Marybeth Lernihan and Impact 100 Chicago

Some 26 years after leaving the workforce to care for her children, Marybeth Lernihan of Barrington sought a new opportunity in life.

After a visit to Cincinnati to see an old college friend, Marybeth discovered Impact 100, a national organization that was founded there. Impact 100 is made up of at least 100 members, who each contribute $1,000 to a cumulative grant awarded to a nonprofit after a collaborative selection process. Impact 100 Chicago gave away $126,000 (with 126 members) to five local nonprofit organizations at its first grant celebration this June (The $100,000 winner, Chicago Lights, plans to build a greenhouse in Chicago’s Cabrini Green neighborhood this fall).

Co-founded with Barrington residents Michele Polvere and Nonie Brown, Impact 100 allows each member to each contribute $1,000 but feel as though they are giving away $100,000. Lernihan takes pride in the organization’s ability to wholeheartedly involve each member in the selection process; women are exposed to local nonprofits and know exactly where their contribution is going. Site visits by members are part of the process of selecting finalists. Women become exposed to the world of grant making and grant seeking, broadening their local mind-set.

Lernihan believes the grant experience to be the driving force of the organization. She hopes that the exposure to area organizations will drive women to become more deeply involved by volunteering, becoming a board member or having a career change within the nonprofits. Lernihan hopes that member enthusiasm will spread the organization to other cities – so far, there are 14 chapters nationwide.

Since Chicago covers such a large geographic area, her goal is to create multiple chapters and “plant the seed that women can do this in their community and reap the same benefits and opportunity.” In ten years, Lernihan hopes to expand to 1,000 members within the Chicagoland area, giving $1 million annually to local nonprofits.

Planting the seed would not only benefit local nonprofits, but would also positively benefit women in increasing exposure and a sense of accomplishment. This sense of female empowerment is only one positive impact of Lernihan’s dreams for Impact 100 Chicago. All that contribute are equal in their giving power as philanthropic-minded women come together to benefit the community.