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2014 WOMAN OF INFLUENCE: Donna Oklak

October 31, 2014

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While big-dollar donations may make headlines, six-figure gifts aren’t terribly common in the philanthropic world. Only a limited number of folks have the means to write such zero-filled checks.

But in co-founding Impact 100 Greater Indianapolis in 2005, Donna Oklak found a way to generate such donations by tapping into not one checkbook, but many, pooling the resources of 100 or more women—each donating $1,000 a year—into sizable annual gifts. In the process, she’s sparked the philanthropic spirit of an army of women.

“I felt there was a need for more women to learn about philanthropy,” said Oklak, who caught the giving spirit while reading applications for the Indiana Achievement Awards, for which she served as an intern.

At the time, she was studying at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University as an adult.

“I raised my kids and then decided it was time for me to do something for myself,” said Oklak, who is married to Denny Oklak, CEO of Duke Realty Corp. “I said, ‘I want an internship but I don’t want to do something normal.’ And I ended up, unpaid, helping manage the awards.”

Reading the Indiana Achievement Awards nominations, Oklak was moved by what not-for-profits were achieving and wished more people besides program officers could see the proposals.

“I felt that that joy should be shared with others and that Indy needed an opportunity for non-profits to dream big,” she said.

Those two ideas intersected with Impact 100, in which participating women—all volunteers—narrow down applications, do site visits, and ultimately name five not-for-profits as finalists. Each makes a presentation at an Impact 100 event, and the women vote. A $100,000 grant goes to the winner, and the remaining four finalists receive smaller checks.

Impact 100 has awarded $1.4 million to organizations as varied as the Social Health Association of Indiana, Craine House, Indy Reads, Herron High School, Outreach Inc., Rock Steady Boxing Foundation, Outside the Box, Jameson Camp, and the Philip and Vivian Pecar Health Center.

The idea of a giving circle isn’t new.

“Others gave us a leg up,” Oklak said, specifically citing Colleen Willoughby, who started the Washington Women’s Foundation in Seattle in 1995. “I saw her speak while I was at Ball State and she was my inspiration.”

Oklak has gone on to inspire others. Since the launch of Impact 100, other groups with similar models have appeared—and Oklak has no problem with that.

“Philanthropy,” she said happily, “begets philanthropy.”

Said Karen Holly, director of operations at the Marion County Health Department and current president of Impact 100: “Donna is a positive leader who leads with generosity. She ensures that the ladies that serve on Impact 100’s board understand how their efforts contribute to the future of the organization and the ripple that providing high-impact grants can have on the entire community.”•

To read other Women of Influence profiles, please click here.

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