In celebration of our 20th year, Impact Austin looks back on challenges and opportunities that helped us to grow and mature as a circle of women philanthropists and collective giving grantmaker in Central Texas.
Just as our founder Rebecca Powers was inspired by the story of another giving circle to bring collective giving to Central Texas, she and other Impact Austin leaders have paid it forward themselves to strengthen the collective giving movement in other communities.
How did mentoring benefit a young Impact Austin?
Rebecca told us: "I initially learned about the collective giving model in a PEOPLE Magazine article. Wendy Steele founded Impact 100 in Cincinnati in 2001, and I couldn't wait to start a collective giving movement like that in Austin. Early on, she gave me some important guidance. I attended their second Annual Meeting to see how the voting process worked as we were just forming our organization. She was very gracious and happy that we wanted to form a collective in Austin. Shortly after that, she moved to Michigan and left the leadership of Impact 100. That's when I found Colleen Willoughby, founder of
the Washington Women's Foundation, and asked her to be my mentor."
Rebecca credits Colleen Willoughby with sharing knowledge but also giving her the courage to shape Impact Austin in its own unique format. "She is fondly known as the grandmother (now 88 years young and still going!) of women's collective giving," Rebecca explained. "I asked her to be my mentor as we were growing Impact Austin, and she obliged. I visited WWF a couple of times to learn from her/them firsthand, and it paid off. Our Discovery Day program came about as a result of one of my visits there. They [WWF] believed that educating their members about current local issues in each of their focus areas was important, and they held a two-day session with speakers from the community. It was widely attended, and the members told me how valuable the information was and how they appreciated WWF giving them some education on pressing issues."
How has Impact Austin helped other giving circles to launch?
For Rebecca Powers, mentoring other giving circles is deeply satisfying. She shared a list of several organizations that she has mentored in turn. She has tried to stay in contact with their founders. In many cases, Rebecca was invited to speak to their giving circles.**
"As I ponder this list, I realize connections and relationships matter. Paying it forward by helping others get started brings me so much joy. What I've learned on this journey is that I don't have to be 'front and center' to make an impact. I can share my knowledge and passion and give others the courage to step out on their own and do it their way."
**Impact Central Illinois Shelley Weaver
Note from Rebecca: "Shelley Weaver is one of my besties since 7th grade. She followed Impact Austin's success for many years and co-founded Impact Central Illinois in 2019. I am a member of this collective." Impact Central Illinois was also mentored by Allison Bacon (member of both Impact Austin and Impact Grants Chicago). The Central Illinois founders came to annual meetings for both Impact Austin and Impact Grants Chicago to learn two different ways of voting for Community Partners.
Fun fact: They award $100,000 Impact Grants and also $20,000 Inspire Grants
Launched in 2019
**Impact Las Vegas Maureen Romito
Note from Rebecca: "Maureen's husband was having a business lunch at [Austin restaurant] Siena with my good friend, Don Christian, Concordia University President, when I was also having lunch there. They came over to my table to tell me they had just been discussing the idea of Maureen (who wasn't even there!) starting a collective in Las Vegas. They viewed it not as a coincidence, but as a sign that Maureen didn't have a choice now! I said Maureen was welcome to contact me - never expecting her to do so. I was wrong!"
Launched in 2013, they offer one grant per year. That grant has grown from $13,000 to $83,000
**Ninety-Nine Girlfriends (Portland, OR) Deborah Edward
Note from Rebecca: "Deborah was the ED of Greenlights here in Austin for many years. She left that role before they rebranded as Mission Capital. She eventually moved to Portland and co-founded Ninety-Nine Girlfriends."
Grants total $2.7 million since 2016
**Impact 100 Richmond Talley Baratka
Rebecca's comment: "My best friend from college lives in Richmond and connected me with Talley as she was considering forming a collective."
Fun fact: This fund is one of three giving circles within the Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond.
Grants total $2.3 million since 2009
Impact Grants Chicago Allison Bacon
Rebecca's note: "This is a wild story. [Co-Founder] Allison Bacon is an Impact Austin member. She was in a group climbing Machu Picchu several years ago when she started talking to Victoria Gonin of Boston Womenade. Victoria asked if she knew me, and that's when Allison first heard of Impact Austin. Allison called me when she returned to the states so we could have coffee and she could give me her membership check. We met at Russell's - the unofficial Impact Austin office - and she told me to dispense with the sales pitch, she was already sold. She lived (mostly) in Chicago at the time. When GRC sign-up came around her first year, she was thrilled that all of the meeting dates were published so that she could buy cheap plane tickets on Southwest to come to every GRC meeting. And, she did! She took the model back to her friends in Chicago, and she and a bestie co-founded Impact Grants Chicago. Allison remains a member of both our organizations." Rebecca noted that Allison Bacon also mentored Impact Central Illinois.
Fun Facts: They originally formed as a City Chapter within Impact 100 Chicago, which also made grants in NW Illinois, outside of the city. Ultimately, the City Chapter decided to focus their grants on the city of Chicago only, breaking off to become Impact Grants Chicago. They award $100,000 Impact Grants and $20,000 Merit Grants.
Grantmaking totals nearly $2.5 million
Impact Giving (Orange County, CA): Ann Duncan Levy and Karen Wilson
Rebecca's comment: "Founding Impact Austin board member Jane Nolden snuck a former Dell co-worker, who was visiting from CA, into our 'members only' Annual Meeting during our 3rd year. Ann was inspired, went back, and co-founded Impact Giving with Karen Wilson and another woman. I worked extensively with Karen when they were ramping up."
Fun Fact: While their grants tend to be smaller than Impact Austin's, they encourage hands-on volunteerism. Their website includes a page of Grant Recipient Volunteer Opportunities
Grants total $1.6 million since 2010
Midland Inspires Lisa Fielder
Rebecca's note: "Lisa took our model to Midland when she retired from leading College Forward here in Austin. They were a Community Partner our third year, and we've been good friends ever since. She and I both started our organizations because we read an article in a magazine! Neither one of us knew anything about nonprofits when we started. We are the same age and spent our 60th year having an excellent adventure each month."
Established 2020, grants totaled $249,000 after two grant cycles
Disappointing Fact: After two grant cycles, Midland Inspires was unable to draw the necessary number of volunteers to keep the organization afloat. They have dissolved excepting a core group that will see through the terms of their grants.
**Seeds of Strength (Georgetown, TX) Barbara Brightwell
Unique background: Seeds of Strength was established in 2009 to unite residents of Sun City and other Georgetown women in a common purpose. They were originally inspired by other giving circles, including Impact Austin, and some early adopters wanted the organization to be an arm of Impact Austin. Instead, they established themselves under the the umbrella of the nonprofit Chisholm Trail Community Foundation. Rebecca Powers mentored one of the co-founders, and Rebecca was invited back to speak to their members at a gathering.
Established 2009; $1,891,000 in total grants benefiting the residents of Georgetown
Fun Facts: Seeds of Strength allots 4 votes per Grant Ballot for a member contribution of $1,050 or more; 2 votes per Grant Ballot for contributions of $550-1,049; and 1 vote per Grant Ballot for contributions of $300-549. They are excited by the prospect of exceeding $2 million in giving in 2003.
**WISH Women Investing in Shepherd [University] (Shepherdstown, WV) Monica Lingenfelter, EVP, Shepherd University Foundation
Note from Rebecca: "I spoke at a CASE (higher education) conference in Pittsburgh and shared the Impact Austin model in a breakout session. Monica Lingenfelter and her staff [Shepherd University Foundation] attended my session and decided this was the perfect approach to get women (alumni and others) involved in philanthropy at an accessible level of $500. I've remained a member of WISH for several years because they are like the 'little engine that could.'"
Fun Fact: Rebecca remains an annual donor to this giving circle.
Since 2015, grants total $869,500. These include grants for university projects and also grants for community projects outside the university.
Womenade Boston Victoria Gonin
Rebecca's Note: "I don't remember how they found me," but Founder Victoria Gonin had been involved with a giving circle in another community before she started Womenade Boston.
Fun fact: They are exclusively dedicated to supporting programs for local women and teen girls, giving multiple grants of $20,000 or more and smaller $2,000 grants to several runners-up. First grants were issued in 2011.
Total giving exceeded $1 million in 2022
How does Impact Austin play a role in the larger universe of women's giving?
In 2006, Impact Austin hosted the Success Through Sharing conference that included other Impact giving circles from Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Owensboro, Pensacola, and San Antonio. Presenters included Wendy Steele, Founder of Impact 100, and Colleen Willoughby, founder of the Washington Women’s Foundation and Women's Collective Giving Grantmakers Network; both renowned leaders in women’s philanthropy. From the beginning, Impact Austin members have participated in various leadership positions, conferences, and webinars with Philanos (previously called the Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network and also briefly called Catalist). Rebecca was part of the WCGN founding board. Rebekah Bonde and Val Kirk served on the board years later. We hosted the WCGN (now Philanos) conference in 2012 and have attended/presented at other WCGN/Philanos conferences in 2015 (Rebekah Bonde presenting), 2018 (Lauren Paver presenting), and 2020 (Christina Gorczynski and Susan Palombo presenting).
In 2021 and 2022 we re-branded November's Giving Tuesday as "Collective Giving Tuesday" and invited a panel of Texas giving circles to share their best practices and grantmaking impact. A written recap and video link for the 2021 event are linked in our blog. Impact 100 Houston was one of the participants and the newest organization; Christina Gorczynski was credited with a helping hand to launch their circle. Two giving circles from the Texas Women's Foundation also shared their stories: The Village Giving Circle and The Orchid Giving Circle. Attending the webinar were members of those groups, Impact Austin, the Texas Women's Foundation, Philanos, Impact 100 Metro Denver, and the Giving Alliance of NE Florida. In 2022, we were joined by Georgetown Seeds of Strength, mentioned above, and Impact San Antonio. See our blog for a recap of that delightful conversation and webinar.
In 2023, new Executive Director Demetria George Caston will represent Impact Austin as a panelist at the March All In, All Rise Symposium organized by the Women's Philanthropy Institute. Nicole Genovese is part of the team facilitating the We Give Summit by Philanthropy Together in May.