By Allison Marlow
A $1,000 donation is good.
A $100,000 donation is transformative.
The ladies of Baldwin County’s Impact 100 have given more than $3.6 million to their neighborhoods to grow, serve and succeed.
Now their membership drive is in high gear as they continue to change lives for the better.
“You can drive around Baldwin County and see where the money was invested and the impact it makes,” said Veronica Herndon, board member at large. She said the group’s aim is to give a small number of high impact grants each year of $100,000 or more.
“A grant that size can change an organization’s trajectory,” Herndon said.
The organization started in 2008 when Irene Meehan met women from other states who were members of similar organizations. She called her friends, and her friends called their friends and that first year 82 women each donated $1,000 and the newly minted Impact 100 awarded an $82,000 grant to Mary’s Shelter in Elberta, a transitional housing program for women and children.
Just two years later, membership grew and a $150,000 was gifted to Outward Bound Five Rivers. By 2019 membership had swelled and five, $100,000 grants were given to five Baldwin County organizations.
When a new member joins their only requirement is to donate $1,000, all of which goes to the grant recipients. While membership is open only to women, some businesses and men donate as well.
“They all donate because it improves the quality of life in Baldwin County,” Herndon said. “That helps their business because when there is better quality of life people spend more money here. It’s a circle that’s created.”
Herndon said many members simply write a check every year. The real fun of the organization though, she said, is helping pick the annual recipients.
Every member is invited to be part of a focus group that reviews the grant applications, interviews potential recipients and then vote for the winners.
The focus groups are divided into five categories: arts and culture; education; environment, preservation and recreation; family and health and wellness. Members who participate in the focus groups and grant evaluation process sign confidentiality agreements and are not allowed to discuss the nominees, even among other Impact 100 members outside of their assigned focus group.
“Our grant process has so much integrity,” Herndon said. “We make a commitment to the non-profits to treat them with respect and help them be all they can be.”
Potential applicants are invited to a grant workshop each spring, this year on March 17, to learn about the process. Herndon said the focus group members often walk smaller nonprofits through the grant application steps with the goal of helping them improve with or without the grant.
“They go on site to each one of the applicants and talk with the staff, talk with the board, vet their financials. We write an evaluation at the end and tell them their strengths or weaknesses to help them become a better organization,” Herndon said. “It’s really a whole interactive thing. It’s not just collecting money and giving back. We also provide educational opportunities. By coming together collectively and collaborating women can transform the communities in which they live.”
The review process lasts about two months.
The finalists attend a final grant meeting in November where Impact 100 members gather to vote on the winners. Herndon said the evening is a jubilant event that celebrates the winners and the changes their program brings to Baldwin County.
This year’s membership drive ends on March 31. For more information or to join visit https://impact100baldwincounty.org/