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Impact Austin Member Spotlight - Marla Whelan

“The Grant Review Committees (GRCs) are really the heart of the organization,” says Marla Whelan, Impact Austin Grant Coordinator.

Meet Marla and learn more about her and her journey with Impact Austin’s Grant Review Committees in this member spotlight interview!

Marla, how did you hear about Impact Austin and why did you decide to join?

“I retired, and I was looking for my next act. Anne McKinnon hosted a coffee in late 2006. Rebecca Powers was there and gave a moving pitch, and I joined immediately. I wanted to give back to my community & get to know like-minded women.”

What was your profession?

“I worked for AT&T for 34 years. I started as a lineman and worked my way up through the many different parts of the corporation. When I retired I was a Director of Labor Relations responsible for representing the Company when interacting with the Union. For the last ten years, I have been consulting on various projects for AT&T and Atlantic Broadband, a cable operator based in Boston, Massachusetts.”

“I hope to do a better job of retiring in the future.”

How have you supported Impact Austin?

“I was a member of a GRC for two years before stepping up to be a co-chair. I co-chaired for two years and then became an advisor. I was an advisor for five years before accepting my current position as Grant Review Coordinator.”

“My favorite part of the grant process is the Site Visits. It is two full days but getting out to the non-profits home base and hearing their stories is awesome. We meet before and after each site visit at a restaurant nearby to prepare and then debrief. You really get to see the advantage of a group of women with various life experiences and how there can be multiple views of the same situation.”

What changes have you seen over the years in the Grants Process? 

“There have been many changes over the ten years I have been involved. The manuals have been redone multiple times. Now we even allow for electronic versions. The first year I joined, we only gave out four grants so one of the five focus areas missed out. A couple of years ago we implemented the Catalyst Grant. And, this year we changed from five focus areas to three.  Impact Austin is always looking to improve to be a better partner with the non-profits in our community.”

“The Grant Review Committees (GRCs) are really the heart of the organization. You participate first hand in deciding where we invest our money. You meet and work closely with other Impact Austin members. And, you learn about the non-profits who are working to improve our committees. It really is the best! It is work but it is very rewarding. Over the last fifteen years, Impact Austin has developed a unique process that allows a group of women with diverse opinions to come to a consensus. It is all very well organized. We have manuals for the members and guides for the Leadership.”

What is the most important thing you have learned by being an Impact Austin member and what is your favorite thing you have done with the organization?

“To listen. There are many different viewpoints among the Impact Austin members. You can have your mind made up one way and by listening to an alternative argument completely change your opinion. It is a healthy environment. Again, I might be biased but I think participating in the Grants process from the beginning Letters of Inquiry (LOI) to the finalist presentation at the Annual Meeting is my favorite thing about being an Impact Austin member.”

Tell us about your family and what you love to do!

“I have been happily married for 30 years to Ken Whelan. We have one daughter who lives in NYC with her husband and our grandchildren. The boys are five & two years old. We wish they lived closer, but we see them when we can.” 

“Ken and I love to travel. Last year we went to Italy with friends. The year before we went to Portugal and Spain.”

“I would say my hobby is planning trips. I also love to hike. We live on the Barton Creek Greenbelt and I am probably somewhere on the greenbelt six days a week.”


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