"The Impact100 movement is a bright light in an increasingly dark world, empowering women to give, lead, and serve together."
In Invitation to Impact: Lighting the Path to Community Transformation, philanthropist Wendy Steele tells the inspiring story of Impact100—from its birth as an idea jotted in a spiral notebook to its continued growth as an international organization dedicated to helping women transform the communities they live in.
A book about making an impact, the power of generosity, collective action, and so much more, Invitation to Impact details the design and growth of Impact100, as well as the mistakes and pitfalls Wendy overcame along the way. Through the experiences Wendy shares, Invitation to Impact is a book that makes clear the impact giving can make when we all accept the invitation.
The following excerpt is the Preface to the book.
The World Needs Your Light
The year was 1923, and biologist Hugh Smith was deep in the mangrove forests of Thailand one night when, suddenly, the pitch darkness around him was illuminated for one magic moment. Stunned, Smith stopped moving and stared curiously into the darkness until the spectacle repeated itself.
As a scientist and professor, Smith searched for the most logical explanation for the phenomena. In time, he found the light originated from thousands of fireflies shining in unison. The truth was undeniable, and yet the underlying motivation for this dazzling showcase escaped scientists, mathematicians, and even biologists. Why would male fireflies all light up at the same time, if the goal of light signaling was for each to get his own mate? Haven’t we all learned that competition is the behavioral paradigm that rules the natural world?
While it’s true that competition may provide more drama for television and movies, it also would have driven humans extinct long ago had it been the only behavioral model for our species. Our survival and success depend on another natural strategy: cooperation. Time and time again, our species have been faced with challenges too great for any individual, from our ancestors coordinating for a hunt to the global COVID-19 vaccine effort. In these moments, our social capabilities allow us to work together and overcome insurmountable odds.
With respect to Professor Hugh Smith’s discovery, scientists ultimately concluded that when the fireflies lit up together, their mating success rate skyrocketed from 3 percent to an astounding 82 percent. Working as an interconnected community, a “positive system,” was, in fact, exponentially more beneficial to the individuals and the whole community.
The concept embodied by these fireflies—that individuals working together to accomplish something extraordinary is not only a natural strategy, but a powerful one—is something I believe is also embodied by Impact100, the organization that began as a collective giving model I designed. It has since become a global giving movement with more than sixty-five chapters around the world, starting in 2001 in Cincinnati and now spanning from San Antonio, Texas, to Sydney, Australia.
More than twenty years on now, Impact100 has invited members from all walks of life to engage in meaningful giving while belonging to a supportive community of changemakers. Impact100 chapters identify and fund the local nonprofits that are solving the most pressing problems across our five broad Focus Areas: Arts & Culture, Education, Environment, Health & Wellness, and Family. By the end of 2022, Impact100 chapters around the globe had given away more than $123 million, and we are growing fast. Giving high-impact grants of $100,000 or more, most Impact100 chapters seek to reach at least five hundred members, who each donate $1,000 so they might lift every facet of their community by funding at least one grant in each of these areas.
Not only are the results of our giving visible and tangibly felt in communities around the world, but the impact of our giving model is also well-documented and backed by extensive research. I often say that Impact100 empowers women and transforms communities. In 2020, the Morgridge Family Foundation powered the first research study to determine whether these claims were true. The results exceeded my wildest expectations and validated what my instincts had led me to believe: Membership in Impact100 provides measurable increases in the primary characteristics of empowered people. Further, the research resoundingly supported the notion that communities are transformed by our significant grants.
According to best-selling author and speaker Shawn Achor, “Becoming a ‘positive node’ in your workplace, company, or community, and helping those around you improve their creativity, their productivity, their abilities, their performance, and more, you are not only helping the group become better; you are exponentially increasing your own potential for success.”2
When we help others shine, that light reflects our own, making us brighter still and attracting more people to this important movement. For generations, society has taught us that we must compete to attain the highest goals. We are taught from an early age that being the best is how we become successful. We hear that success is a zero-sum endeavor—when there’s a winner, there also has to be a loser—and is defined by our position at the top of the class. This false narrative states that our wins can only be attained by being smarter, stronger, or faster than our peers.
I started Impact100 because I knew the competition narrative was incomplete. I have always understood that despite popular culture’s insistent messages to the contrary, we rise when we uplift others. Building and growing together is a more rewarding, enjoyable, and sustainable version of success than anything else we could accomplish alone. Today, Impact100 has given away more than $123 million in grants and engaged more than thirty thousand women and growing.
When I began Impact100, I never could have imagined the reach it would have today. I designed the model for women I had met in Cincinnati, and when additional women asked if I could help them do the same in their communities, I freely offered the structure of the Impact100 model along with all of the guidance and advice I could. The notion of empowering more women to give back in their local communities was exhilarating. Each new Impact100 chapter has been launched because someone hears about the model and commits to building one in their backyard. Impact100 chapters grow through the passionate belief of its members and their connections across communities, cultures, and vast geographies.
In 2015 I created Impact100 Global to provide better support to the women who launch new Impact100 chapters and lead existing chapters. Impact100 Global is the central connecting point, or node, facilitating broad sharing of Impact100 model best practices, technology, processes, and resources to Impact100 members across the globe. We know that once we begin collaborating and coordinating our best efforts, each of us shines a bit brighter—both as individuals and as a community. As we learn, share, and grow together, our collective and individual lights shine brighter, attracting others to join the movement—like fireflies.
At Impact100, we believe that too many women remain on the sidelines holding incredible light. We know well that today’s problems are far too complex and urgent to be solved by only a few minds. Impact100 illuminates solutions by empowering women to come together in their local communities around the globe to identify and fund the solutions we need most. The Impact100 movement is a bright light in an increasingly dark world, empowering women to give, lead, and serve together.
We live in a connected world, where we rise and fall together. Let’s choose to shine on together.
Excerpted from Invitation to Impact.
Published by MFF Publishing
Copyright © 2023 Wendy H. Steele
All rights reserved.