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Tuesday September 2nd 2014

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Impact 100 Changes Face Of Pensacola Area
by Stephanie Sharp

Since its inception at a Super Bowl party, IMPACT 100 has changed the quality of life of the greater Pensacola area with substantial grants that allow non-profits to take their community service to the next level. In a city dominated by the “old boys’ club”, an influential organization that is completely run by women stands out, especially when it’s able to raise well over half a million dollars annually.

According to Debbie Ritchie, operations leader for The Studer Group and one of IMPACT 100’s founders, every aspect of IMPACT is ideal for the way women give. “There’s actually some pretty extensive research on women’s giving and what really draws women to give,” she explains.

IMPACT draws women because it incorporates what the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy describes as the “Six C’s of Women’s Giving”–create, change, connect, commit, collaborate and celebrate. Today, there are more women in the workplace, and more women are making their own financial decisions. They desire to be more hands on in the process of giving.

“Women don’t want those decisions to be made by their husbands anymore, they want to make a decision,” says Ritchie.

Carolyn Appleyard, a founding board member and treasurer of IMPACT and financial manager for the Appleyard Agency, adds, “We laugh because there are men who would definitely love to be a part of this. We always say, ‘Pay for a woman’s membership and give her a vote.’”

The financial commitment for members is $1,000 a year, which is a large personal donation for any individual, but by pooling members’ resources, IMPACT awards grants of substantial amounts and make tremendous differences in several organizations each year.

IMPACT pays no salaries, has little overhead and thereby maximizes the money available for grants. It has always utilized a “working board” that is made up completely of volunteers who make a personal time commitment to the organization. Administrative costs are taken out of interests and dividends earned, Friends of IMPACT contributions, and in honor/memorial donations. By running the organization in this manner, there is a true sense of integrity working behind the members’ donations because every single dollar goes straight into grants, with none being shaved off to cover postage or tablecloth rentals.

It is this dedication to assuring every possible dollar is given to the community that adds to the empowerment aspect of IMPACT as an organization and has fueled its growth since its rather simple beginnings.

Genesis Of Impact
“I was sitting in the carpool line at Workman Middle School,” recalls Debbie Ritchie about reading a People magazine article on a Cincinnati woman who began a women’s philanthropy group focused on high-impact giving.

In 2003, while their husbands watched the Oakland Raiders play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, Ritchie mentioned the article to some of her friends. Carolyn Appleyard, Belle Bear, Joan Bullock and Evon Emerson embraced the idea of starting a women’s high-impact giving circle in Pensacola and set out to get the ball rolling. The next year was spent researching the Cincinnati program and communicating with the board of the Ohio-based organization.

From the research came a list of skills and strengths that an ideal board would need. Women with legal experience, media know-how and a great sense for business were just some of the kinds of women who received the first 25 invitations to attend a luncheon where the idea of IMPACT was presented. The board of directors that was formed out of that meeting laid the foundation that allowed IMPACT to grow into the organization that it is today.

The original board had very clear goals in mind and was meticulous in writing the bylaws. “We wanted to do it right for Pensacola,” recounts Appleyard.

Membership: Key to Giving
Membership numbers determine exactly how many grants the organization can give each year, so attracting new members is a top priority for the Board. Recruitment is executed through personal invitations from current members, news and media advertisements and open houses. All women in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties are encouraged to join, and members define their level of involvement. It’s specifically designed to fit the lifestyle of each member individually, whether they are busy moms, young professionals or active retirees.

“IMPACT allows you to define your level of involvement, so it works for you,” says Ritchie.

Some women aren’t able to make a large time commitment but still enjoy being a part of the process. For these members, they are encouraged to attend the annual meeting and vote on grant recipients. However, there are also many women who have more time that they are willing to commit and who enjoy being as involved as possible.

These women can serve on Focus Area committees and participate in numerous events with the group. According to Ritchie, IMPACT is an organization designed to fit the lifestyle of each member individually, so that every woman feels like an important part of the process.

That first year, IMPACT attracted 233 members, more than double the 100-member goal of the founders. The success of the membership drive allowed the organization to give out two grants of $116,500 the first year instead of just one for $100,000.

The first annual meeting, where grants were to be awarded, fell on the same day as the landfall of Hurricane Ivan. The event had been planned to be elaborate and beautiful, but in the aftermath of the storm, a formal dinner affair no longer seemed appropriate.

“After [Hurricane] Ivan, women had lost their homes, the community had been devastated. A fancy dinner just didn’t feel right,” says Ritchie, “It just felt too pretentious.”
In light of the community disaster, the event was scaled down to a casual affair with a focus on the grant recipients.

“Once the dust from [the storm] had settled, the founding board got together and said, ‘Now what do we do?’” Many members called for IMPACT to abandon the grant semi-finalists and redirect all of the first-year funds to hurricane relief efforts. However, after much internal debate, the board decided to award the grants as planned. Since that difficult year, this decision to award the grants has helped IMPACT remain steadfast in its mission to “know and serve the community.”

IMPACT has two primary functions: recruiting members who can write $1,000 checks and determining who will receive the grants.
The membership numbers determine exactly how many grants the organization can give each year and how large each grant will be. Attracting large numbers is of top priority. In 2010, $563,000 in grants was divided between five different non-profits.

Grants: Get Excited and Dream
The grant application process is simple, but thorough. Each spring, IMPACT offers a workshop to help non-profits write better grant applications. The non-profits become more acquainted with IMPACT’s grant process, but they also can brainstorm ideas for grant projects.

“We call every non-profit in the two-county area that we have in our database. We reach out to everybody that we can,” says Marny Needle, the current IMPACT president and Director of Development at WSRE-TV. “We want to teach them, to get them excited and to dream.”

Grants can provide seed money for brand new endeavors, help expand existing organizations’ operations or provide essential elements that result in major growth for any type of non-profit. The grant application includes breakdowns of the applicant’s expenses and revenues, a project narrative and a score of authenticating documents.

The project narrative is where the organization can break down its grant’s objective. IMPACT suggests a 10-part narrative in which the non-profit has many specific and prompting questions to address. These range from general expectations of the project’s outcome, to requesting an explanation of how the organization plans to measure impact and results of the grant-funded project.

Needle says that the grant application attracts any and all types of groups and projects. “Some are small organizations that you’ve never heard of, some are large organizations, others are medium organizations, it all depends.”

For example, because of IMPACT funding, an initiative called Bravo for Kids was begun and completed to provide musical instruments for middle school students in Santa Rosa and Escambia counties in 2006. However, Manna Food Pantries, a long-standing and well-established non-profit, in 2005 began a community garden that is an expansion of the non-profit’s already extensive spread of services to the Pensacola area.

“We encourage them to dream,” says Needle.

Letters of intent from the non-profits are due in April, with final grant applications being due at the end of June.

“We didn’t want it to be so difficult or cumbersome that the smallest non-profit couldn’t apply,” says Ritchie, “yet we wanted to collect enough information that we could have confidence that we were being good stewards of the members’ funds.”

Site Visits: Knowing Non-Profits
IMPACT has five focus areas that target all non-profit sectors in the community: arts and culture, education, environment, family, and health and wellness. The goal from the beginning was to grow to enough members that a grant could be awarded to a non-profit in each of the five focus areas.

“It’s really when a community touches on all of those things that you improve quality of life,” says Ritchie.

The Focus Area Committees review the grant applications for their area. Confidential meetings are held where grants and non-profits are discussed extensively. Members are invited to join and participate in the Focus Area Committees.

Site visits, a unique facet of the IMPACT grant process, are made by three to five members of the Focus Area Committees. Committee members visit each non-profit that applies in the focus area to get a true perspective on the organization behind the application.

Site visits can make a huge difference on the consideration of a grant, as smaller non-profits may not be as experienced at grant writing and can use the site visit to fully explain their application and proposed projects.

“Some people are better writers than others, some others are better communicators,” explains Needle. “It allows the non-profit to really tell their story.”

Another beneficial result of site visits tends to be members’ redirection of their focus on a non-profit. Whether through attending a site visit or hearing more about a non-profit though its involvement with IMPACT, many women have become involved with organizations individually and personally in ways that go beyond the reaches of IMPACT.

Stories of inspired members going beyond IMPACT are encouraging to the board of directors. “The key is that you be involved, whether that be with your time or your financial resources,” says Ritchie.

Education Focus: Century Library
In 2006, Friends of the Pensacola Library received an IMPACT grant for $113,333 in the education category to furnish the children’s department of the new Century Library.

“We saw a need for children and adult literacy programs in Century, and there was no real funding for it,” explains Betty Hooton, former president of Friends of the Pensacola Library and current
president of the West Florida Public Library Board of Trustees, of their winning grant application.

Before the new facility was built in 2007, there had never been a library in Century. Since it has opened, the library has more than 1,500 registered library card holders, which is remarkable considering the population of Century is just over 1,800.

The IMPACT grant furnished the entire children’s department, which facilitates many successful literacy programs for children, such as pre-school story time and events for teens. New readers can attend “Read to Rosie” events where they practice reading aloud to a playful parrot, encouraging young kids to get past the nervousness of reading out loud to adults.

“IMPACT was so easy to deal with after the grant was awarded, those women were just wonderful to the library folks,” says Hooten. Many members of IMPACT even attended the grand opening of the library to show their support. The Friends of the Library had applied for the grant with a build-it-and-they-will-come attitude, and thanks to IMPACT, their dream became a very successful reality.

Family Focus: Habitat For Humanity’s Restore
The Family Focus area produced a grant winner in 2004 with Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore project. The grant provided “seed money” for the project, a second-hand building supply store run by Habitat for Humanity that strives to provide affordable supplies by keeping material out of local landfills.

James Williamson, former Committee Chairman of the Pensacola ReStore, says that the store, which survives totally on donations and sells supplies from paint to appliances, would have never gotten off the ground without the IMPACT grant.

“If you can find it at a major building supply store, you can find it at ReStore,” says Williamson.

Thanks to IMPACT, over 100,000 pounds of building waste has been kept out of landfills, and an additional 25 homes have been built by Habitat because administrative costs are now covered by the profits of ReStore.

Health & Wellness Focus: Leaning Post Ranch
Fran and Newman Gresin, co-directors of Leaning Post Ranch in Molino, were not successful in their first attempt to secure an IMPACT grant in 2005. The Leaning Post Ranch provides equine therapy for “challenged and at-risk riders.”

The health and wellness committee members were inspired by the story of the ranch, but they were not confident that the Ranch was ready for such a significant financial gift.

“That did not deter us at all,” said Fran Gresin. “We feel like they are very approachable, so that did not deter us at all.”

The Gresins returned again in 2006 with hopes of succeeding.

“Their story was so powerful, their non-profit from a development standpoint had come so far. They had a good board of directors, they had a better strategic plan, they were just a better organization,” says Ritchie of the non-profit. “The members then felt comfortable to give them the $100,000 to really take the organization to the next level.”

In 2006, the Leaning Post Ranch won a grant for $113,333 to build a covered arena for their ranch that would allow twice as many lessons to go on during nice days and eliminate rained-out lessons. Riders who are particularly sensitive to heat or sunlight could also ride the horses, and the covered arena would also serve as a shelter for the horses during inclement weather.

“I don’t know how we lived without it,” laughs Gresin.

Leaning Post Ranch has received more from the grant process than just money. IMPACT member Blair Clark, who made a site visit to the ranch, later went through a year of training to become a certified lesson instructor. Another IMPACT member saw firsthand the need at the ranch for a classroom and a handicapped bathroom. Member Connie Greenhut and her husband Bill of Greenhut Construction built the non-profit a large classroom equipped with an office and an accessible restroom independently of IMPACT, a gift that would have been unlikely if the Gresins had not approached IMPACT.

“We’re considering approaching IMPACT again, it’s such a tremendous organization.”

One Woman, One Vote
With so many applications, and 10 semifinalists being presented at every annual meeting, choosing the most deserving of the funds can be quite difficult.

“Many times we hear, ‘We want to fund them all!’ But we just can’t do that yet,” says Needle.

IMPACT may not be able to fund every grant that they receive an application for, but because of such booming membership, the money available for grants has tripled since the first year, creating enough funds for a sixth grant. This extra money caused much discussion among the board and members, who have decided to stay true to the “one woman, one vote” system to furnish the extra grant.

Every member of IMPACT receives a ballot to vote for who she believes should receive a grant, but now they may also vote for their favorite focus area.

Members will see a change on the ballot in 2011 where they will be asked not only to vote for their favorite finalist, but then also for the focus area that they believe deserves the second grant. For the focus area that receives the most votes, the semi-finalist that did not win one of the original grants will win the sixth grant.

Needle is proud that due to the generosity of its members IMPACT can now not only award a grant in all five focus areas. They can also award an additional grant to a deserving non-profit.

“These grants and the IMPACT process are amazing, transformative,” says Needle. “We put many hours into the organization, and we have much passion around it. We love doing it.”

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