Member Voices: Rebecca Powers and the Kitchen Table Six
In celebration of our 20th anniversary year, Impact Austin is sharing a variety of stories from and about our members. Each story is unique to the voice (or voices) we profile, but each also speaks to one aspect of our extraordinary collective.
The seed for our women’s philanthropy group was planted on January 21, 2003, when Rebecca Powers read an article in PEOPLE Magazine about a group of women in Cincinnati, Ohio, who pooled their individual $1000 donations and gave $123,000 to a dental clinic for the homeless. That article sparked the idea that developed into a successful movement, later named Impact Austin.
The founding board had the perfect mix of women with the necessary business acumen to launch a start-up nonprofit. Rebecca wrote, "As founding board members, the six of us had two things in common: various business backgrounds and no understanding of the nonprofit landscape in Austin." But they were well-connected!
(L to R: Nancy Word, Cindy Moreland, Jane Nolden , Rebecca Powers, Phylis Donelson, Glenda Holmstrom)
That founding board became known as The Kitchen Table Six. "Each time we met it was around someone's kitchen table. There was something very grounding about that, and it bonded us." Rebecca knew Glenda Holmstrom through a neighborhood Bible study. Glenda was the contemplative facts-figures-research brain to Rebecca's gregarious sales instinct. They knew Phylis Donelson through the neighborhood Bible study also; Rebecca credits Phylis as "sanity-checker," helping Rebecca mature as the group's leader. Phylis was also a terrific recruiter. Cindy Moreland was Rebecca's friend from the high school baseball stands; she joined in time for the first four-person board meeting. Cindy's husband had started a nonprofit and gave a contribution to help defray start-up costs. Nancy Word was introduced by Glenda; she "soon became our one-person marketing department." A photo by Nancy's son inspired Impact Austin's first logo. Jane Nolden joined after hearing about the concept from Phylis while they walked the Capital 10K. Jane added some much-needed technology expertise to the board. Rebecca explained, “We exploited our talents, and what we didn’t know, we researched. We asked experts in the community and got really sound advice." Rebecca named Barry Silverberg and Fayrouz Benyousef among the helpful community experts.
The board built the Impact Austin model by incorporating the ‘six C’s’ of women’s giving, coined by Sondra Shaw-Hardy and Martha Taylor and now common to other women's giving circles. Create. Change. Connect. Commit. Collaborate. Celebrate. Rebecca describes our organization’s first five years as “focused on explosive growth in membership, coupled with structured grant application and review processes that garnered the respect of funders and nonprofits alike. By encouraging our members to participate on committees to review grant applications, and thereby learn more about needs in the community, we developed a reputation for being an ‘army of informed philanthropists’ who had changed the face of giving in Austin.”
The next steps
Striving to be more than grantmakers, Impact Austin members pursued that quest to become “informed philanthropists.” The first Discovery Day launched in 2007. Sixteen years later it’s still an Impact Austin signature event. Town Hall Meeting, another signature event, typically includes inspirational speakers and informative topics. In 2014, Impact-EDU was launched to provide philanthropy education programming to members. Today philanthropy education events are recorded on our blogs, Past Events page, and YouTube channel.
Since our inception, Rebecca Powers and Impact Austin have fostered ties with other collective giving groups – to our benefit and theirs. Rebecca has played formative roles in the development of other giving circles, and this will be the topic of a future blog.
In 2011, Rebecca stepped away from day-to-day leadership of Impact Austin and passed the torch to the first paid executive director, Liz Fitzgerald. Donna Benson-Chan served next, and Christina Gorczynski was hired in 2018, serving nearly four years as Executive Director. At the time this blog was written, Impact Austin had employed an executive search firm to find its next dynamic and inspiring leader to take our giving circle beyond new thresholds.
Impact Austin continues to evolve both responsively and proactively to community needs, organizational growth, and members’ aspirations. In 2018, a new Mission, Vision and Strategic Plan announced a bold future for Impact Austin. Values were added, and priority objectives, and now a strategic plan extension carries out our work through FY2024. A Strategic Advisory Council was added to our leadership in FY2021.
Since Impact Austin's first grant was awarded in 2004 to LifeWorks, we've met and surpassed some exciting grant thresholds.
2007 $1 million
2009 $2 million
2011 $3 million
2013 $4 million
2015 $5 million
2017 $6 million
2020 $7 million
2022 $8 million
We asked The Kitchen Table Six: What have you valued as an Impact Austin member? And what's important for current members to understand about our earliest years?
Rebecca: "Our early tagline 'Ordinary Women...Extraordinary Impact' described exactly who we were and what we wanted to accomplish. That is still true today. You don't have to be a woman of means in order to have a philanthropic voice in the community. You can pool your financial resources with others to make an impact that you couldn't make on your own. Over the years, our members have told us how their participation in Impact Austin has amplified their philanthropic voices."
Phylis: "It is hard to believe that we are approaching 20 years. It seems like yesterday that we asked each other "Can we really do this?" "Should we even try?" But with blind faith, a deep belief in the need, and being surrounded by bright amazing women, we said YES. One of the best YES answers of my life. I have learned, every year, about the passionate individuals and organizations right here in our community that serve the disadvantaged and lift them up with compassion. I am in awe. My eyes, my heart, and my wallet have been opened and I am forever grateful."
Glenda wrote: "Being involved in starting Impact Austin was truly life changing for me, and I’m so grateful to Rebecca for inviting me in early. I had always donated money regularly to my church, and I donated to nonprofits, but typically without much deep thought. I was a businessperson in my career but didn’t really apply an 'investment' mentality to my donations or think of myself as a philanthropist. Melissa Gray and I built the Impact Austin grants process from the ground up and, in the process of researching grantmaking 'best practices,' learned so much about how to make good decisions on where to invest our donations. Leading and serving on grant committees and getting to know more local nonprofits in Austin was eye-opening about both the extent of the needs and the talent here, and how important it is to invest well for our community no matter how much or how little we have to give. The Impact Austin experience led to service on other nonprofit boards as well, and the opportunity to help start Jeremiah Program in Austin. But one of the best things was meeting so many smart, curious, compassionate women and making lifelong friendships."
Nancy shared: "In addition to feeling the sense of accomplishment we all had for participating in the launch of Impact Austin, we have watched the organization grow and mature into a philanthropic force in our community. An early goal was to 'change the face of philanthropy' and I think that has certainly happened. My personal experience with Impact Austin gave me the confidence to branch out to support global NGOs that focus on women, peace, and security. I have traveled globally and have met many amazing women activists as well as 6 of the women who have won the Nobel Peace Price! I would say that Impact Austin has transformed me into a global philanthropist. I am a different person than 20 years ago, with a doubt!"
Jane: "From day one, Impact Austin's mission resonated with my heart and allowed my small financial contribution to make a big impact. But the "extraordinary impact" of Impact Austin goes beyond financial support to the nonprofits. The truth is: the impact is also on you as a woman in today's world. Connections made in Impact Austin with women who have unique skills and experiences but also a shared vision... learning to read grant proposals... developing awareness of what the real needs are in our community... learning about the work the nonprofit sector is doing... all of this will change your heart in ways beyond your imagination. Like mine was!"
Cindy added this perspective, "Most organizations we all give to, we give without much input. With Impact Austin, you can be very involved in who the [grant] recipient will be and the program we would be funding." She added, "I never knew about all of the wonderful nonprofits in our area and was so glad to learn of them. So grateful for the IA experience."
Glenda closed with these remarks, "It was hard and fun and exhausting to be involved in starting Impact Austin. We talked about what would mean we had been successful in creating something that truly mattered. We said it needed to be an organization that not only lived but thrived long after the founding board left. We wanted to create something that would go on, be loved and nurtured by other women as much as it was by us, and live long without us. It is a great joy to see that has come true."
Twenty years later, we're grateful for the six women who put hard work, brainpower, and big hearts into establishing the collective giving organization that continues to have an impact on Austin and Central Texas. Thank you, Rebecca and The Kitchen Table Six. Join them, join us!
Back row: Glenda Holmstrom, Jane Nolden, Cindy Moreland
Front row: Phylis Donelson, Rebecca Powers, Nancy Word
Here's to naive optimism
and always believing we can change the world.
Here's to a lifetime of friendships
forged in the fire of creating things together that really matter.
Here's to our sisterhood of hard truths, profound respect,
deep affection, and sheer persistence.
Penned by Glenda Holmstrom
Spoken to Rebecca Powers. July 1, 2011
Explore Impact Austin membership here.