“We put our money where our hearts are.”

Jennifer Bennett speaks for hundreds of San Antonio’s most accomplished and community-minded women when she shares those eight words. They represent the mantra of the nonprofit Impact San Antonio, a 16-year-old network of professional women who each pledge $1,000 a year to create transformative charitable grants to area nonprofits.

The network keeps growing from its start 16 years ago with 25 women. This year a record 587 donated, undaunted by the pandemic. The membership roster is reflection of the deep bench of professional talent in San Antonio, women who have achieved success and share a deep sense of compassion for their less fortunate neighbors.

If you, like me, need a feel-good story this Thanksgiving Day, this is it. Give thanks for Impact San Antonio. Together the many women who constitute its membership prove that you do not need to be independently wealthy to make a big difference. Together the women deliver what they call high-impact grants to nonprofits. This year those grants are especially welcome as nonprofits struggle to serve others amid a pandemic that is yet again spiking.

Bennett’s résumé is an impressive one. She is a certified financial planner with stints at American Express, Merrill Lynch, and USAA, among others. Today she serves as the unpaid board president of Impact San Antonio, and typifies the quiet, confident women who are operating a major charitable organization in the city with little fanfare or media attention.

The organization, one of many chapters in the national organization, is almost entirely managed by volunteers like Bennett. With sponsors contributing enough to cover modest overhead expenses, 100 percent of the individual contributions from members are dedicated to the grants program. You’d have to look long and hard to find another nonprofit entity with such low administrative expenses.

Impact San Antonio’s 2021 shared membership drive is underway. Women interested in joining or simply learning more can find more information here.

Jennifer Bennett, president of Impact San Antonio.

In a normal year, Impact San Antonio’s members contribute $500,000. Grant review committees review applications, and forward finalists for member selection. Every member gets to vote on the grant recipients. Members who can’t make the big selection meeting can request absentee ballots. The process may be the most democratic dispersion of philanthropic funds I’ve ever encountered.

Five high-impact grants of $100,000 are usually made each year, and to date, Impact San Antonio has distributed more than $4.2 million in charitable donations. The organization focuses its giving in five areas: arts and culture; education; environment, recreation, and preservation; family; and health and wellness.

“We didn’t expect to raise as much money as we did this year, but the women came through for us in a big way,” Bennett said . “As I reflected on the pandemic, I was overwhelmed by the depth of generosity from our members and our sponsors. It’s allowed us to continue our legacy of making these high-impact gifts.”

This year’s gala on Oct. 26 was virtual. Bennett said a decision was made to depart from giving five $100,000 gifts. Instead, six nonprofits received $75,000 High Impact Grants and four others received $10,000 Support Grants.

Click here to review the finalist statements of the 2020 grant recipients.

I first heard about this year’s event from Suzanne Wade, a retired H-E-B senior executive who serves on the board of the Young Women’s Leadership Academy Foundation in the San Antonio Independent School District. The school is a recipient of one of this year’s $75,000 awards, which will fund laptop computers for students.

San Anto Cultural Arts, Woodlawn Theatre, the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, the Family Service Association of San Antonio, and the Sunshine Cottage School for Deaf Children were the other High Impact Grant recipients.

Project Quest, Friends of Cibolo Wilderness, Avance, and Project MEND were the Support Grant recipients.

As I spent time on Impact San Antonio’s website and speaking with its leaders, I couldn’t help but wonder if there is any similar organization of male donors in San Antonio. I can’t think of one. Perhaps readers will inform me, but my guess is that the way Impact San Antonio has grown and how it operates so selflessly and effectively tell us a lot about the differences between men and women.

That’s an entirely different anthropological conversation. The message for women and men this Thanksgiving Day is this: Thanks to 587 good women in San Antonio, there is very good news to be found in our city, even in the time of pandemic. You probably know some of them. Just tell them thank you.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.