impact table tent picBy Lynn Sygiel, editor, Charitable Advisors

When Donna Oklak finished her masters in philanthropic studies, she knew she wanted to make an impact on her community. She knew she could take a typical route: She could land a job as a grant writer, she could run an organization’s capital campaign or be a development director.

Oklak, however, was looking for something different. Her goal: tap into the generosity of fellow female philanthropists. Thus was born Impact 100, a hundred-plus-strong group of women dedicated to “transforming the community in significant and meaningful ways.”

As co-founder of the group with Kelli Norwalk in 2006, Oklak has seen Impact 100 award more than $1.48 million to 35 organizations. Its guidelines are simple: Members of the group – either individually or in partnership with others – donate $1,000 apiece annually. Each $1,000 earns one vote as to how the money will be spent. In the end, one organization receives $100,000 and four finalists divide the remaining funds.

“How great to be a program officer, even if it’s just one time a year. It’s just the greatest job in the world. And women need that boost of confidence that they can do this,” said Oklak.

Indianapolis now has several innovative ways for women to engage and see the collective impact of their donations. Trends show that more women leaders in philanthropy will seek solutions to pressing issues through collaboration, and Indiana seems to be at the forefront of that trend.

In addition to Impact 100, is the long-running Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, a special interest fund of the Central Indiana Community Foundation. Its donors are primarily women, and it invests in nonprofit organizations’ programs for women and girls. In 1996, the local committee announced an initial fundraising goal of $10 million in unrestricted funds, and when $4 million was raised, the fund would give its first grants. Since 1999, the Women’s Fund has distributed $5.4 million through 359 grants and has an endowment of $14.4 million.

A decade ago, women’s giving became a field of study when the Women’s Philanthropy Institute became part of Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. It is the only such institute dedicated to understanding women’s giving. Born out of the work of the National Network of Women as Philanthropists, it furthers the understanding of women’s philanthropy through research, education and knowledge dissemination. The institute recently released Women Give 14, its new research on women, religion and giving.


  • All volunteer organization
  • Applications from 60 organizations In 2014
  • Multi-step application process that includes site visits and financial review
  • One organization receives a grant of $100,000, and remaining four finalists share the residual
  • 100 percent of dollars collected are distributed
  • Administrative costs paid through additional cash and in-kind donations from members, corporations and other supporters
  • Two to four women, a syndicate, can pool donations to create one $1000 membership
  • Each syndicate has one vote for the final grant winner but each woman has full membership privileges

According to a 2009 Barclays study, women give twice as much as men, and typically give to more charities but in smaller amounts. These efforts in Indianapolis allow women to see a larger impact.

Barb Maurath is an Impact 100 donor, Women’s Fund contributor and member of the Women’s Fund second Perspectives class. The Women’s Fund has several generation-specific courses and hers is the yearlong philanthropy education program for women ages 46 to 106.

“What has impressed me about the Women’s Fund is their ability to fill a niche and do what needs to be done to help women and girls,” Maurath said. “I do think there was a need there, that wasn’t being addressed in our community. And they have focused well, in that they’re not trying to be everything to everybody.”

Jennifer Pope Baker, the Women’s Fund executive director, stressed that from the beginning, education and influencing the development of a “new generation of philanthropists” has been rooted in its work. Three instructional programs for donors — GO: Give Back, OPTIONS and Perspectives – cultivate sensitivity to the needs of women and girls. The fund has also helped individuals develop giving plans and think strategically about philanthropy.

“As women become educated and become more confident, I think you’re seeing women feeling like, ‘You know you’re right. I had no idea that there were so many organizations that really need big gifts,’” said Maurath.

“When Impact 100 started, I remember we were hearing in the community some talk of ‘Are there really that many organizations that need a six-figure gift?’ It also showed the community what could happen if you get bold and a little bit bigger with your gifts. I think it’s done a good job that way,” said Maurath.

Another factor that has changed is women’s economic power and educational achievements. In 2012, over 56 percent of women were in college and a recent American Express survey found in the United States nearly 9.1 million women-owned businesses that generated $1.4 trillion in revenue. Coupled with the fact that women can inherit twice – once from families, and because they outlive men, a second time from husbands.

With more wealth comes a critical need to educate women not only about the needs, but understanding which organizations are poised to take on a challenge.

“So we need to provide skills and ability to discern and make as good financial decisions as possible,” said Oklak.

Maurath encourages women to educate themselves, learn about the organization and make sure that the organization can use the gift and will use it the way they propose to use it.

Another trend the Women’s Philanthropy Institute has seen is that more women will “guide and nurture the next generations of philanthropists through open conversations about money and charitable giving.”

One change that Impact 100 has seen is that the women have gotten younger. Several years ago, it introduced syndicate memberships, where two to four women pool donations to create a $1,000 membership. Each syndicate has only one vote for the final grant winner, but except for that, each woman has full membership privileges.

“We have some wonderful young women who have really embraced our idea. In that it’s such a critical concept and you really know where your money goes,” said Oklak.

The Women’s Fund has engaged younger women since its inception. Pope Baker said young women are clamoring for meaningful ways to be involved, including, but not limited to board appointments and as donors. Some young women, she said, have given to the fund for 15 years.

What’s next? Maurath would like to see fewer benchwarmers, women who aren’t givers, join groups to be educated and learn about the collective impact. She also thinks cross-pollination between existing groups will continue to build a philanthropic community.

“I think the next phase is to start to leverage the work and collaborate. At that point forget $100,000 gifts. We can start doing much bigger ones and serve a lot more. If it’s going to happen anywhere, maybe it’s going to happen in Indianapolis. Maybe we can be a model. I know there are certainly people who think big here,” said Maurath.


We set to work educating nonprofits that we will only fund critical needs, new ventures, and innovative ways to solve social problems that create a more civil and respectful climate in our community. We made it clear that we will only fund nonprofits with the vision and capacity to manage a grant of $100,000. This resulted in fewer but higher quality applications.”  — Beth Thomas, Impact 100’s vice president and membership chair

“We witness the ripple effect. It isn’t always the money that you give, but it’s the money that you influence. Once you get an Impact grant, you’ve made it through that process, it gives the nonprofits a great story to tell, too.” — Donna Oklak, Impact 100’s co-founder

To date, Impact 100 has given away $1.48 million

Year # women # memberships $ award grants given
2006 152 152 $152,000 One $152,000
2007 205 205 $205,000 Two $102,500
2008 208 208 $208,000 Two $104,000
2009 164 164 $164,000 $100,000 and four $16,000
2010 175 165 $165,000 $100,000 and four $16,250
2011 152 145 $145,000 $100,000 and four $11,250
2012 156 140 $140,000 $100,000 and four $10,000
2013 143 121 $121,000 $100,000 and four $5,250
2014 135 118 $118,000 $100,000 and four $4,500


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