When we launched the Resist & Rebuild fund in early 2017 we weren’t sure what to expect. We’d seen a wave of civic mobilization sweep the nation – from the Women’s March to demonstrations against the Muslim Ban – and we knew we needed to do something big to meet the moment. We hoped all this energy would translate into unprecedented levels of innovation – and it did.
After reviewing 500 pitches (5x the number from the year before!), we invested in 17 great startups – 3x the number from our largest previous cohort. But despite press pieces claiming that the resistance was raising millions, the organizations in our portfolio were not as well capitalized as we had hoped. Even though they were gaining name recognition and winning campaigns, money wasn’t moving.
We knew these groups needed more than our seed funding to reach their huge potential, so we decided to double down on our investments.
We started talking with other donors who had observed the same problematic dynamics and wanted to do something, as well. So we got together, set up a $1 million matching fund and talked with dozens of individuals and institutions about taking the leap to support these promising startups.
We’re thrilled to report that it paid off – we’ve now made additional investments of $2 million in the Resist & Rebuild portfolio and facilitated another $1 million in individual direct investments and grants. That brings the total money NMV has mobilized to this powerful group of startups to $4 million. Dozens of donors and investors came together to make this happen, and we’re excited about the future potential of deeper donor collaboration in the civic and political tech space.
Here are some of the things we learned along the way:
- Raising c4 dollars is essential. We believe innovation comes in all forms, and our goal is to meet entrepreneurs where they are with the kind of capital they need. That’s traditionally meant 501c3 grants and for-profit debt and equity investments, but the Resist & Rebuild Fund attracted an unusually high number of 501c4 and 527 nonprofits. We ended up needing to raise much more c4 funding that we expected.
- Funding new kinds of entities builds new skills. It took much longer than we anticipated to get grants structured, approved, and out the door for the less traditional organization structures – especially the 527s and non-profit making LLCs. We’ve developed new expertise around creative funding vehicles that will come in handy in the future.
- Donors want to give in community. We were reminded of the power of matching funds to motivate giving, especially for those who don’t already know NMV’s work. Creating a matching fund helped us reach new donors who were eager to give in partnership with their peers (and to double their gift!).
We also see some exciting opportunities to continue to grow:
- Supporting the groups we didn’t fund. We wish we could have done more to support or advise the entrepreneurs we didn’t fund. While we provide feedback from our investment process to the larger group of applicants, we would have liked to provide more insights or connections to other entrepreneurs. We didn’t have time to do this in more than an ad-hoc way, but are excited to think about how we structure this support in future.
- Increasing geographic diversity. While we received applications from across the country, the 17 startups we funded are overwhelmingly coastal – especially from the Bay Area and New York City. We believe there are big problems and opportunities for innovation all over the US, so we’re thinking about ways to proactively reach beyond these areas in the future.
Mostly we’re excited about what this means for the 17 startups in this cohort. These extraordinary leaders are at the forefront of safeguarding our democracy, engaging communities and citizens, and building tech and tools to take campaigns to the next level. Their teams are already making a serious impact – from working to defend Dreamers, to mobilizing voters in advance of 2018 – and with this additional investment, we’re getting them money when they need it the most.
But if we want to build a movement that can win hearts and minds, win on the issues, and win at the ballot box, we need to do even more. With that in mind, we launched the Shift the Story fund in early 2018 and received 740 applications (a 50% increase over Resist & Rebuild). We’re excited to dig into these proposals, and plan to share what we learn in the months ahead.
*For more details on the companies and organizations in the Resist & Rebuild portfolio, check out our original investment announcement here.