Melissa Kelley, Co-founder of Impact 100 Redwood Circle is just about to lead more than 125 members through the process of making a $100,000 impact grant. This is a phenomenal accomplishment considering the new giving circle began earlier this year. Melissa was generous with her time and answered a few questions on behalf of the Community Foundation (who supports this Impact 100 chapter.)

What inspired you and Deirdre Holbrook to begin an Impact 100 chapter?

I had been watching Impact 100 Sonoma for several years and was impressed by how much that organization had accomplished. I live in Santa Rosa, and I kept thinking that I wanted to join an Impact 100 group in my local community, but after several years, there still wasn’t any group serving Santa Rosa. Then, in 2014, Deirdre was working for the Sonoma Land Trust, which was a finalist at Impact 100 Sonoma. She was excited about their work, and she said if I wanted to start another Impact 100 chapter, she’d help me. We hosted our first house party in November 2014, and Impact 100 Redwood Circle just took off from there.

Why a giving circle?

It isn’t just the giving circle concept that attracted me, it was having a giving circle for women and the Impact 100 model. I think women are attracted to the idea that a group of us can drive significant, positive transformations in our community.

When talking to others about Impact 100, how do you describe it?

I just describe the nuts and bolts of how it works, with 100 or more women each contributing $1,000, reviewing needs in the community, accepting grant applications, selecting three finalists, and then awarding an impact grant of $100,000. I think it’s the $100,000 impact grant that attracts so many women to participate.

What has surprised you most about the inception of Impact 100 Redwood Circle?

How quickly it came together, and how many exceptionally talented women have stepped forward and assumed leadership roles. I think it’s astonishing that we began recruiting members in February 2015 and today we already have 113 full memberships. We’ll award our first impact grant of $100,000 in May 2016! I give Community Foundation Sonoma County some of the credit for our accelerated launch. You gave Impact 100 Redwood Circle credibility with many of our new members, and your administrative support helped us get off the ground quickly.

What are you hoping to learn through this experience?

Well, I was really lucky coming into this initiative. I have an MBA with a specialization in nonprofit management (UC Berkeley), and I worked for several decades as a nonprofit consultant. My day job is Executive Director of the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation, and I have a lot of board experience. So I came to Impact 100 RC knowing how to launch an organization and assemble a leadership team and committee members.

What I love about this new group is watching smart women problem solve. We have a lot to learn as we grow, and I’m impressed at how the individuals and committees recognize what is working and what needs to be adjusted.

Where do you see Impact 100’s future?

In its first five years, Impact 100 Sonoma has given away more than $1 million, and its grant-making now includes smaller community grants. One of our members moved to Sonoma County from Pensacola, Florida, and last year that Impact 100 chapter distributed $100,000 grants to ten nonprofits. I see an annual grant award of $100,000 as just a beginning for our chapter. I’m not sure how we’ll grow, but I’m sure that we will grow and I’m excited to see how we evolve.

How is giving related to leadership and what role can Impact 100 play?

Leadership is critical to Impact 100 RC. People would be amazed to know how much work is involved in giving away money! I am deeply indebted to the Impact 100 RC Leadership Team. These women have stepped forward and assumed responsibility for developing the grant-making process, recruiting and educating members, managing our finances, and disseminating information to our membership and the public. In particular, I want to acknowledge Carol Orme, Jan Gilman, Laurie Parish, Karen Thompson and all of the grant committee for developing our grant-making process and documentation from the ground up. I am so grateful to them for bringing their professionalism and skills to Impact 100 RC.

So far, there are 125 women involved in Impact 100 (wow!). What sort of feedback are you hearing from them?

We have held several workshops for our members to bring them up to speed on the needs in our community and how our grant process will work. I admire the fact that our Education & Events Committee administers a written survey after each meeting to get feedback. I think the other members join me in being impressed by how much we’ve accomplished so far.

Who taught you about philanthropy?

I grew up immersed in community service. We called my mother a “professional volunteer.” She was always the first one to volunteer, whether it was for Girl Scout leader, high school band auxiliary president or the PTA. I experienced fundraising at her side, and philanthropy is really just the other side of the fundraising coin.

Waffles, pancakes or scones?
I’m more of a Sonoma County fresh-fruit-on-the-cereal kind of gal, myself!

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