in Oakland County, but they do need to have a strong presence in the county. Each applying organization had to submit a project prospectus outlining how they would use the funds on a specific project, then Impact100 members formed five grant committees with five members on each committee to winnow down the 30 applications they received into five finalists based on specific criteria: that the project falls into one of five major areas of focus – arts and culture, education, environment and recreation, family, or health and wellness; that the organization is a 501c3 nonprofit; that it serves Oakland County in a significant way; that it has three years of independently prepared and audited financial statements; that it has an annual operating budget of at least $300,000 and has a demonstrable impact within the community; and that they can spend the funds within 36 months.
 
"We're looking for organizations that are well-established and well-organized with a well thought-out project plan," explains Niekamp. "We want to be careful that we give the money to an organization that can put it to good use, and a newer, younger organization might not be able to utilize the funds as well as a more established one."
 
Those five finalists then presented their project outlines at Impact100's annual member meeting in October, allowing representatives from each of the finalist organizations the opportunity to speak from the heart about how the funds would be used. That night members voted on which finalist was the most deserving and could best utilize the funds.
 
The winner of the first $100,000 grant from Impact100 Oakland County was Variety Children's Charity, a Birmingham-based organization that applied with Variety Feeds Kids, a program that feeds Pontiac's elementary school students at risk of weekend hunger by sending home backpacks full of balanced, nutritious food on Fridays, so that kids who come from families that struggle with food scarcity are still able to eat on weekends and come to school on Mondays fed and rested. Ninety-eight percent of Pontiac school children are eligible for state- and federal-funded breakfast and lunch programs, but backpacks are given out to all children equally so that there is no stigma attached to receiving a backpack.
 
Variety already had the program set up in two Pontiac elementary schools and wanted to expand to a third, with the ultimate hope of expanding to all five public elementary schools in Pontiac. They wish to establish long-term relationships with these schools and don’t want to "just drop in and drop out." Additionally, deputies from the Sheriff's Department are the ones handing out the backpacks each week, enabling kids to see the deputies in a more positive light than what they are perhaps accustomed to or what they have heard from the adults in their lives.
 
Impact100 funds are given out in three distributions, and members are updated each step of the way so they know how their money is being utilized, unlike just writing a check and sending it off to a charitable organization with no idea how the funds are being used, Niekamp notes.
 
Niekamp says the organization's goal for 2017 is to get 200 members so they can make two $100,000 grants. And for those interested in supporting the organization's effort but who might not have the time or the funds to become a full voting member, they do also accept donations and sponsorships, which help to offset all of the various operational costs.
 
"There are a million and one ways individuals and companies can help even if they don't choose to be a member," Niekamp says.
 
Members also participate above and beyond the $1,000 contribution and vote, often volunteering for some of the applicant organizations. "We want to do as much as we can for the organization, even if we haven't distributed a grant," she says. Additionally, all nonprofits, including last year's winner, are able to re-submit again this year. 
 
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