The excitement in the air was palpable as a record number of women gathered at Oak Harbor for the Impact 100 Indian River annual meeting. They were about to award $100,000 grants to each of five local Indian River nonprofits, in addition to six merit grants totaling $70,900 to other deserving community organizations.
Representatives from the 11 grant finalists gave heartfelt presentations detailing proposed projects that would make a meaningful impact on the community. When it came time for Impact 100 members to vote on the five major grant recipients, Indian River County Supervisor of Elections Leslie Rossway Swan and her staff were on hand with official ballots and voting machines. After the in-person votes were tallied and certified, along with votes submitted via mail and online, the Impact 100 members and presenters reassembled to hear the results.
Cheers erupted as the five major award finalists were announced and presented with oversize checks. Happily, everyone went home smiling, including members of Indian River County’s largest all-female philanthropic organization, now celebrating its 15th year.
“It was a record-breaking day,” says Impact 100 IR President Suzi McCoy Shriner of the meeting. “With annual dues from nearly 500 members and money left over from last year’s award fund, we were able to give away $570,900,” adding that Impact 100 IR is the largest chapter in the country and one of the largest in the world.
Impact 100 was founded in 2008 on the premise of “one woman, $1,000, and one vote.” Each member contributes $1,100 annually, with $1,000 going directly to grant making in $100,000 increments. “It’s a model that gives women of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to become philanthropists and, collectively, have a transformational impact upon our community,” points out Shriner, founder of a Pennsylvania-based public relations firm that is now owned and managed by her daughter.
“Our members—like the Vero Beach community—hail from many parts of the country and world,” says the veteran PR pro who was once named Outstanding Business Woman in Pennsylvania. “They are amazing, smart, talented women representing a wide variety of professions—from teachers and stay-at-home moms to business owners, government officials, and world bankers.” The common denominator, Shriner says, is their big, generous hearts.
One of the pluses of Impact 100 membership, according to Shriner, is that you can join on your own terms. “You can be on a committee or the board, attend luncheons and meetings, or just write a check. There are no galas, so you don’t have to buy a fancy dress.”
Shriner, a South Carolinian whose family has owned property in Central Beach since 1927, joined Impact 100 after a friend invited her to an Impact Day. “I was impressed with the community partners and thought the idea of collective giving was smart investing. Being a newcomer to Vero, I also joined to meet other women driven by a common purpose. Since then, I’ve made many friendships through Impact 100.”
“Usually, when you donate to something, you don’t have a say in where it goes or how it’s going to be used,” observes Shriner. “Here, I can drive around town with my husband and point to things like Childcare Resources, the Dementia Bus, the Dignity Bus, and Camp Haven and say, ‘I helped build that!’ Our family donations alone couldn’t have achieved that. But collectively, through Impact 100, we’re making this a better place for everyone.”
Earlier this year, the organization hosted Share to Care—an event showcasing how local nonprofits have benefited from $6 million in grants and support from Impact 100 over the past 15 years. More than 1,000 people gathered at Riverside Park to learn more about the essential services provided by 42 nonprofits in Indian River County.
Shriner points out that the grant awards at the annual meeting are the culmination of a seven-to-eight-month process that involves outreach by the Visioning Committee to local nonprofits in the areas of arts and culture, children and families, education, environment, and health and wellness. It includes grant writing workshops, nonprofit information sessions, application support and review, and a thorough investigation of the organization’s finances to ensure that it can manage and sustain the grant. “After the grant is awarded, there continues to be a high degree of accountability as our Community Partners Committee oversees how the recipient implements its grant dollars. We take seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of our members’ money.”
Establishing an organized sisterhood for philanthropy in Indian River County dates to 2001, when the late Ellie McCabe created Women & Philanthropy to educate women about charitable giving and planning. “Ellie was the spark that ignited Impact 100 as well as my own involvement,” says Sue Tompkins, one of the early members of Women & Philanthropy and a later president of Impact 100, who continues to serve as a volunteer and honorary board member.
“In 2008, we decided to turn our education into action and invited the founder of Impact 100 in Pensacola, Debbie Ritchie, to speak to our group,” recalls Tompkins, a partner and senior financial advisor at Warren Capital Management, who has made Vero her home since 1986. “The idea of turning my $1,000 into a $100,000 impactful grant was something that was clearly larger than the sum of its parts, with community impact that I could not achieve on my own. It was an exciting idea, and one that was easy to get behind. Just one month later, we formed the steering committee for Impact 100 IR.”
“Our plan was to find 100 women to join the movement, giving us the funds we needed to make a $100,000 inaugural grant,” Tompkins explains. “By March, we had over 200 women step up to join the cause, and the grant process was well underway.”
In April 2009, Impact 100 IR awarded two $100,000 grants—one to the Exchange Club’s Family Service Center and another to Treasure Coast Food Bank’s Backpack Buddies Program. During the ensuing years, as the organization pursued its mission of grantmaking, it also underwent some growing pains in its quest to become independent. Initially formed under the umbrella of the Indian River Community Foundation, Impact 100 IR officially became its own 501(c)(3) in 2019 under the leadership of then–board member and president Amy Acker.
Dee Locke, a second-generation Impact 100 member with expertise in operations and software solutions for nonprofit organizations, was recruited to serve as operations manager during the transition. “Amy and I worked very closely to streamline operations and get policies and processes in place,” says Locke, a young mother of three, who was introduced to Impact 100 by her mother-in-law and now serves on the Visioning and Grants Committees.
“Community service was ingrained in my family,” says Locke, who was a Girl Scout until her senior year of high school. Living in Germany, Dubai, Texas, Massachusetts, and Florida—due to her father’s Army career—also exposed her to many different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. “As I worked with nonprofits around the country, it was inspiring to see the number of issues they were addressing to improve the communities around them.”
“One of the things I love about the Vero Beach community is that people who “have” care about the people who “don’t have,” and try to support our many nonprofits,” observes Locke, now the director of operations for the John’s Island Foundation.
“Our zip code has one of the greatest income disparities in the country, and it’s worsening with inflation as people struggle to get by day to day. If you live on the island, you can sometimes be insulated from the rest of the community who lives very differently.”
In fact, according to an Economic Policy Institute report examining nationwide county-level data, Indian River County had the 10th-largest income gap between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent out of 3,061 U.S. counties.
Even more reason for Impact 100 members, like Kristin Rohr—a board member at large and member of the Marketing and Visioning Committees—to begin work cultivating next year’s crop of grant recipients.
“Our six-member Visioning Committee reaches out to at least 200 nonprofits each year to offer our services,” explains Rohr, a former Washington, D.C. marketing communications executive who has been an active member of numerous nonprofit boards, including the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which she proudly chaired for four years. “Every year, we host a grant writing workshop in May and a nonprofit information session in September on how to apply for grants. We really help shepherd local nonprofits through the process, helping them flesh out ideas and understand what will pass muster with our stringent requirements and membership.”
In 2023, 52 percent of Impact 100 IR members voted online, 37 percent voted in person, and 11 percent voted by mail. “The annual meeting is such an important part of it,” says Rohr, who enthusiastically joined Impact 100 in 2018. “It’s one thing to read about an organization’s project on paper; but when you hear their story firsthand, it makes a lasting impression. I know that my vote has been swayed on several occasions after the annual meeting presentations.”
“To this day, I love the excitement of the annual meeting and seeing the checks handed out to transform the lives of people in Indian River County,” enthuses Tompkins.
“It’s a very satisfying feeling,” affirms Rohr.
“The impact goes both ways,” Shriner agrees. “It makes you feel great. I was looking for a purpose in which to put my passion. I found it in Impact 100.”
2023 Impact 100 $100,000 Grant Awards
Whole Family Health Center — WFHC Mobile Medical Office
Senior Resource Association — Meals on Wheels Waitlist Relief
The Source — Dignity Wellness Program
The Learning Alliance — Moonshot Lab School and Hub for Teacher Training
Gifford Youth Orchestra — GYO Audio, Recording, and Communications Studio
2023 Merit Award Winners
Vero Beach Theatre Guild — Theatrical Learning Center
McKee Botanical Garden — Nurtured by Nature
Junior Achievement of the Palm Beaches and Treasure Coast — From Youngsters to High School Graduates
Ballet Vero Beach — Fellowship Initiative for Dancers expansion
Bike Walk Indian River County — Wheels on Wheels initiative
Indian River County Healthy Start Coalition — Fatherhood Initiative