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Most nonprofit executives will tell you that funding is their organization’s biggest challenge.

But what if nonprofit organizations could pitch their philanthropic endeavors to a panel of investors to convince them to invest in their idea, much like entrepreneurs do on the popular television show Shark Tank?

Two entrepreneurs-turned-philanthropists created just that. Now Philanthropitch founders Dan and Lisa Graham are bringing their Austin-based concept to San Antonio.

The inaugural event will take place Tuesday, Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Former San Antonio Mayor and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro will serve as a judge.

“I look forward to serving as a judge for San Antonio’s inaugural Philanthropitch, a social impact event accelerating scalable and sustainable nonprofits,” Castro is quoted on Philanthropitch’s Twitter account.

For tickets, click here. 

Philanthropitch is a fast-pitch, social impact competition that spotlights promising nonprofits and the innovative solutions they bring to local challenges, providing winning entrants both mentoring and financial capital. Since its founding in 2013, Philanthropitch has awarded more than $550,000 in funding to 52 mission-driven organizations and provided winning nonprofits valuable advice from industry leaders. In Austin, Philanthropitch partners with Mission Accelerator, a program that fast-tracks organizational growth and impact in organizations.

Dan and Lisa Graham founded Notley Ventures and Philantropitch.
Dan and Lisa Graham founded Notley Ventures and Philantropitch. Credit: Courtesy photo

Success at the intersection of entrepreneurship and philanthropy is at the organization’s forefront, according to Dan Graham.

“I call this the social innovation ecosystem,” he said. “Think of Philanthropitch as the ‘Shark Tank’ for nonprofits.”

The Grahams started their company Build A Sign in 2005, then sold half of it to a private venture firm, launching Notley Ventures in 2015.  Their private firm funds and supports businesses, nonprofits, and programs with a positive social impact. Now a nonprofit program of the Notley fund network, Philanthropitch got its start as a philanthropic employee effort within the Grahams’ Build a Sign business.

As of March Dan Graham stepped down as CEO of Build a Sign to focus on Notley Ventures and Philanthropitch.

Funds awarded through Philanthropitch come from a variety of sources, Graham saidsome from investors who participate in the pitch competitions as judges and others from ticket sales, corporate gifts, and sponsors. Hence, there is no single underwriter for the pitch competitions. The range of funding differs depending on whether a judge decides to fund a certain amount for a presenter, or whether a  presenter “wins” the people’s choice with pitch audience members voting via text.

Hand to Hold founder Kelli Kelley is handed a check in the 2017 Austin Philanthropitch competition.
Hand to Hold founder Kelli Kelley holds a check from the 2017 Austin Philanthropitch competition. Credit: Courtesy Philanthropitch

Hand to Hold, a nonprofit that provides a peer-to-peer support network for parents caring for prematurely born babies, gained a total of $30,000 in award money and admission into a financial boot camp aimed at helping refine the group’s business model.

Kelli Kelley, who founded the nonprofit seven years ago, saw an unmet need for parents facing challenges with premature newborns. The funding allowed Kelley to hire staff, translate materials into Spanish, and expand services.

“We also started a podcast called NICU Now that has been downloaded in 37 countries,” Kelley said. “We’ve only been podcasting for about six months and we’re already thinking about creating a new podcast targeting NICU professionals to help them understand better the needs of parents following a traumatic birth.”

Bringing the unique model to San Antonio after its start in Austin (and a limited run in Atlanta) will require commitment and engagement from the right people and organizations, Graham said.

“We’re looking for growing cities with a similar philosophy to Austin,” Graham said. “The culture and ecosystem [in San Antonio] will make this event more likely to be successful.”

Making connections between different communities to expand upon innovative, socially impactful programs is driving Philanthropitch’s expansion.

“I’m excited to share best practices and ideas among nonprofits with the importing and exporting of ideas from community to community,” Graham said. “There is an increasing awareness in nonprofits to think more strategically, so this pitch event helps nonprofits consider more innovative approaches. We also want to encourage nonprofits to think about scalable strategies for their innovative programs.

“From Notley’s perspective we’re interested in the flourishing of the ecosystem for social innovation, and Philanthropitch is a big part of that effort,” he said. “What would really be great is to have nonprofits in San Antonio that blow everyone away at our pitch events so we can perhaps plan an Austin-San Antonio pitch competition that would bring those ideas and community leaders together.”

This story was originally published on July 25, 2017. 

Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science, and veteran affairs. She won the Texas Veterans Commission Media Excellence Awards for her 2016 Veterans Day story "Life as a Veteran: What Veterans...