Social impact at the heart of philanthropy effort Notley Fund


For years, Dan Graham and his wife, Lisa, had been involved in Austin’s philanthropy scene.

They knew many of the most prominent philanthropy workers and donors in the city, and Build-A-Sign, Dan’s company, had started events like Philanthropitch, a business competition for local nonprofits that funds innovative ideas in the world of charity.

But the couple had always wanted to do more. Rather than just give money to groups, they wanted to fund new ideas on how to think about philanthropy and to give businesses with social impact the resources to achieve their goals.

Last year, they officially set off on that journey by creating the Notley Fund and Notley Ventures.

The fund invests in nonprofits and businesses that create a positive impact on people’s lives and have the potential to grow and expand to other places. Notley Ventures supports businesses in industries that aim to take on complex problems in society.

“For us, personally, giving back has always been part of the mission,” Graham said. “We kind of wanted to create an organization that could scale and leverage impact in the community.”

For example, Notley invested in RecruitHer, a recruiting and consulting firm focused on connecting women job seekers with tech companies to address a shortage of female representation in that industry.

The drive behind the Notley Fund, the Grahams say, is a desire to turn Austin into the “social innovation capital of the world,” where people with ideas that can affect society could come and know that there is an infrastructure for turning those ideas into reality.

To that end, the fund hosts nonprofits and businesses under its portfolio, such as Yardease, a residential landscaping company that is a business branch of the nonprofit Easter Seals of Central Texas, and ROI Swift, a digital marketing company focused on helping small and medium businesses grow their digital strategies at Owen’s Garage, a co-working space in East Austin.

“They all care about making this a better place to live,” said Sara Levy, the Notley Fund’s executive director. “They all care about making Austin the best city and best place to live.”

But the fund leaders also care about growing their model to other locations. The fund has already spun off Philanthropitch and its other philanthropy-inspired competition, Startup Games, as individual nonprofits, which they plan to expand to other cities. Startup Games, as its name suggests, is an Olympic-style competition where high-growth tech companies compete in 10 events to raise funds for the charities of their choice.

In June, Philanthropitch will expand to Atlanta, and Startup Games, which raised $59,500 in its fifth year in Austin last month, will expand to other cities in the future . By the end of 2017, the Notley team expects that both events will be in five to eight cities.

Companies within the Notley investment portfolio have grown in its first year. ScaleFactor, a financial services firm that works with growing businesses, began with a table of two people at “Owen’s Garage” last year and now has 25 employees and takes up an entire half of the building.

For co-founder Lisa Graham, the success of the fund’s first year only helps her feel more encouraged about its future.

“We’re excited to see where it goes and what we’re able to accomplish,” she said.

This story has been updated to reflect the amount Startup Games raised in its fifth annual event and the places where the event will expand to in following years.


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