When writer and activist Margaret Mead advised us to “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens could change the world,” she could have been talking about Impact 100. A nonprofit new to St. Louis, the group’s goal is to encourage 100 women a year to each donate $1,000, with all the funds benefiting area charities of the group’s choice. The idea for the local chapter was hatched at the kitchen table of Warson Woods resident Linda Schoenbein.
A native of Pensacola, Fla., Schoenbein has called St. Louis home for 25 years. “It was through my connections to Pensacola that I first heard of the organization,” she says. “They have an Impact 100 in their community, and I was struck by how simple, yet powerful, the concept was. It’s empowering not only to charities, but also to members, who can see firsthand how their investment makes an impact on their community.”
Schoenbein knew it was an idea that could work in St. Louis. “This is such a giving town with so many good causes,” she says. “I started talking with my neighbors and soon we found ourselves around the kitchen table working out the details.” Her co-founders, Laura Cannon and Lexi Dillon, were on board right away. “We knew it was a way to have control over where our money was going and a way to invest in the town we all love,” Schoenbein says.
St. Louis is the seventh Impact 100 group to sprout up across the country, but each is independent and individually operated. “The goal for this year is 100 members. We didn’t actually begin recruiting until early this year, and we hope that by October, we’ll have reached or surpassed our goal,” says Schoenbein.
Funds are donated using a grant system. “After we know exactly how much we’ll have to donate, we’ll begin accepting grant requests from local charities,” she explains. “To be eligible, organizations must be a registered 501c(3) that focuses on one of five categories: arts and culture, education, the environment, family, or health and wellness. Applications are then subdivided by categories and reviewed by committees made up of group members. “This process is taken very seriously. Grant applications are reviewed by the smaller committees and narrowed down. The final step before the group vote is an on-site visit, because we want to be absolutely sure that money is going to be well spent,” Schoenbein says. The minimum donation Impact 100 awards is $50,000. “It’s a big grant, because we want it to have a big impact.” The group also launched ‘Friends of Impact 100’ to include men or those who want to donate less than the $1,000 membership minimum. “We use whatever funds raised through the Friends group to offset our overhead. But because no one draws a salary, our expenses are low,” she adds.
The response has been great, says Schoenbein, and new members have shared how inspired they were by the group’s mission. “Everyone feels good that they have a say as to exactly how their money is spent. None of it goes to offset gala expenses or other overhead expenses,” she says. “It goes right to the organizations that need it most for projects they’ve only dreamt of doing.” To encourage the next generation of women to become givers, St. Louis’ Impact 100 was the first to create a junior membership option. “It’ for women under 24, and their membership is just $250. It shows them the power of working together toward a common goal.”
In three years, Schoenbein’s goal is to have 500 members. “It’s a big dream, but I think it’s doable. Imagine what a difference that money can make.”