Banker’s grand idea is making an impact

TRAVERSE CITY – Back in 2001, Wendy Steele had a grand idea-literally.

Her plan was to get 100 women to each donate $1,000, then they could give $100,000 to their community- Cincinnati-for a cash-strapped dental clinic to serve the needy.

The program was so successful that it generated quite a media buzz, including a two-page spread in People magazine in 2003.

Fast forward to 2006 and Steele has brought "Impact 1000," with a family-oriented twist, to her new home, Traverse City. Instead of limiting the philanthropic effort to women donors, Steele is urging entire families to get involved.

"What I've learned is that it's important to get the whole family involved," says Steele, a senior vice president at Huntington Bank. "This way we bring philanthropy to the dinner table where the whole family can discuss the importance of giving."

United Way of Northwest Michigan and Financially Literate Youth, or FLY, are partnering with Steele in the Impact 1000 campaign. United Way is donating all of the administrative expenses to run the program.

"We're trying to expose as many people as possible to philanthropy," explains Kathy Lievense, United Way's director of donor relations. "This is a way to reach the younger population about the importance of giving and supporting their community."

FLY is helping to inform youngsters ages 3 to 12 years old about financial matters. "It's a great collaboration for us," notes FLY's Leslie Falconer. "We're going to be talking to kids about the concept of philanthropy and we need to get them engaged in the experience."

Here's how Impact 1000 works:

– Families who choose to be donors make a $1,000 gift or pledge. Donors don't need to sit down and write a check for $1,000, but pledges need to be paid in full by the end of 2006. Thanks to a matching gift from Rotary Charities of Traverse City, every $1,000 gift will be increased to $1,500.

– Each gift is then pooled with others to become a large, high-impact grant. "We want the grant to be large enough to have a real impact for the community," explained Steele, who hopes to raise $100,000 to $150,000.

– Each Impact 1000 member, or donor, has one vote to help decide the grant recipient.

– Agencies in Antrim, Kalkaska, Leelanau and Grand Traverse County that operate programs that deal with health and human services are urged to apply for the grant. The deadline for submitting grant proposals is May 15.

One requirement of the application process is that the agencies partner with other agencies that are addressing the same type of health or human services need.

Three grant review meetings are planned before a June 22 "vote night," which will feature three grant finalists making presentations to the gathering of donors. "The dinner is a life-changing experience," said Steele. "When you hear those problems and the applicants' ideas for solutions, you can't help be changed."

Steele is enthusiastic when spreading the gospel of giving. "There's a lot of misconception that you have to be wealthy to contribute to your community," she says. "But you don't have to. Each of us has resources to give-it might be our time, our talents, or our treasure. Everyone can help."

For more information, contact Lievense at (231) 947-3200.