Women's group aims to pool philanthropic resources: High hopes for first year: two $125,000 grants to local charities

June 6, 2005

They want to make a difference-a significant, six-figure difference in a world where progress often comes $100 at a time.

By this time next year, the dozen women at the core of a new philanthropic effort hope to have found 100 or more like-minded individuals willing to open their hearts and their checkbooks to help the central Indiana community.

Modeled after similar initiatives in Cincinnati and Pensacola, Fla., the idea behind Impact 100 Greater Indianapolis is simple enough: get 100 women to contribute $1,000 each and then make one $100,000 grant to a local charity.

Ideally, the benefits will go beyond the not-for-profit's bottom line.

"Lives will be changed-our lives and the lives of the recipients-everyone involved," said Kelli Norwalk, a former small-business owner who is leading the charge along with self-professed philanthropic "dabbler" Donna Oklak.

"We want to raise the tide of philanthropy," Oklak added.

And getting women engaged in giving will do just that, they said.

"The ripple effect can be tremendous," concurred Wendy Hushak, who founded the nation's first Impact 100 group in Cincinnati in 2001. "Members learn about non-profits in the community and are inspired to continue giving. ... When they get involved, it feels so good, they want to do more."

Indeed, that connection is what sets socalled "giving circles" apart from more traditional check-writing philanthropy.

Members of the grassroots groups aren't necessarily wealthy, but their pooled resources can be impressive. And the pitch-in approach lends itself well to shared decision-making, an appealing aspect for donors who want more control.

"Donors want to be involved and knowledgeable about where their money is going and who it is helping," said Rob MacPherson, vice president of development for the Central Indiana Community Foundation. "They're doing more than just ... giving."

Women in particular have been drawn to giving circles as they've gained steam nationally, according to a February study from Washington, D.C.-based New Ventures in Philanthropy, an initiative that promotes philanthropic innovations.

The study estimated at least 220 giving circles have generated $44 million for charitable causes since 2000. More than half of the groups-like Impact 100-are comprised exclusively of women.

"Women like to get together and do things," said Sondra Shaw-Hardy, a cofounder of the Women's Philanthropy Institute, now part of the locally based Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. "[Giving circles are] an outgrowth of sewing circles, book clubs, even investment clubs. ... They are helping to grow women philanthropists."

Historically, women were conditioned to support causes with volunteer hours rather than money, she said, but that trend has been changing.

"Nowadays, time is really the most valuable thing women have," Shaw-Hardy said.

Hushak found that out when she tried to get her girlfriends involved with various charitable endeavors in Cincinnati. The stay-at-home moms couldn't justify paying a baby sitter so they could volunteer, and the career women were too busy.

"All those women were under the radar screen, shut out of mainstream ways of giving back to the community," she said. "They were missing out."

Until Hushak's brainstorm-create an organization that would allow them to help without a major time commitment.

A 12-member executive board plans to start recruiting members in October-an informal membership drive is under way-with a goal of signing up 250 women and making two $125,000 grants. But they are quick to say they don't want members to join Impact 100 at the expense of other charitable causes.

"This should augment what they're doing, not replace it," Norwalk said.

CICF has signed on to advise and host the new group until it gets some experience and its own not-for-profit status.

"It's a lot of work, managing the expectations of so many donors," MacPherson said, and "a lot of responsibility comes with collecting and distributing $100,000." Still, it's a task leaders are eager to tackle.

"We can do so much more collectively than we can as individuals," Oklak said. "There's a real magic to giving away that much money."

Kelli Norwalk, left, and Donna Oklak founded the local Impact 100.
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