100 Times More Powerful Together: Chicago’s Impact 100

Impact 100 Chicago is philanthropy made easy.

Members don’t have to pledge hours of their time at fundraisers, purchase tables at black-tie banquets, or juggle work and kids to commit to an organization.

And it’s one check—one annual pledge of $1,000.

Each donation is funneled into a larger pool, and by the end of the organization’s annual awards ceremony, at least one nonprofit organization will walk away with a $100,000 grant.

“I actually highlight the simplicity of it,” says Michele Polvere, president of the Greater Chicago chapter. “We say it’s the perfect fit for whatever stage of life you’re in.”

After the pledge, the level of commitment is entirely dependent on the how involved the member wants to be. They can choose to join one of the five grant committees that help vet nonprofit applications, take on a leadership role, or just choose to attend the annual awards ceremony, where members get to vote on the five finalists. Regardless of their level of commitment, they get a completely unique philanthropy experience.

“You get to get up close and personal with the organizations. It’s a real feel-good moment,” saysAllison Bacon, president of the city of Chicago chapter. “There are people deeply committed to trying to solve really entrenched problems in our community.”

Formed in 2010, Impact 100 Chicago has grown exponentially each year and eventually split into two chapters in 2012. Chicago is such a large metropolitan area, and it was difficult to participate on committees or attend events an hour to two hours away, says Co-Founder and Chair Marybeth Lernihan.

Having multiple chapters helps open up opportunities for members that don’t have the time to accommodate a long commute. Women have the opportunity to join one of five committees—family, education, health, sustainability or culture—and each committee meets to review and vet nonprofits that have submitted grant applications.

“Ultimately, to accommodate the vast area, we always intended to have chapters,” Lernihan says. The group is exploring other chapter options, including one in the city’s northern suburbs.

Unlike other organizations that keep part of the membership fees to accommodate operational costs, every $1,000 pledge is donated in full. During the 2014 awards ceremony last June, the city chapter, which has over 200 members, was able to donate $100,000 grants to both EMBARC andThe Night Ministry, as well as provide $6,000 operating grants to the three remaining finalists. Similarly, the Greater Chicago chapter gave $100,000 to the Crisis Center for South Suburbia and $13,000 grants to their runner-ups.


“By the [ceremony,] when we have five finalists, I would be completely content for any of the five to get $100,000, because they are all doing something worthy,” Bacon says. “It makes Chicago feel both so much bigger and so much smaller than you can possibly imagine. You realize how many different communities there are in our city, and how many different needs there are in our city.”

The ceremony is also an opportunity for the nonprofits to introduce themselves to a large group of charity-minded women. Each nonprofit has 10 minutes to plead their case to the group–without the help of visual aids–and the women then vote on the winner. Even if they don’t win, their pitch can attract supplemental donations.

“I have seen women in the room write a check and hand it to the organizations that have not been our winners,” Bacon says. “One organization had a $5,000 check written because our member was so excited about them.”

And while the organizations benefit from the grant money and the exposure, members also get to feel like they have made an impact on their community.

“You donate $1,000, but [at the awards ceremony] you feel like you gave $100,000, but eventually (you) feel like a million dollars,” Polvere says. “You see all the good and it warms your heart.”