Notley shines a light on relentless change-makers while paying tribute to Austin history.

Photo by Madi Finley

By Jess Bugg

As Zoom continues to be our primary meeting place, it’s hard not to miss the humanity of connecting in person. However, when speaking to Lisa Graham and Lawton Cummings, their warmth somehow transcends the two-dimensional screen. Bringing people together as hosts of the Notley Moontower Ball and Changemaker Awards, they are sure to deliver an experience like no other.

Women on a Mission

Graham is the co-founder and a partner of investing group Notley, founded in 2015, a self-described “band of changemakers [sic], entrepreneurs, leaders, investors, troublemakers, social-change warriors, philanthropists and do-gooders.”

When speaking about the inspiration behind Notley, Graham says, “We wanted to do more than write grants; we wanted to create an organization where we got to be entrepreneurial while also getting to work with nonprofits. The problems that all of our community’s face are multifaceted and incredibly complex. We realized we wanted to be the wind at the backs of change-makers and leaders in their field.”

The mission of Notley is to, “unleash relentless change-makers to bring about systemic change through the integration and collaboration of purpose for profit.”

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(l to r) Lawton Cummings and Lisa Graham; Photo by Madi Finley

Notley’s business model is investing in for-profit ventures, with the group’s partners only taking a set salary so they can put additional profits toward their nonprofit work. Which they do via a 501(c)(3) called Notley Impact. The investing group also runs multiple initiatives out of Notley Impact, such as Philanthropitch, Beam, Notley HomeFront and Notley Fellows.

Cummings is a partner at Notley and the president of Notley HomeFront. Which addresses food insecurity, affordable housing and access to economic opportunities. While working as the CEO of Austin100, a nonprofit where business and community leaders discuss challenges facing the city and abroad, she was tasked with creating topics for group sessions and recruiting more women to join the organization.

“It was a really exciting time for me, working through how to leverage both your business and your nonprofit side,” Cummings explains. Becoming a partner at Notley was a natural transition. “I need my work to be purposeful. But I also love being entrepreneurial and investing in startups, and that is what Notley does.”

Paying Tribute

Graham and Cummings are co-chairs of the inaugural Notley Moontower Ball and Changemaker Awards being held on Feb. 12. The Moontower Ball is named after Austin’s iconic moonlight towers (colloquially referred to as moontowers). They have illuminated Austin’s community gathering places for well over 100 years. Like its namesake, The Moontower Ball hopes to serve as a “beacon of amplification” for organizations and individuals who are driving positive community impact. “A big part of the work we do is connecting people by building an ecosystem,” Graham says. “What better way to do that than bringing people together for this event that recognizes change-makers in a room full of other change-makers so they can support each other?”

When researching award ceremonies, Cummings discovered most nominees are chosen based on their ability to fill a table. (Essentially, how much money they are able to raise.) That was not going to fly for the Moontower Ball. “We only want to give awards to people who are doing amazing work, not based on their ability to buy a table,” she says. Rather than giving out awards to those who raised the most capital, Notley asked companies to sponsor their awards instead. Graham took on the awards committee and put together a group of experts in the field of each area Notley supports. Cummings took on the event and fundraising side. There are eight Changemaker Award categories that include philanthropy, innovation, rising change-makers and champions in community, racial justice and affordability.

Changing the Narrative

When talking to both women, the way they speak about the award ceremony highlights how much they care not only about their own work, but the work of their nominees and the city of Austin itself. “Often award ceremonies will tack on a category like ‘community leader’ at the end,” Cummings says. “We said, ‘Let’s make it all about that.’” The event will connect a diverse group of people in Austin who are all working toward positive change. “One of the things that shocks people when they first come to Austin and start networking is that people actually want to sit down and meet with you and help you,” says Graham. “We wanted to get more of these people together and make those connections. Everyone is so generous here with their time and their money.”

Party at the Moontower

Planning anything over the last two years has not been without its challenges. But agility and embracing change is something Notley prides itself on. Cummings says, “We run Notley somewhat like a startup in that we are constantly innovating.”

She describes their team as being self-driven with the ability to thrive in an environment of uncertainty. Purposeful and optimistic while carrying with them a sense of possibility.

The event will be held at the JW Marriott. Half of the ballroom set up for the more formal dinner and awards ceremony. The other half set up for an after party with more of a laid-back atmosphere. The after party will pay homage to Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, with a “party at the moontower” theme. Lights will be set up in the center to emulate a moontower with a band. A Tito’s Handmade Vodka airstream and a food cart facade will dish out more late-night fare. “One of the things that we do really well is bring people together from a lot of different backgrounds to support each other and the community,” says Graham. “It’s been a long time since we’ve all gathered. Getting all these people in a room together will be electric.”


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