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When we think back on our own lives, we will find that there are certain events that have shaped who we are. Some of these events are major milestones like graduations, weddings, moving to a new city or having a baby. In other cases, the events may not be surrounded by ceremony, planning or celebration. That day you tried out for the team or found out you were passed over for that promotion you thought you deserved. In these moments, our values, our priorities, and our “true essence” are revealed. These moments can accelerate – or completely change – the trajectory of our lives. Merriam-Webster tells us that a “defining moment is the time that shows very clearly what something is really all about.”
Defining moments don’t just shape our lives, they also define the organizations we care about. In his book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek explains that culture and employee morale are closely tied to the many defining moments leaders create. Actions and decisions that echo and reinforce the company’s stated core values help to strengthen a company culture, while behaviors of leaders in conflict with the organization’s core values work to undermine the organization’s work.
Among Impact 100 organizations, I have heard many “defining moment” stories, and I wish I could share them all. Instead, I would like to tell you about just a few of these in hopes they will inspire. Back in September of 2004, when IMPACT 100 Pensacola was about to announce their inaugural list of five nonprofit Finalists, Hurricane Ivan struck the region with devastating force. This storm resulted in significant damage and loss of lives in Pensacola and the surrounding area.
As you might imagine, the community was devastated. When people realized that Impact 100 had $233,000 set aside for local grant making, the founding board received a great deal of pressure to redirect those funds. They were asked to forego the five finalist organizations (as they had been selected, but not yet made public) and instead deploy those much-needed funds directly to hurricane relief. Understand that this storm had catastrophically affected many members of IMPACT 100 Pensacola, including those on the founding board. This was a very difficult decision.
Ultimately, the team decided to stay true to the original plan. They understood that hurricane relief would come from organizations skilled at this sort of assistance. They realized they had an obligation to fulfill the commitment they made when they collected membership checks from those original 233 women. Founding board member, Belle Bear, describes it as “staying true to our core values.” That early decision was a defining moment. From that day forward, IMPACT 100 Pensacola knew that “staying true to our core values” would be the mantra they would repeat again and again. It has become a very large part of who they are. A large part of their success.
In 2017, just as Impact100 Sonoma’s renewal campaign was kicking off, massive wildfires swept through the area devastating the community. Countless members had to evacuate from their homes, some returning to nothing but ash. At this “defining moment,” Impact100 Sonoma had a choice—to give up, or to brush off their shoulders, roll up their sleeves and get to work. They chose the latter. The leaders knew they needed to be stronger than ever and come together to do what they do best—help their community. A newsletter was sent out to the membership amidst the chaos of the fires, which provided next steps and an inspiring message from the co-presidents. Something that really stuck with me within that message was, “Recovery and rebuilding will take time, yet there is no doubt we will rebound stronger for it.”
First, to keep Impact100 Sonoma alive and running, events were postponed and rescheduled. The grants application deadline was pushed back to give applicants more time to work on their proposals. To stay true to Impact 100’s core values, they emphasized proposals did not have to include something about the fires—applicants’ grant requests would be given due consideration whether or not they were fire-related. This was important because some were not affected but had critical needs of other kinds. In addition, the membership renewal campaign continued on and the importance of the organization’s role in awarding grants especially during trying times in the community was stressed.
Furthermore, the chapter put together their resources of informal networks to provide help and support, which included providing places to stay for evacuees. Member and café owner, Sondra Bernstein coordinated more than 50 chefs from near and far who cooked according to her plan to feed first responders and others. Cookbooks were donated at an event for those who had lost their cherished recipe cards due to the fires. VISA gift cards were collected at a holiday party to give to families in need throughout Sonoma. Furthering the giveback to the community, a group of about 30 members were organized to volunteer at a local food bank.
Through it all, Impact100 Sonoma’s leaders supported, inspired and led. They led with compassion and confidence. They stayed true to their mission, yet flexible in the logistics to allow for maximum participation in their community, despite the horrific fires. Now that’s a defining moment.
Not all of our defining moments come as a result of a natural disaster. I was in Cincinnati this September for Impact 100’s Annual Awards Celebration. The energy in the room was electrifying as Impact 100 members gathered to hear from the six nonprofits vying for four $104,000 grants. The venue was elegant and spacious and the Finalists each made compelling presentations. Everything seemed flawless. The evening ended as we presented four big checks to our grants recipients and made our way home.
The next morning, board members were made aware of an error in the voting. They quickly determined that they would not (could not!) retract any grant money from a deserving nonprofit organization, yet they didn’t have the funds to award additional grants of $104,000 to the two remaining Finalists. So, the board voted to raise the needed funds ($208,000!) quickly to rectify the situation by awarding transformational grants to all six Finalists.
Within hours, Impact 100 Greater Cincinnati had received an anonymous donation of $208,000 from a local foundation to fund the additional two grants! In the words of the Impact 1000 board, “This outcome is a testament to how Impact 100 works, the incredible commitment to the power of giving and the steadfast trust you place in us to always do the right thing."
You see, these defining moments truly show what something is about. It is in these moments our organization continues to commit to its core values and model. We continue to support and transform our communities through the power of collective giving. The model is simple, yet impactful and has stood the test of time.