High Impact Philanthropy: Wendy H Steele Of Impact100 Global On How To Leave A Lasting Legacy With A Successful & Effective Nonprofit Organization
An Interview with Karen Mangia
Do your homework: Are there others trying to solve the same problem? Can you collaborate with them or simply join them? Sometimes our excitement leads us to believe we must begin something new, when we could be far more effective, simply bringing our passion to an existing nonprofit already working to solve the problems we hope to address.
For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders and leaders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non-Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Wendy H. Steele.
Wendy H. Steele is the founder and CEO of Impact100, a global nonprofit organization dedicated to uniting and empowering women to create a transformational impact in their communities. Since launching Impact100 in 2001, Wendy has dedicated her life to encouraging women to see themselves as both activists and philanthropists, bringing them together in order to unite their efforts, support one another, and enrich their communities as a team. What began as a grassroots effort in Cincinnati has today collectively granted more than $123 million to worthy nonprofits across more than 65 local chapters and four countries. The importance of giving back with the intent to leave the world a little better than she found it was instilled in her from a young age, leading her to see that all of us have something important to give. Wendy believes that, in giving to others, we gain in incalculable ways, and we can encourage others to do the same.
Wendy’s debut book, Invitation to Impact: Lighting the Path to Community Transformation (MFF Publishing, April 18, 2023), shares her personal journey building one of today’s most powerful grassroots organizations and invites women to become part of the solution by impacting their very own communities. Part business book, part memoir, Invitation to Impact provides insights for catalyzing meaningful change by giving women a seat at the table and a chance to join the movement — or spark one within themselves.
In recognition of her work with Impact100, Wendy was selected by Forbes for the 2021 50 over 50 Impact list recognizing women changing communities through social entrepreneurship, law, advocacy, and education. She was also featured as a guest speaker on TEDxBocaRaton in 2014 where she discussed what contagious generosity means and why we should all get involved. In 2020, Wendy was named a Distinguished Honoree of the Jones Prize in Philanthropy from the Institute of Private Investors, and she was also awarded the 2014 Jefferson Award for Public Service for her work with Impact100. She has been featured in several books, including The Transformative Power of Women’s Philanthropy; Women, Wealth and Giving; Women’s Giving Circles; and The Right Sisters — Modern Women Inventors.
Wendy lives by the motto “Not I, but we.” She believes that, in order to create a vibrant community, we must understand the community first. For Wendy, the most rewarding part of leading Impact100 is visiting local chapters to celebrate triumphs, big and small, and encouraging more than 30,000 women to make a difference. She resides in Tampa Bay, Florida, and enjoys reading, writing, traveling, walking the beach, and spending time with her husband, Rick, her five adult children, and as well as her dog, Gracie. For more information, please visit https://impact100global.org/.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
For as long as I can remember, I understood that each of us has the responsibility to leave the world better than we found it. In big and small ways, this understanding was modeled by family members without much deep conversation, simply by doing the right thing and seeking to be helpful and kind. Growing up this way, I just adopted this stance without much thought and naively believed that everyone was raised this way.
After my mother died unexpectedly, we experienced an outpouring of support from my grandparents and also from women in the neighborhood who helped us to navigate life without her. An informal “community of moms” stepped up to bring us meals, drive carpool, and support us in a variety of ways. They did this without being asked, without fanfare or recognition, and they continued to help long after it was convenient.
As I grew up, I continued these patterns of community service independently by volunteering in a variety of ways and making donations when I could to worthy causes. As I interviewed for new jobs, part of my assessment of whether I would be a good “fit” in the organizations with job openings was to understand their commitment to serving the community.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.
The three character traits that have most contributed to my success are my tenacity and work ethic, my unwavering belief in the power of generosity to change lives for the better, and my strong compassion for others.
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?
After relocating to Cincinnati, Ohio, from Connecticut, I discovered that many women don’t see their role in making the world a better place. They can get overwhelmed when considering the problems we face, but don’t realize that they can be a part of the solution.
Before moving to Cincinnati, where there are high-paying jobs and a lower cost of living, I erroneously believed that economics predicted a person’s commitment to giving back, and that is a false narrative.
Some of the most generous people I know are not (necessarily) the wealthiest, they are just people who understand that each of us has something valuable to give.
Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?
The Impact100 model is simple and powerful: Gather at least 100 women in a local community. Each woman donates $1,000 and all that money is immediately pooled together and offered back to the local community in grants of at least $100,000 to support nonprofits solving the most pressing problems. Impact100 chapters seek to support the entire community, funding grants across five, broad focus areas, Education, Health & Wellness, Environment, Arts & Culture, and Family.
Every local Impact100 chapter is independent and led by a team of volunteers. Since its inception in 2001 in Cincinnati, more than 65 chapters have given away over $123 million, and the movement continues to thrive with more than 50 chapters in development now.
At Impact100 Global, we support those existing chapters through growing pains, by offering leadership development, coaching, training, and educational events. Our goal is to ensure that each Impact100 chapter achieves its highest potential. We also assist Impact 100 founders to effectively and efficiently launch their new chapter to create maximum benefit to the local community.
Based on a research study completed by the Morgridge Family Foundation in 202–2021, we know that membership in an Impact100 organization empowers women in significant ways. Members report being better informed, taking additional action, and increasing their leadership in the community.
Nonprofit grantees report that the grants received from Impact100 do more than just fund the program or project they applied for. Nonprofits have received additional benefits in the form of new connections, volunteers, and additional funding.
What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?
As vibrant and successful as Impact100 has been over the past twenty-two years, I remain passionate about this cause because it has yet to reach its highest potential. When I consider that 100% of the growth of Impact100 has been organic — meaning every new chapter was formed when a local person volunteered to lead it and every existing chapter only receives support if they ask for it — we can clearly see the vast untapped potential of Impact100.
Only when we can reach into underestimated and underrepresented communities can be engaged/ personally invited and trained, will we see the impact of Impact100. And only when we can proactively anticipate needs of existing chapters and offer guidance before they know they have a problem, will existing chapters fully thrive.
Consider this: Each Impact100 grant of $100,000 or more stays in the local community — benefiting those who need it most. As we lift the most vulnerable population, opportunities increase for all. New jobs, newly employable citizens, and new economic growth are generated through increased philanthropy and not at the expense of government budgets or private companies.
Through the Impact100 experience, our members also grow in their leadership skills and their service to the community through their networks, their volunteerism, and their financial contributions.
Only when we reach and serve every community can we reach our full potential.
Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?
There are so many stories! We’ve been around for over twenty years and given away more than $123 million. Each grant of $100,000+ has a powerful story. Since you are asking about individuals, I will share the story of a woman named “Renee.”
Renee is a retired teacher who had recently moved to a new community and wanted to learn more about the city and make friends with local women there. She joined the Impact100 chapter and volunteered to serve on a grant review committee, even though she had never done anything like that before.
Renee made friends with several Impact100 members. She also learned about local nonprofits, but one organization stood out to her. This organization was supporting people of all ages who needed to learn English as a second language.
During the grant review process, Renee was a participant in the site visit to this nonprofit (along with a few others) and was moved by the methods, learning environment, and passion of the staff. Although this nonprofit didn’t end up receiving a grant from Impact100, they did receive Renee as a donor and volunteer.
Renee shared this story, telling me that Impact100 changed her life. It was her work with Impact100 that led her to find her passion for helping new community members to learn English. She remains a passionate Impact100 member (and part of the membership recruitment team) as well as a volunteer board member for the nonprofit she discovered.
We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?
Don’t wait to be generous. Sometimes we feel that we can donate to a cause only after we have saved for retirement, put our kids through school, or achieved some other measure of financial security. Don’t wait. Give today to the causes you care about. You will be so glad you did.
Invite your friends. We really are better and more powerful together. If you have a nonprofit that you support, tell your friends about it. You will not only help the cause, but you may also connect your friends to a mission they will enjoy supporting.
Talk about your generosity to other generations. Did you know that the best way to ensure that kids grow up to be generous adults is if an older role model spoke with them about why they give and to whom? Using age-appropriate stories, kids need to understand that we all should do what we can to help others. Seeing you do that will change their lives for the better. And don’t stop there. You may have a parent, grandparent or other older family member who carefully saved every penny, never having the joy of giving to others. Your stories of generosity may inspire someone in an older generation to follow your lead as well.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?”
- Do your homework: Are there others trying to solve the same problem? Can you collaborate with them or simply join them? Sometimes our excitement leads us to believe we must begin something new, when we could be far more effective, simply bringing our passion to an existing nonprofit already working to solve the problems we hope to address.
- Do MORE homework: Make certain you fully understand all aspects of the problem you are looking to solve. Many of the toughest problems are also complex and deeply rooted. You cannot be successful with a limited view of the causes and circumstances surrounding the issue.
- Build a strong leadership team that is both diverse and persistent. When it comes to creating a successful nonprofit, be sure to surround yourself with people whose lived experiences and skill sets complement yours. You’ll also want to be sure that your leadership team reflects the community you hope to serve. It takes time to “move the needle” in addressing significant problems in your community. Be sure your leadership team is persistent, yet patient, with realistic expectations of progress toward goals and objectives.
- Define your scope of work or mission clearly and use that as your north star. Communicating your mission clearly — and often — to your board, staff, volunteers, and the community stakeholders will go a long way to avoid well-meaning attempts to push you outside of your mission. Staying true to that mission will keep you from becoming distracted by outside “shiny” opportunities.
- Set aside your ego and evaluate your results often. Remember that the work you are doing is an educated guess — or hypothesis — so treat it that way. Evaluate your results every step to be sure the outcomes support your initial hypothesis. Pay attention if you are not getting the results you expected and keep your mind open to the possibility that your assessment may not have been 100% on target. Pivot as needed and remember the goal is to improve the situation you are working to address — and not to always be “right.”
How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?
I’m not sure the pandemic has changed my definition of success as much as it has highlighted the need for the work of Impact100 chapters everywhere. The Impact100 movement expands during times of crisis because the needs increase during these times. Women want to do something to help, and Impact100 allows them to proactively fund the greatest areas of need.
How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?
Setbacks happen all the time. I stay inspired by focusing on the reason I do this work in the first place.
There are too many women who remain uninvolved in their communities because they don’t see a viable path to making a difference. I want to reach every single one of them and show them the power they possess to radically make the world a better place.
Once women are activated, they will then seek out and fund the nonprofits in their own communities who are solving the most pressing problems. As those needs are met, the community flourishes, more women give, and an upward spiral of hope, improvement, and growth follows.
At a time of unprecedented problems facing humanity, we need more philanthropists to help solve them.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them.
Thank you so much for asking! I would love to have Reese Witherspoon better understand Impact100 Global. Her work is devoted to lifting women up and giving them a voice and a seat at the table. The instant synergy and connection would be powerful. Besides, she seems so genuinely awesome, I would just love to spend time with her.
You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?
Readers can find me on the following websites:
Readers can also find me on the following social media platforms:
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/wendysteele/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wendy.h.steele or https://www.facebook.com/InvitationToImpact/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/WendySteele
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/impact100global/?hl=en
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.
About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.
High Impact Philanthropy: Wendy H Steele Of Impact100 Global On How To Leave A Lasting Legacy With was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.