With an impending empty nest, and looking for the next opportunity, Georgy Ann jumped at the chance to found a city chapter of Impact 100 Chicago.
Tell us about your background…
I was born in Wisconsin, where we lived until our family relocated to Houston, Texas when I was 14. I studied finance at the University of Texas and later earned my MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. I worked in consulting and banking from 1989-1999.
I met my husband, Bill, through work. We’ve been married for nearly 24 years and live in Chicago with our 17-year old daughter and 14-year old son.
Bill’s work responsibilities require him to travel extensively, which made my decision to “retire” and focus on our family when our oldest was a toddler all that much easier.
Afraid of being a full-time parent, I immediately began doing pro-bono consulting work for the Chicago Children’s Museum (CCM), where my former boss was a board member. I helped CCM with marketing plans, banking relationships, budgeting, and development. This eventually led to a seat on their board, where I served for 6 years until 2008.
By then, I had also gotten very involved at my kids’ school, the Latin School of Chicago, where I held various volunteer positions on the Parent’s Association and was subsequently appointed to the Board of Trustees. I am currently the Treasurer of the Latin board and serve on many committees, including Finance and Facilities. I am also a board member of High Jump Chicago, where I have served for 4 years.
When did you start to think about doing something new?
With the prospect of our kids leaving for college just a few years away, I started to work through what was next for me. My husband loves his work and has no immediate plans to retire, so I began weighing the possibilities: Return to the paid-work world? Pursue more volunteer engagements? Go back to school? Everything was on the table. Then a long-time friend came to me with an idea.
During our neighborhood walks in the spring of 2012, Allison Bacon told me about her involvement with Impact Austin, a women’s collective giving organization that she had joined in her hometown of Austin, Texas. The concept was very simple and appealing: 100 women each donate $1,000 and pool the funds into a $100,000 grant to award to one nonprofit in the community.
After serving on nonprofit boards, chairing galas, raising money, soliciting auction items, and filling tables at black-tie events, the simplicity of the idea was quite compelling. It offered all the fun parts of philanthropy (giving money away to deserving organizations and making a difference in the community) without the tedious parts.
Allison knew of several other cities with Impact organizations, was anxious to bring the concept to Chicago, and asked me to do it with her. Ours was the perfect partnership: She knew the ins and outs of the Impact 100 process and its organizational structure; I had the business background we needed to move forward. We also felt confident that, between the two of us, we knew 100 women who would share our enthusiasm.
What is your next act?
At the age of 45, in 2012, I co-founded the City Chapter of Impact 100 Chicago with Allison Bacon. We are a women’s collective giving organization. Our members each contribute $1,000, which is pooled together to create $100,000 grants. Our members serve as the grant reviewers and meet to select our grant recipients. In this, our third year, we will award $320,000 to deserving nonprofits in Chicago, bringing our 3-year total to over $560,000.
There are really two things I love about this work. First, I have enjoyed getting to know amazing Chicago nonprofits doing important work every day, and helping them continue to make a difference in their communities. Second, I have loved getting to know a talented group of women and building a strong leadership team. With 320 members, 100% volunteers, we depend on leaders at every level stepping up. Creating this chapter has taught me many lessons about building and sustaining an organization.
How did you prepare?
First, we had to figure out what we would need to do to get started. This included finding a name, obtaining 501c3 tax-exempt nonprofit status, building a website, and then, of course, finding our first 100 members!
We quickly discovered there was an organization already operating as Impact 100 Chicago. This was a group of women, based in the northwest suburbs, that had started Impact 100 Chicago two years prior with plans to expand the organization by forming chapters in various parts of the Chicagoland area. After a meeting with their founders, Marybeth Lernihan and Michele Polvere, we agreed to partner with them to start the City Chapter of Impact 100 Chicago.
We modeled our city Impact chapter structure after the suburban Impact chapter, which was in turn modeled after the groups in place in Cincinnati and Austin. We did have to make one organizational change, which was to establish an Executive Board, as we are the only Impact organization in the country that operates a chapter model. Each chapter has its own board that oversees its operations including its grant review process and membership recruitment.
The Executive Board is our fiduciary board and oversees the entire organization, with a particular focus on maintaining a consistent message and voice with the nonprofit community. Its main responsibilities include managing our financials and audit, handling outreach to the nonprofits looking for funding, establishing funding criteria, assigning applicants to the chapters, approving Grant Agreements, maintaining our shared website, and leading the overall planning.
How supportive were your family and friends? How did your new venture affect your home life?
My friends were incredibly supportive. The nature of Impact 100 Chicago requires women to come together to collaborate; it was overwhelming how much support I received from friends who were willing to join us, lead committees, take on board positions, write newsletters, build a website, really anything we needed. These friends are now our trusted colleagues and leadership team.
We sent our first 200 letters to friends in mid-October of 2012 and, by December 31, had commitments from 100 to join us in our inaugural year. We ultimately had 123 women participate our first year, with several agreeing to chair grant review committees and serve on our board.
My family has also been very supportive. My kids are always asking about the organizations that have applied for a grant and they have both attended our Grant Award celebrations. My husband has also been very supportive. Our dining room now serves as our board meeting space, and our home office houses many Impact files, signs, etc.
Because I left the full-time workplace to devote my time to our family, I have worked hard not to have this, or any of the other work I do, impact our home life. As the kids have gotten older, and I have more time, there certainly are days when my “work” feels very much like a full-time job. In many ways, it has been important for my family to see that I have interests and relationships that are separate from what I do for them. While there are times when my commitments take me away, both Bill and the kids are very supportive as they know how important my work is to me.
Who are your “typical” volunteers? How do you recruit them?
We have a variety of members. Most tend to be middle-aged, some working and some not. We have some newly retired members looking for new things to get involved in, and we also have some younger members just starting out. The common thread really is that we are all women who are interested in making connections within our community and with each other.
Because the membership is $1000, many of our members would be considered at least somewhat well off; however, we have many members for whom this is a very significant investment, and many others who are sponsored by someone else. We have a few mother/daughter members where mom acts as her daughter’s sponsor so they can get involved together, or where mom wants to help her daughter find a way to engage philanthropically in the community. We have also had members anonymously sponsor members, which has enabled us to offer memberships to women who are students in social work or other master’s programs and who may be future nonprofit leaders.
We really value diversity of experiences and opinions as this strengthens our process, and are always seeking new ways to reach out to other groups of women. We recruit members each year by asking our prior members to bring a friend to one of our Grant Award Celebrations or to one of many recruiting events held each fall.
How do you get the word out to nonprofits to apply?
Our Nonprofit Outreach Chair has the main responsibility for outreach to nonprofits. We use various platforms that enable us to reach large groups of nonprofits, such as the Donor’s Forum and other targeted associations of specific types of nonprofits. We do our own outreach to past applicants and have had great success with prior winners spreading the word in their communities and networks. We encourage our members to reach out personally to organizations they are involved with. We also seek opportunities to get the word out by getting coverage in various press and media outlets.
Tell us a little about your grant winners so far…
In 2013, the launch year of the City Chapter of Impact 100 Chicago, we awarded $100,000 to BUILD, an organization that serves 6-18 year olds with the goal of helping these youths to build positive futures beyond their current situations. The grant supported the expansion of educational programs in the Austin community of Chicago.
In 2014, the city chapter awarded two $100,000 grants. The first one went to EMBARC, which seeks to close the achievement gap by providing greater access to social, economic, and cultural opportunities. Our grant is being used to expand its primary program to three new high schools in 2014-15. The second grant went to Night Ministry, which provides short-term housing, healthcare, and human connection to Chicago adults, teens, and children struggling with homelessness and poverty. Our grant was used to fund a new Health Outreach Bus.
What challenges have you encountered?
The biggest challenge has been handling our growth. We have been fortunate to have amazing women step up into leadership roles, both in our city chapter and on our Executive Board. Together, we have worked diligently to make changes needed to accommodate our growing membership. This has included finding grant management software to handle applications from over 200 nonprofit organizations, creating a new website that better disseminates key information (including a secure page for our members), and doing additional outreach to grow both our membership and applicant pools.
It can be hard to turn down so many worthy organizations doing important work here in Chicago and it would be wonderful to be able to support more of them. At the same time, we trust our process, whereby our members work collaboratively to decide where to invest their money. Our experience has been that the process works and that our members do make very good decisions.
Also, since these are very large grants, we do see many worthy organizations which are just not ready yet for a grant of this size. Chicago is fortunate to have so many grant opportunities for nonprofits. Impact 100 Chicago is focused on a specific mission, which is to provide large grants to mid-sized organizations with the goal of funding a specific program or project that will have a high-impact on the organization and its community. Other organizations have slightly different goals for their funding, such as providing smaller, recurring grants in support of day-to-day programming and operations.
Were there times when you thought about giving up?
There were a few sleepless nights, especially that first year, when I wasn’t quite sure we would find our initial 100 members but, really, the support we have received has been amazing. There are weeks when I put in many, many hours, but seeing the payoff of large groups of women getting involved in their community while making new connections to the city, and to each other, makes it all worthwhile.
I have made many new friendships—I did not know the vast majority of our current 30+ leadership team before we started our chapter. I have also enjoyed making connections in the wider nonprofit community and, as a result of Impact, have been invited into other nonprofit conversations, most recently speaking at an event hosted by LIFT Chicago. We have also had board members and even the Executive Director of one of our grant winners join our organization.
What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?
Think long and hard about the pros and cons of being a volunteer versus getting a paycheck. You may find yourself putting in many hours and at times will wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier to just get a “real” job. There are many, many benefits to volunteering, but it is not for everyone.
Manage your time against your other priorities. I try my best to minimize how much my “work” takes away from time with my family. I try to schedule meetings during the school day and communicate evening or weekend commitments well in advance so we can plan around them. One of the wonderful things about being a volunteer is not having a “boss” to report to. The Impact 100 Chicago cycle fits my family’s schedule well as the “fall semester” is recruiting season, the “spring semester” is our grant review process, and our Awards Celebration takes place near finals. In the summer, we document our grant contracts and plan for the next season, much of which I have been able to do remotely while spending time with my family
Because we are all volunteers, it is important to structure “jobs” that are fun and rewarding and, most of all, that fit into the lives of our volunteers in a way that is positive and not overwhelming. It is important to be respectful of people’s time, thank them often for their commitment and contribution and, importantly, to match volunteers into positions that fit their time, talents, and interests.
It’s also important to let each person have the flexibility to put their own stamp on the work they do. As a volunteer leader, I hope to “guide from the side” and work hard not to overly manage volunteers. I want each woman who gives her time to our organization to have the ability to bring her own perspective to the work and to feel valued.
How would someone approach starting an Impact 100 organization in their community?
The easiest thing to do is to contact the leadership of another Impact 100 group. When our group first began, we leaned on the founders of Impact Austin and Impact 100 (Cincinnati) as resources. In turn, we have shared information with groups working to form in Fairfield County, CT and, most recently, in Detroit, MI and Milwaukee, WI. There is also a an organization called the Women’s Collective Giving Network that many of us belong to and that is a good repository of information. The great thing about women is they are always willing to help others!
What resources do you recommend?
To secure 501c3 status, it’s a good idea to contact an accountant or lawyer. There are also many resources available online such as this article from the National Council of Nonprofits.
Our first website was fairly simple and used a template from GoDaddy. We just launched a new website this year, which was custom designed for us by Amy Snodgrass at SeaSaw Marketing. Amy developed our new site on WordPress using the plugin Memberfindme.
MemberFindMe allows us to have a member-secure portion on our website for members to join and manage their contact data. It also provides an online member directory, calendar, and event signup for our members. This type of automation is a big step forward now that we have nearly 500 members in both Chicago area chapters. Memberfindme also provides website templates that can be used to create a website for member-based organizations. Their CEO, Karen Kuah, and her team provided excellent setup support as we were building the site.
What’s next for Impact 100 and for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?
I hope so! We are currently working on leadership and succession planning for Impact 100 Chicago. We want to ensure that we have a pipeline of future leaders for the organization as well as an open and transparent way for women who are interested in leadership positions to get involved.
Because we are all volunteers, we want to ensure the organization is sustainable and that our future success is not dependent on a handful of individuals; toward this end, we are broadening our leadership group. We have spent considerable time ensuring that our processes (including grant review and financial review) are well documented and that training materials are complete and up to date. We are working to create better mechanisms to store and share key information and to develop a more formal nominating process to encourage deeper engagement for interested members.
So, my work here is not quite done but I do expect I have at least one act left. Perhaps it will be to use everything I have learned, both professionally and as a volunteer, to consult to nonprofits or foundations.
For anyone interested, our City Chapter Grant Award Celebration will be held on May 19, 2015. Our Suburban Chapter Grant Award Celebration will be held on June 2, 2015. We encourage guests to attend to see first hand what we do. Information is available on our website.