For Investors
December 4th, 2019

Calling All Impact Investors: Democracy Needs You

By Julie Menter & Shannon Baker

Impact investing may once have been a fringe concept, but today it has grown into a $500 billion dollar global industry, with over 1000 organizations driving capital towards solutions all over the world. This is very good news, especially since much of this investment has focused on immediate fixes to some of our most challenging issues: from increasing renewable energy production to improving healthcare access. But at NMV, we know that even the most strategic investments, if not paired with efforts to bolster our democracy and boost civic engagement, offer incremental improvement at best.

Impact-driven capital, when invested towards improving democratic systems and civic engagement, can have a major influence. And while nonprofits continue to dominate the space, a new frontier of for-profit solutions that both improve our democratic institutions and provide a return on investment has emerged. NMV has been investing in this space for 10 years, and we have never seen more opportunities for impact. 

For example, the right to vote is at the very heart of our democracy, and despite ongoing efforts to suppress that vote, more and more people are heading to the ballot box. With thousands of local elections across the country every year, it’s hard work to make sure voters are informed about the issues and candidates on the ballot. BallotReady addresses that challenge by aggregating content from candidates’ websites, social media, press, endorsements, and boards of election into comprehensive nonpartisan information about the people and issues on the ballot. 

As a for-profit company, BallotReady has achieved sustainable growth by selling tools that help large advocacy organizations inform their members about upcoming elections. Last year they covered some 95,000 candidates, and had 7.8 million voter visitors to their site. The company is having a lasting, measurable impact: a study with the Arnold Foundation and Vote.org found that turnout for BallotReady users was 20 points higher than their TargetSmart turnout score would suggest. In other words, informed voters are more likely voters.

Innovative, mission-driven companies represent a big investment opportunity – promising steady returns and outsized impact. And with our government in crisis and many of our fundamental values under attack, there has never been a more urgent time to invest in democracy.

But elections are just one way to change the balance of power. From the civil rights movement to the present-day Fight for $15, movements have reshaped the country many times over. Often distributed in nature and powered by diverse coalitions of citizens, activists, and organizations, movements push for the kinds of big structural changes that can be especially transformational and lasting. To be blunt, increasing the minimum wage does way more to alleviate poverty than any financial wellness app ever will. But how can movements and the organizations behind them be more powerful, more nimble, and more efficient at reaching and mobilizing their constituents? There’s a role for technology and innovation here, too. 

Nonprofit organizations spend enormous resources building coalitions, cultivating members, and mobilizing communities around progressive change. Attentive.ly helps these nonprofits turn casual supporters into ardent advocates by analyzing how folks on their email list operate on social media. This allows organizations to more effectively develop messaging, while also identifying supporters who have large followings and activating them to share the organization’s content. 

In 2016, Attentive.ly was acquired by Blackbaud, one of the country’s leading providers of software and services for the philanthropic community. The increased backing from an established company has helped Attentive.ly increase its customer base and impact, all the while helping to grow campaigns and deliver greater results. And while it may not sound as sweeping as the March on Washington or the Movement for Our Lives, this kind of behind-the-scenes technology is key to making movements work better, faster. 

These innovative, mission-driven companies represent a big investment opportunity – promising steady returns and outsized impact. And with our government in crisis and many of our fundamental values under attack, there has never been a more urgent time to invest in democracy. Fortunately, we’re seeing record numbers of new organizations working to shift power and safeguard our institutions. These founders need capital to grow, and impact investors have an important role to play. 

A new frontier of for-profit solutions that both improve our democratic institutions and provide a return on investment has emerged. NMV has been investing in this space for 10 years, and we have never seen more opportunities for impact.

We know that understanding where to invest in the space can be daunting, particularly for those investors who are just getting started. New Media Ventures can help. As an organization that’s been working in the field for a decade, helping more than 85 groundbreaking companies and organizations get off the ground, we are uniquely positioned to support investors. NMV has vetted thousands of startups over the years, provided early stage seed funding, and supported the most promising entrepreneurs through the challenging early days of startup life. As a result, there are more startups looking for growth capital than ever before.

Better yet, we already have an exciting list of companies and organizations in our portfolio that are ready to scale their work transforming our democratic systems. So for those that want to support this new era of civic engagement, reach out to us at NMV – our democracy needs you, and we’re here to help.