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Fundraising Guide
L e s s o n s F r o m A F i l m m a k e r | S i m p l e S t e p s To G e t
C a s h F l o w i n g Fo r Yo u r F i l m

Faith Fuller

published by
Desktop Documentaries, Inc.

Documentary Fundraising Guide

published by Desktop Documentaries
2012 by Faith Fuller
Cover Art Design by Ina Peters
Published in the United States of America
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted,
in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise without prior written permission.

For information, contact:

Desktop Documentaries Inc.

INTRODUCTION........................................................................................................................................ 1


1. Getting Your Head Straight............................................................................................................... 5
2. Why People Donate to Documentaries..................................................................................... 12
3. Your Fundraising Strategy............................................................................................................. 16
4. Where's The Money?........................................................................................................................ 24


5. Documentary Fundraising Tool Kit............................................................................................ 33
6. Social Media For Filmmakers....................................................................................................... 40
7. Grabbing A Headline: News Media & Press Releases.........................................................51
8. Pitching Your Idea: Crafting An Elevator Pitch and Log Line...........................................56
9. How To Write A Documentary Treatment And Proposal..................................................66
10. Adding It Up: Documentary Budgeting Guide ....................................................................80
11. Tips For A Sizzling Fundraising Trailer.................................................................................90
12. What's A Fiscal Sponsor And Why Do I Need One? .........................................................97
13. Internet 101: Building A Documentary Website.............................................................104



14. Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals..................................................119
15. Mega Millions: Grants and Foundations.............................................................................135
16. Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns..........................................................144
17. Raising Money Through E-mail Campaigns......................................................................164
18. Direct Mail: The Power Of Fundraising Letters...............................................................173
19. Quick Reference Guide: Fundraising Clues and Quick Tips........................................183
20. Summary & Resources............................................................................................................... 186

Though the barriers of life seem formidable, we find

when we challenge them that they have no will.
~ Robert Brault


Your Treasure Map
If you can imagine it, you can achieve it;
if you can dream it, you can become it.
~ William Arthur Ward

You've decided to make a documentary.

You're filled with excitement. Perhaps you've
already started shooting.
Just one little problem money.
You've got equipment to buy, crew to hire, travel
expenses to pay for and/or you simply need
money to pay yourself to keep the project
moving forward.
Welcome to the world of fundraising one of the most challenging (and often
unexpected) aspects of filmmaking.
Fundraising is like a treasure hunt. One clue leads to another and then to another.
Sometimes one clue will lead you straight to the treasure, but often you'll have to
jump through many hoops and follow many clues or leads.
Consider this guide your personal Treasure Map for documentary funding.
Here's the great news. There's never been a better time to be a filmmaker. The
relatively low cost of film production makes filmmaking more easily accessible than
at any time in history. And thanks to online fundraising tools, crowdfunding and
social media networks, opportunities to find and connect with potential sources of
funding have never been more abundant.
My goal in writing this book is to take the mystery (and fear!) out of fundraising and
provide solid clues and tangible actions you can begin implementing right away. I
guarantee there is money out there for your film if you're just willing to search for it.

INTRODUCTION Your Treasure Map

Who Is This Guide Book For?

This guide is for anyone with the desire and passion to make a documentary who is
in need of funding to start, continue or complete their film. The primary assumption
is that the documentary or video project is a non-profit endeavor.

What Will You Learn?

Section 1 covers the prep-work you must do before you can even begin the
process of asking for funding things like setting goals, researching and
creating a fundraising strategy.

Section 2 covers the nuts and bolts of setting up a fundraising hub for your
documentary. You'll get step-by-step instructions on how to create all the
necessary fundraising tools to help bring in funding, things like a fundraising
trailer, a budget and a proposal.

In Section 3, you'll learn the core methods of raising funds including how to
find and approach individual major donors, how to conduct a successful
crowdfunding campaign and how to find and apply for grants.

How To Use This Guide

It's best to read this guide from start to finish to understand the flow of
fundraising, however each chapter stands on its own as well. Feel free to skip
through and focus on just the parts you need to learn right now and then refer back
as needed.
This guide is effective as a stand-alone fundraising tool or as part of the
Documentary Fundraising Tool Kit which includes a documentary proposal
template, two budgeting templates, a fundraising check-list, a list of 25 fundraising
ideas and a Top 100 Film Funders list. To learn more about these items and the kit:

INTRODUCTION Your Treasure Map

Why Did I Write This Guide?

As the founder and publisher of, I have learned that
funding is often THE #1 struggle for filmmakers. I wanted to do something to help!
As a documentary producer myself, I know just how daunting fundraising can be.
I wanted to create a simple step-by-step guide to help demystify the fundraising
process and break through some of the common barriers that prevent so many
deserving filmmakers from getting the funding they need to share their stories.
Throughout this book you will find dozens of very specific things you can begin
implementing right away to start raising cash for your film.
This is the book I WISH I'd had when I first started making documentaries!
In addition to sharing lessons from two decades of my own personal filmmaking and
fundraising experience, I've spent the last year meticulously researching and writing
this book mapping out the absolute best information, tools and resources to help
you raise money for your film.

Your Treasure Hunt

As you set off on your journey, above all, remember that fundraising is about
RELATIONSHIPS both in person and online. And it's about COLLABORATION. It's
about making genuine connections and friendships and keeping your lines of
communication open with all kinds of people who can be a part of helping you make
your film a reality.

People support people they know, like and trust.

Start reaching out share your vision and your
dream with anyone and everyone you meet
and you will see the clues to your fundraising
treasure unfold.



Getting Your Head Straight

"Nobody can dim the light which shines from within."
~ Maya Angelo

Documentary filmmaking is part art, part business and part journey of the soul.
Are you prepared for all sides of the filmmaking profession?

Morrie Warshawski is considered a fundraising guru in the documentary filmmaking

world. He won't even TALK to a filmmaker about fundraising until they have their
head straight. He asks every filmmaker three questions:

What are your CORE VALUES (as a person) What things

do you value the most in life? Examples include
curiosity, creativity, freedom, intelligence, etc.

What is your MISSION STATEMENT (as a filmmaker)

What are you trying to accomplish with your filmmaking?

What is your VISION STATEMENT (as a filmmaker)

What will your life as a filmmaker look like in 3 years?

He says a filmmaker must articulate these three things before

they can reach their full potential. They must be able to connect heart, mind and
soul with their projects in order for the magic to happen.
Answering the above questions can have a dramatic impact on the ability for a
filmmaker to attract and raise money for their projects. In his book, Shaking The
Money Tree, Warshawski provides an example of a filmmaker struggling with
fundraising she'd been approaching foundations offering to produce a film about
whatever subject they felt was important. But once she worked through her mission
statement and re-aligned her true values with the right project, she went on to raise
$1-million for a film.

Getting Your Head Straight

What Is Your Relationship With Money?

Do you consider money your friend or your enemy? Do you have a poverty mindset
or a mindset of abundance? Are you comfortable asking people for money?
Or stated another way, are you comfortable RECEIVING money.
You might say to yourself, Of course I am comfortable receiving money. Who doesn't
want money! But you might be surprised what your brain is REALLY telling you
about money. Subconsciously you may not think you are worthy of receiving money
or you have somehow learned in your childhood that money is evil.
Artists in particular seem especially uncomfortable with money and the business
side of the industry.
Are you secretly sabotaging yourself and blocking people from giving you money?
According to the NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) Institute of California, here
are some common unconscious beliefs about money:

"You have to work hard to make money"

"Money is hard to manage"
"Money is something I feel guilty about having"
"Money is a very personal or private matter"
"Money is very difficult to get"
"Money is something I don't deserve"
"Money is the root of all evil"
"Money causes pain"
Can you relate to any of the above statements?

Getting Your Head Straight

Right now, get a pen and paper and jot down three statements that represent your
core beliefs about money. What messages did you get from childhood about money?
1. Money Belief #1 ___________________________________
2. Money Belief #2 ___________________________________
3. Money Belief #3 ___________________________________
This is important, because how you feel deep in your soul about money will directly
impact your fundraising efforts.
As Carol Dean of From The Heart Productions tells filmmakers, Get very clear on
any confusion you have about attracting or receiving money. Your fundraising
success DEPENDS on it.

To dig deeper on the topic of money psychology, try these books:

Mind Over Money by father-son team of Ted and Brad Klontz

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Soul of Money by Lynne Twist

Can You Handle Rejection?

Fundraising is perhaps more of a mental game than anything else. Actors and
fundraisers have a lot in common as they probably hear the word no far more
often than yes.
Are you the type of person who is easily discouraged and will give up at the first sign
of difficulty? Or can you push past the road blocks?
Keep in mind that just because you get turned down for money doesn't mean your
project isn't worthwhile. People don't part with their money easily, even
foundations who's sole purpose is to give away money! For example, there are many
reasons why great projects don't get funded. Perhaps the application wasn't filled

Getting Your Head Straight

out just right, maybe the judges couldn't relate to the subject matter, perhaps they
funded a similar project the previous year and are looking for something new.
Fundraising expert Marc Pitman says that getting a no can actually be a GOOD sign
because it means the person is engaging with you and may simply need more time
and/or information to consider your request. Find out why they said no, let them
know you understand and ask them if you can keep them posted on the project.
Above all, let them know you appreciate their time and consideration.

Attitude of Gratitude
Do you believe the things you SAY and THINK (consistently) become reality?
If you continually think of yourself as a failure and say things like I'm not
good at anything, what do you think is going to happen? But what if you say
to yourself, People are going to love the idea of my film and they are going to
want to support it. Isn't that a better intention to put into the world?
Many years ago, I attended an event where Hillary Clinton was a guest speaker. The
one thing I remember in particular from her speech is that she spoke about the
discipline of gratitude. I was totally blown away. I had never thought of gratitude
as being a habit or discipline. What a simple, yet amazing and profound idea.
Pay attention to interviews with successful people. I am struck by how often they
thank others and express gratitude. Maybe they also heard Hillary give that speech!
They freely accept good things into their lives and they openly express thanks to
others. It's as if they are sweet talking good things to come into their lives!

Your Goals
Goals are the foundation of your life and career. If you don't know where you're
going, how are you going to get there? To me, life is made up of all the stuff in
between this moment and your goals. In other words, it's the JOURNEY. So your
goals are simply the guide posts of your life... little arrows that say, Life... that way!
Your goals are your dreams and they propel you forward.
CNN mogul Ted Turner once said Set your goals higher than you can achieve. Big
goals provide excitement, energy and a sense of awe. (It's hard to get excited about a
wimpy uninspiring goal.) As the saying goes, shoot for the stars and you'll hit the

Getting Your Head Straight

Your Goals - Assignment #1:

First, what are your big LIFE goals? Is it to get married and have three kids? Sail
around the world? Make 50 films by the age of 50?
Right now, take out that pen and paper again or pull up a blank page on your
computer. Brainstorm all your goals in no particular order. At this point, don't
worry if they are personal or professional goals. Just make your list.

List your BIG goals for this year

List your BIG goals for the next three years

List your BIG goals for your WHOLE life

Your Goals - Assignment #2:

Next, write down your goals for your current/next documentary project.

What progress do you hope to make on your documentary this year? When
do you want to have your documentary completed?

What is your overall goal for the documentary project? Is it to create a small
artsy film that will showcase in small independent movie theaters and on the
internet? Is it to create a high production quality film that can be broadcast
on national television? Is it simply to get something made just for practice
or to prove to yourself you can tell a story? Is it to increase awareness about
a certain cause or issue or is it purely to entertain?

What is your fundraising goal? How much money do you need to raise and by

Each BIG goal then needs to be broken down into smaller bite size goals.
Setting goals can be a great reality check. It's no longer a pie-in-sky-thought or idea.
It's a way to really get down to the nitty gritty of exactly how to turn your dreams
into reality. So, if your goal is make a documentary and have it completed within
two years, you'll need to come up with a schedule of exactly what needs to happen to
reach that goal. You'll create what's called a production schedule which lists target
dates and required tasks. (See a sample production schedule in the Documentary
Proposal Template)

Getting Your Head Straight

Visualization is extremely powerful. Since you're in filmmaking, you perhaps know
this better than anyone!
Australian Ryan Higgins developed the idea of Mind Movies. He discovered that
the ACT of creating and editing a little movie/slideshow about how he wanted his
life to look had a powerful impact on whether or not his dreams came true. Say for
example he had a dream of living in Hollywood and making movies. He would
literally get a video or photo of himself driving in a car saying he was off to
Hollywood.. and then he would show images of Hollywood and people making
movies and saying There I am, making movies in Hollywood. Or There I am on the
red carpet winning an Oscar for my documentary.

Courtesy: Mind Movies

In the context of this book about making documentaries and raising money, SEE
yourself receiving the amount of money you need in order to make your
documentary. Write down the exact amount of money you need to make your
documentary and when you need it. If you need $10,000 right now to create the
trailer, write that down! It's not necessarily important to know where the money
will come from.. just visualize it coming to you.
This is where a budget and proposal can be POWERFUL tools in making your
documentary a reality. Creating those documents at first may seem like a boring and
unnecessary process. But what those documents do is force your brain to think
through all the scenarios to VISUALIZE how your documentary will be made,
where you will be shooting, how it will be written/edited and ultimately where your
film will be seen by an audience.


Getting Your Head Straight

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

See your success and BELIEVE. In your heart, know that the money will come
and your film will get made.

Take the time to write a mission statement, vision statement and set goals.
Setting the proper foundation can dramatically impact your fundraising

Your film is about something bigger than yourself. When you ask for money,
remember that.

Always be thankful for even the smallest gesture of support. Gratitude is


Prepare your mind. Fundraising is hard work.



Why People Donate to

In good times and bad, we know that people give because you meet needs,
not because you have needs.
~ Kay Grace

I admit this issue used to baffle me. Why would someone want to give their hard-

earned money to help make MY dream a reality? Turns out, it wasn't about me at all!
(Or at least not completely)
People donate money for all kinds of reasons and it's important to understand WHY
people give so that you can know HOW to ask them for support.
Here are the top reasons people give to documentary projects:

PERSONAL: They have a personal connection to YOU. These are usually

friends, colleagues and family members. It doesn't matter if you're doing a
documentary about french fries or the economy, they are supporting YOU and
it makes them feel good to support a loved one, solidify their relationship
with you and be part of something positive.

Why People Donate to Documentaries

CAUSE: They have a personal, spiritual or emotional connection with the

subject matter of your documentary (homelessness, obesity, drugs, etc) and
they want to support the message getting out to a larger audience to increase
awareness and support. They primarily want to make sure the film gets done,
they want to know when they can see it and they want to know your
distribution plan.

STATUS & FREEBIES: Some people simply enjoy the status of being involved
with a movie project, feeling like they're behind the scenes and they love free
stuff. These folks respond well to an offer of a pre-release dvd, a membersonly directors forum, a signed poster, free t-shirt, a listing in the film credits,
an invite to the documentary premiere or some other exclusive insiders offer
you can make in exchange for a donation.

CONNECTION: A film is a way for people to get their political and social
values out into the world and to connect with others who share their same
values. People like to feel they are part of something larger than themselves.
As an individual, they may feel invisible, alone and powerless, but as part of a
film, their voice can be heard. If a film succeeds, they feel they have
succeeded too. It's validation for who they are and what they believe.

BUSINESS: Companies will be motivated to provide money or support for

your film if they feel it's a good advertising or public relations opportunity.
They want to know if your film will be seen by their customers or could
potentially bring them additional customers. Perhaps they are looking for a
boost in their public image. Sponsoring your film could help establish good
will with their customer base.

The strongest and best kind of potential supporter is a combination of some or all
the above. It's your best friend who believes in your cause, loves the status of being
involved in a film and owns a business whose customers match your film's audience!

Too often in fundraising campaigns, we appeal to

peoples selflessness, which rarely works. Even on a
Buddhist film! What does work is appealing to their
positive needs and positive desires.
~ Jennifer Fox, Documentary Filmmaker


Why People Donate to Documentaries

A Heartfelt Thank You

One of the most important aspects of fundraising is the follow-up after a gift has
been given. A handwritten thank-you note, e-mail or personal phone call expressing
your gratitude solidifies the gift and creates a positive experience for the donor.
People do not give to documentaries expecting a thank you, however this step is
critical in your fundraising efforts.
Think about your own experience when you have given someone a gift. What if the
recipient didn't thank you for it? How would you feel? Would you wonder if maybe
they didn't like it or didn't appreciate it? Would it make you question whether to
give that person another gift in the future?
On the flip side, think of a time when you've given a gift and it was obvious the gift
was appreciated. You feel good inside, right?
No matter WHY someone supports your documentary, say thank you. It will solidify
their reason for giving in the first place, make them feel good about supporting your
project and will increase the likelihood they'll give again in the future, especially if
you can show them you're making progress and that their gift made a difference.

Custom cards by: Zazzle


Why People Donate to Documentaries

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

People and organizations give for many reasons. It's your job to find out
what will motivate someone to give to your project.

Don't expect people to give just because it's a good cause. Tap into their
positive needs and desires.

Change your mindset about fundraising. You are not taking people's money as
much as you are giving them an opportunity to be involved in something
larger than themselves.

Donors enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to express their values by

donating time, gifts and talents to a cause they believe in.

Above all, send donors a thank you and express your sincere gratitude for
their help.



Your Fundraising Strategy

When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached,
dont adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.

There are no cookie-cutter strategies for raising money for a documentary project.
However, some common tools, methods and questions can be used to help point you
in the right direction.

What's Your Personality?

Are you a strong writer? If yes, then perhaps filling out grants and going after
foundations is a good strategy for you. Are you more of a social bug do you love
networking and attending events? Then maybe you use the strength of your
charming personality to connect and meet with wealthy donors one-on-one. Do you
have a knack with internet marketing? Then perhaps your fundraising efforts are
geared more toward social media and crowdfunding.

Two Strategies for Fundraising

Which strategy is best? Start shooting right away or
wait until all money is in the bank or pledged? The
answer depends on YOU. If you have a solid body of
work and have been making films for a while, you may
have enough influence and credibility to raise your
entire budget prior to filming. For less experienced
filmmakers, a more realistic approach will be to raise
funds as you go.


Your Fundraising Strategy

What's Your Motivation?

Answering this question can have a major impact on your fundraising strategy. Are
you making the documentary for your own personal satisfaction? Is it to make a
profit? Change the world? Launch your filmmaking career?
Where will the financial burden fall for making this documentary? Is it with you?
Your family? A network of supporters? Investors? Who is taking the most risk and
who stands to benefit?

Hint: Whoever stands to benefit the most from your

documentary provides major clues as to who you should
be approaching for funding.
If your documentary has high entertainment value potential and your goal is to
make a profit, your fundraising strategy might involve approaching investors, people
who are hoping to make a financial gain off your film. On the other hand, if you are
creating a film to promote a particular cause or create social change, you will
approach those individuals and organizations who support that mission. If you are
simply making a film for your own personal enjoyment something that is of no
value to anyone other than yourself expect to pay for the film out of your own

Your Fundraising Team

Don't make the mistake I made and try to do fundraising alone. If you are trying to
raise even $5,000, recruit people to help you. In fact, having multiple people on your
team is a fundraising strategy in and of itself.

Courtesy: Tam Oliver


Your Fundraising Strategy

Funders are more inclined to support a project

with multiple team members vs. a lone ranger.
By the simple act of expanding your team, you automatically expand your reach to
potentially more donors.
Who you choose for your fundraising team depends on what fundraising strategy
you decide to go with. Your fundraising team for a crowdfunding/internet campaign
may look very different than a fundraising team trying to reach individual wealthy
donors. You may even decide to have several fundraising teams for different
campaigns. In general, having 3-4 people on a fundraising team is ideal.

Who Should Be On Your Fundraising Team:

People who are connected to the business community and to others with
money. Lawyers, CEO's, bankers, sales professionals, experienced
fundraisers and wealthy spouses are great choices.

A communications or development director for an organization who will

benefit from your documentary.

Potential major donors; those who are not daunted or intimidated by large
projects and large sums of money.

Friends, family, colleagues and others who are passionate about your project
and passionate about connecting you with people who have funding.

Get some gray hair on your team. Often the best fundraising opportunities
come from existing relationships where the trust and credibility are already

Consider contacting a sales agent. Even though a sales agent typically helps
sell your film and negotiate with distributors once your film is completed,
they may be able to help you with fundraising and pre-sales. In fact, getting a
sales agent involved in the beginning can give you a head start with
distribution. Sales agents are usually well-connected sociable creatures and
they know the money-side of the filmmaking business.


Your Fundraising Strategy

You can find sales agents by looking through the trades' listings during the
American Film Market (AFM) or you can access a pre-cleared list in the Film
Specific Sales Agency Database. ( is just one
example of a reputable sales agency)
How do you recruit these money people on your team?
If someone is raising money on your behalf, first and foremost there needs to be a
strong sense of trust. They are using their good name to put their neck out there for
you. They will need to have trust in you personally and in your abilities to handle
the project.

Ways To Find Influential People:

Attend events where influential people mingle such as Chamber of Commerce
Join or become a member of organizations and associations that relate to the
subject of your film.
Attend events relating to the topic of your documentary such as conferences
and seminars.
Pinpoint influential people connected to the topic of your documentary and
write them a letter asking if you could meeting with them for a few minutes
to tell them about your project and ask for advice. Build a relationship with
them and become their friend.
Research popular blogs on the topic of your film
There are plenty of people in the world who can help you. In fact, they WANT to
help you. For the same reasons people donate to documentaries (see chapter 2),
they want to volunteer and give their time either for the status, because they
believe in you or they believe in the cause.
Whatever the reason, it makes people feel good to help and contribute. For some,
it's an ego boost to be asked for help and advice. Don't deny them that opportunity.
You've got something unique that people would love to be involved with.


Your Fundraising Strategy

When asking someone for help, adopt the mindset that

you are actually doing people a favor when asking them
to donate or volunteer with your project.
There is a deep human need to give back. By offering
someone an opportunity to be involved in something
bigger than themselves, it has great potential to bring
that person joy, build dignity and create a sense of
pride. Why would you deny someone that?
When you're thinking about asking someone to be
involved in your project, whether that's for your
fundraising team or crew, try to figure out how THEY
would benefit by being involved.
What would be their motivation for helping you. Perhaps sitting on your board of
advisors will look good on their resume. Perhaps a young cameraman needs a cool
project for his film reel. Perhaps a community/business person loves the status of
being involved with a film.

Partnerships and Endorsements

Partnerships and endorsements can have a direct impact on your fundraising efforts.
Partnerships can range from a simple endorsement letter from a politician to a
contractual agreement with a PBS station.
Aim for at least 5-15 partnerships with a variety of organizations and people of

Our documentary team with former UN Ambassador Andrew Young


Your Fundraising Strategy

You can form partnerships with non-profit organizations, foundations, respected

experts/advisors, broadcast entities, notable celebrities, politicians, corporations,
professional associations and successful filmmakers.
The more recognizable names you can have as supporting your project, the more
credibility it gives you and your project which will help you with fundraising.
From each of your partners, request letters of support that you can include with
your fundraising packet.
In addition to the credibility factor, partnering with these groups and individuals
potentially gives you access to their mailing lists, Facebook friends and donors for
additional fundraising opportunities.

Non-profits are great places to start for

endorsements. They tend to believe that the world
needs more films on important issues and will be
open to hearing about your project.
Just realize that people who work at non-profits tend to be overworked and
underpaid, especially the smaller non-profits. They are constantly in fundraising
mode themselves and the last thing they want to hear is that you need money.
Non-profits will be much more responsive if you come to them as an opportunity to
raise awareness for their cause. The relationship needs to start slowly. All you want
to ask them for initially is a letter of support and advice on where you could
potentially find some funding.
They will be very protective of their donors because they don't want to jeopardize
donations for their organization's mission. But if you can do a good job of building
that relationship, they may become willing to promote your project with their list of
supporters and donors.


Your Fundraising Strategy

Fundraising Calculator
The more detailed your fundraising plan, the better your chance of success. I
personally love the snazziness of asking 100 people for $100 to raise $10,000. It's
a great marketing pitch! However, according to fundraising expert Marc Pitman, that
strategy rarely results in actually raising $10,000. Although it's a fabulous way to
break down your fundraising goal into tangible amounts people can understand, he
says the actual giving is never that tidy.
He points to a wonderful fundraising graph (see below) where you can type in your
desired fundraising amount and it will show you exactly how much you need to raise
from how many sources. Pitman says it's a proven formula that works.
Not only is this a great tool to help you narrow down your fundraising strategy, it
can be a powerful visual for potential funders to see how their gift fits in the big
picture. Think of the donation amounts like a bridal registry where you list desired
items that get checked off as people buy them.

To run your own numbers:

(Example above uses an amount of $100,000. The graph suggests getting one source
to donate $25,000, one source to donate $15,000, two to donate $10,000, etc)
Of course, before you can come up with a fundraising strategy, a documentary
proposal and budget are a must. You need to know how much money you need and
by when.

Your Fundraising Strategy

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

Every documentary project is different and requires its own unique

fundraising strategy based on the subject matter of the film and the
personalities and strengths of the crew.

Don't try to go it alone with fundraising. Having a fundraising team with a

variety of strengths and connections greatly increases your chance of success.

Make sure to get endorsements from as many groups and organizations as

possible. Those endorsements will greatly improve your fundraising efforts.



Where's The Money?

Fundraising is not an event; it is a process.
~ Edgar D. Powell

A widely-held perception is that most charitable funding comes from corporations

and foundations. The reality is that the vast majority of giving (75% of all
donations) comes from individuals.

Here's the break-down of all charitable giving in the United States over the past fifty
years: 75% - Individuals, 14% - Foundations, 6% - Estates, 5% - Corporations.

Source: Giving USA


Where's The Money?

Where's the Money?

Documentary filmmakers often have the fantasy that one big check will come from
one big funder to pay for their entire documentary project. The reality is,
filmmakers often have much better success if they solicit funding from multiple
Primary funding sources include:


Small Businesses


Private/Family Foundations

Government Agencies/Humanities Councils (local, state, federal)


I. Individuals
Although individuals are more of a challenge to identify and solicit, they are by far
your best chance for funding. Individuals are the most flexible and spontaneous
Unlike corporations and foundations, which often have lengthy application
processes, individuals are able to make a decision on the spot and take immediate
As part of the 2011 Non-Profit Research Collaborative, people completing the survey
overwhelmingly listed fundraising from individuals as the best opportunity to
increase contributions. Favored methods include directly asking wealthy donors for
major gifts, holding special events and conducting campaigns through social media.
Each of these methods (and others) are discussed in the following chapters.


Where's The Money?

II. Small Businesses

In general, small businesses are best for getting in-kind donations such as discounts
on rental cars, printing discounts, cell phones, video equipment rental, free pizza for
the crew, office space, etc. They will sometimes be willing to give cash donations
(so don't be afraid to ask!), but more than likely you'll have better luck getting
donated services or a discount (always ask for donation first, then a discount).
When creating your budget, mark the items that could be donated. Your donors will
appreciate your efforts in trying to secure in-kind donation that help reduce the
overall cash expenditures related to the film production.
Although cash is simpler to deal with, don't overlook in-kind donations. They can
add up to BIG bucks and cut your expenses considerably.

Tips for approaching a small business:

Try to find businesses that may be related in some way to the subject of the
documentary. For example for an environmental film, perhaps approach a
recycling company or a solar panels manufacturer.

Make a list of ways the business will benefit by supporting your project. Be
concerned with THEIR image and profits. They'll appreciate it. How can
helping you help them? You can offer to promote their business on the film's
website and on your social media pages , send a press release to the local
media promoting their donation/support, etc.

Ask for a donation or freebie in exchange for a film credit, DVD of the finished
film or product placement. Sometimes just offering a copy of the finished
film is enough!

Create a 1-page synopsis of your documentary project as a leave-behind for

the manager or owner of the business.

Use the power of suggestion! This tip is from Carol Dean (The Art of Film
Funding). Create a simple letter-size flyer that says XYZ Business is a proud
supporter of the 123 Documentary. Take that with you to share with the
business owner when you ask for a donation. The flyer is something they can
put near the register which will show them in a good light supporting their


Where's The Money?

III. Corporations
Big companies will sometimes help fund your film in exchange for a sponsorship
plug at the beginning/end of your film and in all your marketing materials. Keep in
mind it's very hard to get money from these guys. The only way you really have a
chance is if you have a personal contact inside the company, someone who can get
you in the door. Big companies will be primarily concerned with your film's audience
(size and demographics) and the following questions: Will your film help them reach
new customers? Will your film help boost the image of this company and increase
good feelings about the company among their current customer base?

IV. Private Foundations

This method of fundraising can potentially be very fruitful but also time consuming
depending on the foundation's application requirements. Foundations are in
existence for the sole purpose of giving away money to help the causes they support.
So if you can find a foundation that's a good fit for your project, you can have some
good success here. Small family foundations located in your community are often
hidden gems of opportunity. Detailed instructions on how to find and contact
foundations are discussed in Chapter 15.

V. Government Agencies
Just like foundations, there are big and small governmental agencies with money
available for the arts. There can be a lot of bureaucracy to wade through, but there
are opportunities here including your local arts and humanities councils all the way
up to the biggies including the National Endowment for the Arts. More details about
how to find and contact these agencies later also in Chapter 15.

VI. Non-Profit Organizations

The value of non-profits is not usually with any direct monetary gifts, but with their
CONNECTIONS and ability to lead you to potential money sources. If the non-profit
likes you and your project (i.e. if they feel your film can help their cause), they may
be willing to pitch your project to their constituency via their mailing and e-mail
lists. They may also be able to introduce you to foundations, wealthy donors and
government agencies who might be able to offer funding.

Where's The Money?

Common Ways To Get Funding

For Your Documentary
Self-funding -- Savings, credit cards, personal loans and 401K's (please no!).

Sometimes, there's just no other way when you've got your documentary idea and
you're ready to go. This is often the choice of first time filmmakers. You've got to
get your experience or get the momentum moving somehow! Use this option
sparingly and only in dire emergencies.

Friends and Family This is a very real option for many first-time filmmakers.
Helloooo Uncle Edmond.

E-Mail Campaign Sending out a mass e-mail to

your personal network is one way to spread the word

about your project and get some quick donations.
(Make sure you have a paypal account set up to accept
online donations). Typically, you don't want to send just
one mass e-mail asking for a one-time donation. You first
want to engage people in the project, keep them updated and then offer incentives
and reasons to donate. Utilizing your e-mail list works really well as part of a
crowdfunding campaign. There's a lot to this which is discussed in more detail in
Chapter 17.

Letter Writing Campaign (Direct Mail) There's something special about

getting a physical letter in the mail. Creating a fundraising letter with a handwritten
note and including a DVD with your trailer (or a URL to your website/trailer) can be
a great way to raise some money. The downside is the expense of printing and

Wealthy Individuals It's not enough to find someone who has a lot of money

and ask them to donate. The person must have some kind of pre-existing natural
connection with either YOU or the subject matter of your film. Your rich uncle may
not care a hoot about environmental protection of seagulls but he believes in YOU so
he may donate. Or perhaps there's a wealthy philanthropist who supports the local
Sierra Club. You know that person is already committed to the cause and now you
just need that person to understand how your film will benefit the cause.


Where's The Money?

Filmmaking Grants This is a common, although difficult, method of

fundraising for documentary filmmakers. Foundations big and small will fund your
project if its the right fit. Be prepared to fill out paperwork and have a proposal
ready. Usually grants are reserved for a more experienced team or a promising
filmmaker that comes highly recommended from credible sources. A great resource
for filmmaking grants is The Foundation Center.

Crowdfunding Highly recommended for documentary filmmakers. This

involves pulling together a crowd to fund your project or at least some aspect of it.
Crowdfunding is a term that describes an online fundraising campaign to raise a set
amount of money in a set amount of time from a large group of supporters. Two
great options include KickStarter and IndieGoGo. This topic is covered in much
more detail in Chapter 16.

Video Contests This is probably less a fundraising idea and more of a way to

make some extra money on the side. You not only get cash, theres usually a great
promotional opportunity as well. Popular video contest sites include Tongal,
MoFilm, PopTent and Zooppa.

Special Events You can raise money through events such as concerts and

fundraising houseparties. Beware that events can be very time consuming and you
can potentially lose money. So only do this if you or someone on your team loves
organizing events and is good at it.

In-Kind Donations This is mentioned above under small businesses. Getting

donated goods is just as good as cash! So don't hesitate to approach businesses such
as hotels, print shops, rental car agencies and restaurants to let them know about
your project and ask for help. It not only helps you, it's great promotion for them!

Social Media Facebook, Twitter and blogs are phenomenal tools to

communicate with your community of supporters about your project and to also ask
for money when the time is appropriate. Social media should not be used primarily
for fundraising. It's a way to stay in touch with people who are interested in your
project so that when you do need funding, you've got a base of support engaged and

Corporate Sponsorships This concept is basically like selling paid

advertising. Every project will be different, but in general, you might sell
sponsorship levels of $5,000, $10,000 and $25,000. Depending on the budget and
nature of your documentary, you may even find a business willing to fund the bulk of
the documentary in exchange for an exclusive sponsorship (unlikely, but we can
dream, right!).

Where's The Money?

Investors This option is for films that have the potential to make a profit.

Investors will loan money to the project with the expectation that they will not only
get their money back, but will get a return on their investment. Since most
documentaries don't tend to make a profit, this is not a common way for
documentary filmmakers to get funding. If you decide to go this route, I recommend
hiring an entertainment lawyer to help you.

Negative Pick-Up Deal - Increasingly rare, this is a very complex form of

funding that involves getting a distribution company to agree to buy the distribution
rights of your film in advance of shooting. That promise to purchase is used as
collateral for a bank to give you a loan. This kind of deal is usually reserved for highend feature film projects with big names attached.

Studio Funding Sometimes a studio or production company will help fund your
project in exchange for a co-production credit or a cut of the DVD/broadcast sales.
Or more common might be that a production company might exchange production
services such as editing or sound design for a cut of the revenue or co-ownership.
Be very careful with this. There should be a high level of trust established between
you and the production company and a clear contract written up of who gets what
and when.

Television Pre-Sales - Documentary filmmaker Jilann Spitzmiller talks about

television pre-sales and other fundraising tips in her excellent audio series
Documentary Production 101. She says BBC paid pre-sales for her documentary
Shakespeare Behind Bars before the doc was completed. (The BBC deal happened
at the IFP market in New York City.) Jilann says HBO, Starz, USA Network will also
sometimes kick in money.
In fact, Mitchell Block, executive producer and co-creator of the Emmy Awardwinning PBS series Carrier, advises documentary filmmakers to market and sell
their films before they're completed. In an interview with the International
Documentary Association, Block cautions, "Films are worth more not finished than
finished, since distributors and networks have different needs, markets, and deals
for works-in-progress versus finished works." Block encourages filmmakers to shop
around their rough cut or work-in-progress and try to get a pre-sale before entering
the film festival circuit. International film festivals such as the Toronto Documentary
Forum at Hotdocs or The Forum at IDFA in Amsterdam are good places to pitch your
project. Keep in mind this can be a tough road if you are an emerging filmmaker.


Where's The Money?

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

Money is everywhere and there are all kinds of ways to get it. In general,
approaching individuals people you have a relationship with and who have
a natural connection to the project will be your best source of funding.

Don't overlook gifts-in-kind. Getting a free rental car or hotel room means
that you can use your cash for other production purposes.

Corporations, foundations and government agencies have the potential to

make large contributions, but it can be tricky to actually meet their criteria
and find an offering that matches your film project. Be careful that you are
not wasting time wading through their bureaucracies.

Always look for ways to provide value to your donors or investors. Make sure
there is something about your project that will make them feel good or
benefit them in some way.




Fundraising Tool Kit
Inspiration and genius--one and the same.
~ Victor Hugo

Did you know that making a documentary is a lot like creating a small business?
If you're not surprised by this, then you're way ahead of the game!

I can tell you that I was not prepared for this fact when I started out in filmmaking. I
thought that making a documentary was all about the fun creative stuff!
There are actually many elements involved in the process that have absolutely
nothing to do with the actual making of the documentary.

Making the documentary is almost the easy part!

If I had to guess, I'd say maybe 50% of making a documentary is filmmaking and
50% is business. Some say the percentage is even more skewed toward the business
side. I've heard some say that it's 90% fundraising, 10% filmmaking! I suppose it all
depends on the professional level of your particular project.
If you're making a simple short documentary, just for yourself to post on YouTube,
the vast majority of your time will be spent on the creative. But if you have dreams
of creating a professional piece of work that you plan to sell and distribute, you will
need to set up your documentary project just like you would a small company.


Documentary Fundraising Tool Kit

Plain and simple, your documentary is a product.

You are creating a product to go out in the market place. It will have to be created,
packaged, marketed and sold. There's a whole infrastructure that has to be set up
for that.
It's not very pleasant for a filmmaker to have to think of their precious work of art
something that contains their heart and soul - in those cold terms, but this is the
reality of the business side of filmmaking. Any time you are dealing with MONEY,
that's business. And you'll need to create an infrastructure for your film to deal with
cash flow.

Steps To Set Up Your Documentary-Making

Business Venture:
(You need these things to be able to accept and draw in money!)
Your Basic Business and Fundraising Tools:

LLC (or S-Corp)

Bank Account

PayPal Account

Non-Profit Fiscal Sponsor

E-mail List Manager

Fundraising Software

Facebook/Twitter Accounts





Fundraising Trailer

Letters of Endorsement

News Articles

List of Potential Donors


Documentary Fundraising Tool Kit

I. Create an LLC (Limited Liability Company) Ideally, each documentary

that you make should have its own LLC.

Being incorporated protects you from liability in case there's a lawsuit. (Someone
can sue you if they don't like how they were portrayed in your film.) If your film is
set up as an LLC or a corporation, if anyone sues you and wins, they don't get your
personal possessions, only the assets that belong to the film.
For tax purposes, having a LLC also allows you to take donations for your film
without the money going to you personally.
I asked Washington-based entertainment/sports attorney Jaia Thomas to clarify the
need for an LLC.

While a filmmaker is not required to incorporate an LLC prior to filming a

documentary, it is strongly recommended. The advantages of incorporating
an LLC are two-fold: a). shields filmmaker from business debts or lawsuits
against the film/company and b). third-party entities (e.g. distribution
companies) are often more prone to work with incorporated structures as
opposed to individuals. While other corporate structures are available
Corporations, Partnerships and Sole Proprietorships, the most commonly
used structure by filmmakers is an LLC.
- Law Offices of Jaia Thomas

How to get an LLC? Fill out the paperwork with your Secretary of State's office.
Expect to pay around $300.
Of course, talk to an accountant or entertainment attorney for advice on your own
particular project.

How to Find an Entertainment Lawyer:

Getting recommendations from friends and colleagues is one way of course. You
can also check out an organization called Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.


Documentary Fundraising Tool Kit

II. Set up a Bank/PayPal Accounts Now that you have your LLC, you'll need
to set up a bank account for your film. Once that's set, open up a PayPal account so
that you can take donations online.

III. Fiscal Sponsor Unless you are planning to start your own non-profit

organization for your film project, it's a really good idea to partner with an existing
non-profit 5013 organization (i.e. fiscal sponsor). Why? Most documentaries
don't make a profit, so you need a way for people to be able to make tax-deductible
contributions. In addition to providing a donation system, a fiscal sponsor helps add
credibility to your project. More about how to set up a fiscal sponsorship a bit later.

IV. E-mail List Manager An e-mail list can quickly get out of hand if you are

just using your personal e-mail provider like Yahoo or Gmail. Those e-mail
programs are simply not set up for mass group e-mails and e-newsletters.
Recommended e-mail marketing providers include Constant Contact, Aweber and

V. Fundraising Software For more robust contact management and

fundraising tools, you might want to consider setting up fundraising software. These
programs help you manage your contacts/donors (addresses, phone numbers, date
of last contact, total amount donated, etc), integrate donation forms on your website,
manage events, create fundraising reports, etc. Best of all, this kind of software
allows you to have one centralized location for all your contacts and fundraising
Fundraising software is probably overkill for the average filmmaking project, but
comes in handy if you have your own non-profit and/or you're planning to make
more than one documentary. Examples of fundraising software include civiCRM
(free, open source), eTapestry and SalesForce.
To get impartial comparisons on various fundraising software programs I highly
recommend a non-profit organization called

VI. Open Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn Accounts Get going on social

media ASAP! This is simply another way to build interest in your film and start
building your community. If you do nothing else, create a Facebook Page for your
film and get your friends to sign up. Your community of supporters will become an
important part of your fundraising efforts, so start building that community NOW.
Even if you're not 100% sure you are going to make your film, social media can be a
great avenue to test interest in your project.

Documentary Fundraising Tool Kit

Tip! If you can only get a handful of people to engage with you through social

media, you may want to rethink your documentary idea (or your pitch). You may not
have picked a topic/angle that people are interested in.. only you can read between
the lines to figure that one out.

VII. Build a Website - It is ideal to have a website dedicated to your

documentary. This is your HUB, your central headquarters. Make sure to put your
trailer front and center on the homepage with a big donate button. Browse the
crowdfunding sites (KickStarter and IndieGoGo) for projects in the fundraising
phase and take a look at their websites for inspiration. More about how to build a
website a bit later

VIII. Create a Logo - Having a nice clean professional logo (the title of your doc)

can be a subtle indicator of the professional level of your project. Make sure there's a
clear consistent look for your film across all platforms using similar colors, fonts, etc
from your website to your Facebook page to your proposal packet. And the
sooner you can start building that brand recognition, the better. If you don't have a
friend to help you, try or

IX. Documentary Proposal (long and short versions) Your documentary

proposal is basically your business plan. Your proposal should include all the
elements of the documentary project including your creative treatment, fundraising
strategy and distribution and marketing plan. Your proposal is an essential tool in
your fundraising kit. Download our Documentary Proposal Template.

X. Budget Creating a budget is as much for you as it is for potential funders. It's

a great way to force yourself to think through every detail of your project. Anyone
serious about giving you big money for your documentary will need to see a budget.
Download our Documentary Budget Templates.

XI. Fundraising Trailer Perhaps the most critical and crucial element of your

fundraising tool kit is your trailer. If you were pitching in money for the
construction of a building, wouldn't you want to see an artists rendering to help you
visualize what it was going to look like? The same holds true for a documentary.
People need to see your vision. If you can move people emotionally through the
trailer, they are far more likely to donate.


Documentary Fundraising Tool Kit

XII. Letters of Support/Endorsements When you're fundraising, you need

as big of an arsenal as you can get you want to come out guns blazing. Potential
funders want to see that there is support for your film from all levels. It never hurts
to have a person of influence or a reputable agency endorse you and your film. It's
just one more way you can build confidence among those who are considering
supporting you.

Funders may or may not have time to read your proposal, but if they learn that
someone they respect is supporting you, that can have a major impact on their
decision to give you funding. So make an effort to get letters of support from various
individuals and groups of influence. Examples include getting a letter of support
from your local PBS station, a distributor who says there's a need for your type of
film in the market place, a non-profit or government agency connected to the subject
matter of your film, a local congressman, etc.

XIII. News Articles In addition to letters of support

as stated above, getting a news agency or popular blog to

write about your film is also a powerful tool to include in
your fundraising kit. These kinds of articles don't happen
by magic. You'll need to create press releases about your
film and send them out to news agencies who might be
interested in your story. Consider interviewing a person
who has been affected by the subject of your documentary
and pitch their story to the local paper.

XIV. List of Potential Donors - Of course, figuring

out who you're going to approach for money is a biggie. In

fundraising, you need a strong list of contacts and potential supporters to raise
significant funds. It's never too early to start building up a list of contacts and
supporters. Ideally, you want to gather both e-mails and physical addresses so that
you have the option to communicate with people either electronically or through
mail. Of course, Facebook friends and other social media contacts are also hugely


Documentary Fundraising Tool Kit

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

There is more to making a documentary than the creative filmmaking


Look at your film as a business. Set up an LLC or S-Corp, open bank accounts,
create a business plan (proposal/budget) and all the other items involved to
set up the infrastructure around your documentary project.

Make sure you have the necessary communications tools in place such as an
e-mail list manager and social media accounts to keep your supporters
engaged and up-to-date.

Create a trailer for your film.

Endorsements from a variety of people and organizations add legitimacy to

your project.

The sooner you get the business side taken care of the sooner you can start
making your film!



Social Media For Filmmakers

Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.
~ Hank Rosso

In the old days of filmmaking, you made your

film in isolation and then did your best to find a

distributor or broadcaster to share the film with
the public. If no one picked up your film, it died
on a dusty shelf.
Today, filmmakers who embrace social media
and build a a community around their film, have
much more power in the market place. They have a ready-to-go built in audience!
The time to create a Facebook page or engage social media for your film is not when
you're ready to launch and announce your finished film, it's at the beginning!
If there's any doubt of social media's impact, consider that Facebook is fast
approaching 1-billion active users worldwide in 2012. Twitter has 100 million active
users and LinkedIn has over 64 million users in North America alone.

Benefits of Social Media for Documentaries

Use it to hash out the concept of your documentary and gauge interest
Facebook friends can help you discover themes and new angles for your
story. You can use them to bounce off ideas, get feedback
Builds anticipation for the finished film
Source of leads for support, funding and in-kind donations
Word of mouth, builds buzz
Insights and leads to information you may not have thought about otherwise.

Social Media For Filmmakers

Links back to your website

Once you have a large following, you can use those statistics to show a
distributor the demographics of your audience.
If you have a large number of followers or friends, that illustrates to
potential funders/broadcasters/distributors the substance and popularity of
your project. It can also be a great tool to pitch businesses who may be
attracted to the idea of reaching your audience.
Can tap your social media community during a crowdfunding campaign.
Can funnel people to sign up for your e-mail list
The more ways you can figure out how to engage with people, the more interested
they become and the more they can help you financially and otherwise. People
LOVE feeling like they're part of making a movie. It's something most people have
no clue how to do, so they love the idea of being involved in what's happening
behind the scenes. The more people feel part of the process, the better!

Diagram: Social Media Marketing Campaign



Social Media For Filmmakers

How To Build An Online Community

With nearly 1-billion users worldwide, you simply cannot afford
NOT to use this amazing tool. It's easy to set up, it's free and it's
the best word-of-mouth tool out there.

Facebook User Tips

Engage and inspire conversation Don't just report what you're doing.
That's great, but whenever you can pose questions, ask for suggestions, etc.
people appreciate being involved in the process, not just being told what's
happening. That's the TRUE value of social media. Engagement and
interaction! Otherwise, you're just a news agency and totally missing the
beauty and true value of social media.

Build relationships - Respectfully promote your documentary and ask for

donations in moderation. Many people start promoting and selling and then
have to go back and build the relationship and trust. Don't be that person!
Engage with your fans, don't badger and spam them.

Be selective in what you post Depending how engaged your community is

with your project, it's best to keep your posts limited to 1-2 day (4 max), but
at least once a week. You don't want people to tune you out and unsubscribe
from your feed but you don't want them to forget about you either! In
general, less is more. Only post when you truly have something of value to

Upload videos and photos people love visuals. Anytime you go on a shoot,
take a photo and post it! Have a funny outtake from a shoot? Post it!

Create a custom URL Here's a cool trick to create a custom Facebook URL
which makes it a lot easier to remember and promote your film's Facebook
page. Go to

Like other similar projects and organizations By liking and engaging

with other groups and projects related to the subject matter of your
documentary it helps get the word out about your own project.


Social Media For Filmmakers

Creative Ways to Use Facebook:

Thanks to marketing expert and Yale-educated Devon Smith at for these insights:

Create a Facebook Causes page to raise additional funds. Check out the
Donate Your Birthday widget. The documentary Rebirth
( has a Causes page that raised close to
$3,000 from over 1,300 members.

Consider hiding or blocking certain parts of your Facebook site unless a

visitor likes your page. For example, you can ask people to Like your page
before they can access and watch your trailer. This encourages people to like
your page and builds your friends list more quickly.

Create a special landing page such as a welcome page or your trailer

something other than the default news feed wall.

Use the Insights section of your Facebook page to see the geographic
location of your fans which can help you plan fundraising events and

Embed a live video steam during a film festival or fundraising event. Check
out Livestream for Facebook.


Social Media For Filmmakers

Benefits of Facebook for Films

(thanks to Devon Smith)

Website alternative In the absence of a website, a Facebook page can be a

great place to drive audiences for more info about the film

Boosts support for a film An audience plugged into social media can help
increase awareness about a film

Social Proof A large & passionately engaged social media fanbase might be
the kind of social proof that tips the scale for a distributor to buy the film

Twitter is at its best for filmmakers during film festivals and
other special events. It's also a great way to keep friends and
supporters updated during a crowdfunding campaign. The
latest statistic showed that Twitter was adding 500,000 users a
day, so don't underestimate how Twitter can help you get the
word out about your film.

Tip! One Step At A Time

You could easily have one person on your team dedicated to just managing your
social media accounts and online outreach. It's a world full of opportunity and
constant innovation. But don't feel pressure to tackle everything all at once. If you
only have time for one thing, just set up a Facebook page and add on as you have
time. Below are additional ways to build your online community.


Social Media For Filmmakers

Consider starting your own blog and contributing to other
blogs and websites. The more you get your name out into the
internet world, the more opportunities that will come to you.
Here's a story from Jennifer Fox, the director of the award-winning documentary My
In a late game brainstorming session after we had met our original goal of
$50,000 but were trying to make $100,000 our team was discussing
strategies of how to push the campaign forward. Among the many ideas, Lisa
suggested that we needed to get people writing about our campaign. We
discussed trying to get someone to write about our campaign at the
Huffington Post. Lisa loves the blog Hope for Film and thought we should
contact Ted Hope, whom none of us knew except by reputation.
She set about searching the web for his contact address, but came up with
nothing. Then I found him on Facebook, wrote him, but no reply. On a lark, I
emailed EP Dan to see if he knew Ted, and indeed he did and immediately
wrote him, pitching the story of our campaign, which led to our first Blog Post
on the site. What I didnt know is that now Ted would also become a strong
supporter of our efforts and keep publishing our story as it spread to three
blog posts and now five.
Jennifer Fox, Director of My Reincarnation
Quoted from IndieWire
(Read more about Jennifer's spectacular success with crowd-funding in Chapter 17)
There is a HUGE need for fresh content. If you can write a half decent article,
reputable sites will publish it on their sites and provide a link back to your film's
website (make sure to request that they not put no-follow code in your link that
tells Google not to see it as a legitimate link). Visitors will then watch your trailer,
sign up for your e-mail list and hopefully donate!
The great thing about having your own blog is that its an easy way to provide
updates about your project and search engines love blogs which means the more
you write, the easier it is for people to find you when they do a search on your

Social Media For Filmmakers

documentary topic. For example, if your documentary is about toxic waste and
youre blogging every day about toxic waste, pretty soon, Google will take notice and
you will begin showing up in Google searches for toxic waste.
You can set up a blog in minutes and it's free. The most popular blogger sites are and In your blog, you can talk about anything related
to your film, whether it's about the filmmaking process or the cause/issue that your
documentary is covering. When people read your blog, they will see how passionate
you are about the project and gain a deeper understanding of what the documentary
is about and why it's important. Engagement leads to support!

Awareness ----> Engagement ---> Support ($$)

To build awareness for your project, one idea is to conduct a 30-day blog tour.
Pick thirty sites or blogs related to your project (sites whose visitors would be
interested in your film) and write a unique article just for their site. This is a winwin for everyone. Not only does it give those sites fresh content to help build up
THEIR site (trust me, they will be happy to hear from you), it provides links back to
your site to help build your audience.
In addition, what a great way to introduce yourself and your project to people of
influence. Right off the bat you are giving these key influencers something of value
(a pre-written article for their site). These website authors are now aware of you
and what you're doing and will likely continue to help spread the word for you
through their own communication channels.
Simply contact each website and ask them how you can submit an article for them.
Make sure to ask if they have any particular suggestions for topics. I do this through
my own website, You could write an article for my
site! Since my website is about documentary filmmaking, I would suggest that you
write an article related to your filmmaking process.
Here's the page on my site where you submit an article:
Once you write the article, it basically lives on the internet forever. It keeps working
for you for many many years! Obviously, the bigger the website the better as it's
link will have more juice. Plus, you'll have the opportunity to reach a bigger
audience. (You can tell the size of a website is by its Alexa Ranking)
There is a writer, Bryan Cohen, who did a 30-day blog tour to promote a new e-book.
He wrote about how he did it here:


Social Media For Filmmakers

Where are people discussing the issues involved with
your documentary?
If you're producing a film about the environment,
what are the popular forums discussing this issue.
What if you're producing a documentary about video
war games. Where are people meeting online (and
off) to discuss this topic. Join in the conversation!
Here's the key. Only join the conversation if you can add valuable content relevant to
the conversation. Don't just spam people about the project you're working on. In
fact, you may or may not even mention the project you're working on initially. You
are simply adding value and building awareness of your existence.
Once you start adding value, people will become curious about you and that's when
it becomes okay to start mentioning your project. And often, there is a place to
include a link back to your website, but remember, your primary goal is to add value
to the conversation.

A podcast is another way to increase interest and awareness
about your project. A podcast is basically a fancy way to
describe an mp3 audio clip that is part of a series. It's like a
recorded radio report.
If you like the idea of a podcast, you could choose a different theme to cover once a
week or once a month. The key is that it must be something that would interest
people and that they would be willing to share. (It can't just be two random guys
joking about this or that). You've got to offer some kind of VALUE for it to be
interesting to people. You could choose to discuss filmmaking issues, or topics
around the theme of your documentary (i.e. health if your documentary is about the
food industry). It's just one more way for people to get to know you and understand
more about what you're doing.
You could post the podcast segments on your website and promote them through
your social media sites. In addition, there's something called Public Radio Exchange
( where you can create a podcast series and then pitch it to local
stations to pick up. You can also offer your podcasts on iTunes.

Social Media For Filmmakers

Creating a YouTube or Vimeo channel for your documentary
is a no-brainer. You will be shooting and gathering various
types of footage while making the documentary. Of course,
you don't want to give everything away, but don't be shy
about posting videos you think might be interesting to
people that won't take away anticipation for your
At the end of every video, put a link to your film's website. You could even post
how-to videos which sets you apart as someone adding value. People appreciate it
when you help them and it makes them pay attention to what project you're working
on. Post videos related to your documentary and also helpful videos related to
filmmaking or something else that you think would be beneficial to people.
One filmmaker who used this method/strategy is Kenton Hoppas. He created a
video explaining an innovative shooting technique. You can read about Kenton and
see his video on this page:
Another filmmaker who posted a how-to video is Sharon Reed. You can see a video
she produced about how to find a film distributor.
So you see what just happened there? I told you about Kenton and Sharon because
they offered something of value! I have never met either of them in person, but I
have a certain amount of trust in them simply because they took the time to provide
something useful and I posted their videos on my site. People will share your stuff if
it provides value or entertainment, which in turn slowly but surely builds
awareness/credibility/trust for you and your projects. And plus, videos are a great
tool to share on your Facebook page.
Quote from Devon Smith about Video:
Dont worry about YouTube or Vimeo as a social network. Unless youre
posting new videos as part of a weekly series, all of my previous research
suggests that youre never going to collect enough subscribers to make a true
network. Instead, think of it as a place to store videolike trailers, interviews,
or rough cuts, which other people can embed on their blog, newspaper,
website, etc. SoYouTube versus Vimeo? Slightly more of your peers chose
YouTube (57%) as their network of choice. Vimeo has a better design
aesthetic, more random people are likely to surf across your video on
YouTube, but they both offer the same embedding tool.

Social Media For Filmmakers

Uploading and tagging photos properly with the right keywords
related to your documentary is another great way for people to
find you. For example, they might do a search for documentary
filmmaking Zimbabwe. If you've tagged one of your photos with
those keywords, it may possibly come up in someone's search which would lead
them to learn more about your project. Photos placed on your website that are
tagged with keywords will also be identified in Google Image searches. Talk to
your webmaster about how to do that.

You may want to consider creating a profile in LinkedIn
just for your documentary project to build interest within
that community. At the very least, you want to include a
link to your documentary site from your personal LinkedIn
profile and vice versa.

Awareness ---> Engagement ---> Support ($$)

In summary, the social media realm is constantly evolving. Probably as I'm writing
this there's something brand new that is launching that will completely change the
way we communicate (have you heard of Pinterest?). So please use the information
in this book simply as a guide and engage with your film's community in whatever
way makes sense.
Reach out to your audience wherever they are right now. Maybe that's Facebook,
maybe that's a forum, maybe that's a popular blog... figure out where your potential
supporters are hanging out on the web and engage with them there.

Tip! Building Traffic For Your Website

Social media sites are not only great tools for building an audience and awareness
for your documentary, they're also fantastic for leading traffic back to your website
(and donate button!). Learn more about SEO and traffic-building techniques in the
chapter Building Your Website.


Social Media For Filmmakers

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

Take it one step at a time. Build your online community at your own pace
and don't feel pressure to be everywhere all the time.

Be thorough and thoughtful about what you post, where you post it and why
you are posting it.

Don't be afraid to carry one message across multiple platforms.

Creating a social media following takes time and effort. Be consistent but
above all be interesting, fun and provide value.

Engage your audience!

Use other networks and sites to draw attention to your work. Don't just post
information on your own sites.

Start your social media work before or during production. Don't wait until
your project is complete to use these tools.

Have fun!



Grabbing A Headline:

News Media & Press Releases

Journalism is the ability to meet the challenge of filling space.
~Rebecca West

There are a number of ways you can engage the media to help raise money,
support and awareness for your documentary project.
As a former television news
journalist, I can tell you that
reporters and editors are constantly
looking for new content. If you can
give them an interesting story, they
will run it!
So how can media help you in your
fundraising efforts?
First of all, getting a story in the
media gives your project credibility.
And with credibility, your project is
an easier sell to potential funders.
The media will not directly raise
money for you, they simply help raise
Sometimes media agencies will print your story word for word if you write it like an
article and not a press release. Small town newspapers will sometimes do this.
Also, if you send your story out via an online press service such as EReleases or PR
Newswire, thousands of media organizations will simply post your press release as
is on their websites.


Grabbing A Headline: News Media & Press Releases

Heres another trick you can use. Say youve got a potential major donor who lives in
XYZ city. You know youd like to get this person or organization involved with your
documentary project, but you have no personal connections with them to help get
your foot in the door.
One thing you can do is pitch a story about your documentary to the local press in
XYZ city. If you can get press coverage about your documentary, it starts giving you
and the project credibility even before you contact your donor. Theres no
guarantee your donor prospect will see the story when it goes out live, so you can
always send a copy of the story (or a link) when you first contact them. This will
give you some legitimacy right off the bat.
Getting stories in the media will also potentially draw people and supporters to you
that you didnt even know existed. And it can create links in to your website which
helps build traffic. So media coverage is not only good for fundraising, it can help
build and grow your base of support who will help spread the word about your
project and maybe buy a DVD.

Popular Blogs
I wrote extensively about blogs in the chapter on Social Media, so I won't repeat that
information here. Many blogs have as much, if not MORE, influence than news
agencies. Identify the influential blogs within the subject matter of your
documentary and entice them to promote your project either by providing them a
guest article or a press release.

Press Releases/Finding The Right Angles

It is a bit of an art to know what is news and what is fluff. News agencies will get
annoyed if you send them a press release with little or no substance. It's their job to
seek out new and interesting material for their audience. They are not in the
business of promoting you or your film. So make sure before you send out a press
release that it's got a solid angle that is relevant for their audience.
For example, your local newspaper may be interested to know that one of their local
residents (you) is making a documentary. Or perhaps you and your crew are going
on a 10-city tour interviewing people for your documentary. Make sure to send a
press release to each local news agency where you are filming.


Grabbing A Headline: News Media & Press Releases

How To Write A Press Release

1. Pinpoint the primary angle of your release. What's the focus?
2. Keep it short and to the point. Press releases are usually no longer than one
3. Print the words FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE in the top left-hand margin in
all caps. Follow this line with relevant contact information: name, title,
address, phone number, e-mail address.
4. Create a catchy headline that will grab attention. Headlines typically highlight
the most important, significant or shocking fact in the release.
5. The first sentence of the press release should complement the headline, not
repeat it. Get to the point and state exactly what is happening. The next few
sentences should include all the vital information: the where, when, why,
what and who. (Reporters are usually in a rush and will decide if they want to
cover the story after reading the first line or two of your release).
6. Avoid using very long sentences and paragraphs. Avoid repetition and over
use of fancy language and jargon.
7. Use only factual information, not opinion unless it's part of someone's quote.
The release should not say something like This is going to be a great event.
Just state the who, what, when and where.
8. In between the facts, include some tantalizing peripheral details to spark
curiosity. A good press release not only informs but also teases.
9. Include a "call to action" in your release if appropriate. Come to the film
premiere! This is what you want the public to do with the information that
you are releasing.
10. At the end of the release, include an About section which includes a few
sentences about your documentary project or your production company.
Include a link to your website for more information.
11. Include these symbols " # # #" or "-30-" at the bottom of the page to indicate
the end of your release.

Example Press Release Below:


Grabbing A Headline: News Media & Press Releases

[Month, Day, Year]
[First Name Last Name] [Title]
[Phone Number] [E-mail]
Briars in the Cotton Patch documentary explores
unknown piece of civil rights history on [Station Name]-TV
[City, State, Date] Clashes between segregationists and civil rights
activists throughout the South shaped an era. [Station Name]-TVs
airing of Briars in the Cotton Patch: The Story of Koinonia Farm
explores an unknown chapter of Americas march to racial equality.
Narrated by former United Nations Ambassador and civil rights veteran
Andrew Young, Briars takes viewers back to the humble beginnings of
Koinonia Farm in rural 1940s Georgia. The commune was founded by
Clarence Jordan, a Biblical scholar, as an experiment in Christian living.
At Koinonia, blacks and whites worked on the farm together, receiving
equal pay and living accommodations in exchange for their labor. This
drew the attention of local segregationists opposed to equality between
The documentary recounts bombings, shootings and boycotts directed at
the community to drive the farm out of business and disband its
Briars in the Cotton Patch is the intriguing story of a courageous
Christian whose historic racial experiment predated the more famous
Civil Rights Movement by 15 years, said former U.S. President Jimmy
Carter. Dr. Clarence Jordan is an inspiration to all those who believe in
peace, freedom and justice.
In researching the story, Briars Director Faith Fuller interviewed
dozens of Koinonia Farm residents -- past and present -- members of
the local African-American community and former business leaders in
Americus, such as past Chamber president Frank Myers. "There was a
sense of foreboding in the community," Myers says in Briars. "Fear
for them, fear for us."
[Station Name]-TV will air Briars in the Cotton Patch on [Day, Date,
Time], on channel [channel number].
For additional information about Briars in the Cotton Patch, visit


Grabbing A Headline: News Media & Press Releases

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

The news media can help to spread your message to a wider audience than
you can cover alone.

Having your project in the news adds legitimacy to your efforts and can help
garner attention from potential funders.

News media will not fundraise for you, but they can help lay the groundwork.

Learn the basics of writing a press release. Press release services such as PR
Newswire will critique your release upon request.



Pitching Your Idea:

Crafting An Elevator Pitch and Log Line

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the most important things you can do as part of the documentary

fundraising process is to learn how to pitch your documentary idea both on paper
and in person.
Have you ever asked someone what they do for a living? Did their answer intrigue
you and wanting to know more? Or were you left confused and bored?

Elevator Pitch
Whether it's a chance meeting with a stranger or a formal pitch to a wealthy
philanthropist, it's essential to know how to pitch your documentary in such a way
that captures (very quickly in one minute or less) the unique qualities of your
project and creates excitement and intrigue. It's called an elevator pitch because it
should only last about as long as an elevator ride. This is your one chance to grab
someone's attention and leave them wanting more.
Think pitching your idea is easy? Right now, stop reading, and in thirty seconds or
less say out loud what your documentary is about.
Could you do it? How long did it take you to say it? Did you stammer or were you
confident with your statement? Practice saying it to your spouse, roommate, friends
and colleagues. Get their feedback.


Pitching Your Idea: Crafting An Elevator Pitch and Log Line

Here's a humorous description from an intern trying to figure out how to pitch a
documentary he was helping promote:
When I first saw the trailer for The Way We Get By, I immediately assumed
that I could come up with some line about how the documentary is a
heartwarming tale of how three members of America's "greatest generation"
find purpose in life by greeting troops as they return home from war. Not bad,
I tried out some of these initial lines on some of my ber hip friends and their
responses were all pretty much the same. There'd be a slightly awkward
pause and then a comment like, "Um, so it's like some movie about old people
in Maine who shake troops' hands?" Some would follow that up with a smirk
while the nicer ones would hesitantly offer some half-hearted complement
like "Oh, well, that sounds kind of inspiring" or "That sounds like it could be
good." My test subjects' lack of instant enthusiasm motivated me to refine my
approach, so I began toiling away for what seemed like days, on trying to
come up with the perfect (log)line.
CJ Saraceno, documentary intern
Here's the final pitch for The Way We Get By, captured during an interview with the
documentary's director, Aron Gaudet, on IndiWire's SpoutBlog:
The Way We Get By is like "Cocoon" meets "Coming Home"... but with my
mom in it. We follow the lives of three Maine Troop Greeters who go day and
night to a tiny airport in Bangor, Maine to greet soldiers and marines heading
to war and returning home - over 800,000 troops so far. But what we really
get is an intimate and honest look at what growing old in America is all about,
and how having purpose in your life can help you get through an awful lot.
And yes, one of the three people we follow is my mom.
This is a GREAT pitch. Why?
There's a strong hook at the beginning.
Everyone has a mom.. Everyone can relate to growing old and having purpose
in life. Everyone understands soldiers and war.
He makes the story relatable, relevant and personal.


Pitching Your Idea: Crafting An Elevator Pitch and Log Line

A Great Pitch Pays Off

All filmmakers seeking funding should be able to give a compelling twenty or thirty
second summary about their documentary at any given moment. This doesn't
happen by magic. Key points should be memorized and practiced because you never
know who you're going to run into that may be inspired to help you.
In Carol Dean's book, The Art of Film Funding, she tells the story of how a filmmaker
was in the grocery store line when she became engaged in a conversation with the
person next to her in line. She told the person about her documentary project which
was based in Greece and it just so happened the man's family was FROM Greece.
She took his card and followed up with a phone call and he ended up making a
$5,000 donation to her film!
Sometimes YOU know in your heart why this is a great story, but how do you convey
that to someone else and make the story relevant to them?
I remember when I was working on my first documentary and people would say,
Cool, you're working on a documentary? What's it about? I was shocked that I
didn't have a good answer! It made sense to me in my head, but when it came time
to give a quick compelling synopsis, I found myself rambling and giving too much
Here's my first attempt at an elevator pitch for my documentary Briars in the
Cotton Patch:
The documentary is about a small Christian farming community in the south
called Koinonia Farm that came under violent attack for their integration
practices during the Civil Rights era. They treated blacks and whites as equals.
Because of that, they were bombed and shot at by their neighbors... there were
KKK rallies and economic boycotts.. So it's a very dramatic story and
significant in the Civil Rights movement however very few people have ever
heard about it.
At this point, it's just a paragraph with some facts. I needed to dig deeper to find the
heart of the story, find a hook, something that anybody no matter their
background could relate to.
I decided that the word integration is too vague and doesn't connect with most
people. So I honed in on the word experiment. I also tried to find a stronger hook
for the first sentence.


Pitching Your Idea: Crafting An Elevator Pitch and Log Line

Here's what I eventually came up with for my updated elevator pitch:

The story is about whites against whites in the Civil Rights era. The story
centers around a place in the south called Koinonia Farm where a small group
of people conducted an experiment PRIOR to the Civil Rights Movement to show
that blacks and whites could live and work together as equals something that
was completely taboo at the time. So the documentary is about what happens
to them during that experiment.
A common response to that pitch might be something like. Wow, sounds
interesting. And I would have my follow-up points ready!
It's a pretty dramatic story. I actually lived at Koinonia as a little girl way after
that experiment took place. And I remember hearing all the stories about how
they were bombed, shot at, KKK rallies were held against them. That's why I
did the documentary, I was just so fascinated by how this peaceful little
community of people could be so hated and reviled by their neighbors for
something that seems to be so innocent by today's standards.
Of course, you'll word your pitch slightly different depending on the person you're
talking to and the circumstances. You don't want to sound like a robot and you want
the story to feel relevant to the person you're speaking to. For example, if I knew the
person I was speaking with was a pastor, I might focus more on the religious aspect
of the documentary. So I might say something like:
(Elevator Pitch: Version 2)
The story is about the clash between Christian ideals and popular culture. The
setting is PRIOR to the Civil Rights Movement at a place called Koinonia Farm
in south Georgia where a small group of Christians conducted an experiment
to show that blacks and whites could live and work together as equals to
demonstrate the Biblical principles of brotherly love and that all people are
equal in the eyes of God. But accepting a black person as an equal was
completely taboo at the time. So the documentary is about what happens to
this little group during that experiment.


Pitching Your Idea: Crafting An Elevator Pitch and Log Line

Start Your Pitch Strong

Veteran documentary producer Paul Devlin says the key to a great pitch is to hook
people right away with compelling and powerful words.
After many false starts with words like electricity, communism, and capitalism
for my POWER TRIP pitch, I found my best start was with these elements:
corruption, assassination and street rioting. No problem getting people's attention
with those words, says Devlin.
Your elevator pitch should give just enough tantalizing information about your film
to leave the person wanting more. You want someone to be intrigued enough that
they'll ask a follow-up question or two.
If someone seems genuinely interested, hand them a business card with your film's
website on it and, if it seems appropriate, ask them if they'd like to be added to your
e-mail list to get updates about the film. If so, get their card and add them on your
The important thing about your pitch is to keep it succinct and stick to your key
points. People can tell within just a few seconds if they're interested in your project,
so don't go on and on.. pique their interest and shut up! Wait for a question. If
people are interested, they'll let you know.

How To Prompt the Pitch

And of course, how do you get people to ask you about your documentary in the first
place? Even if you're an accountant or school bus driver for your day job, always
introduce yourself as a filmmaker. People will hopefully ask.. Oh cool, you're a
filmmaker. Working on anything interesting? Bingo! Pitch time.

How To Come Up With Your Pitch

There are all kinds of situations where you'll need to pitch your documentary.
Sometimes you've got to take your documentary idea in front of a grant committee,
sometimes it's one-on-one with a company CEO, sometimes it's a chance meeting in
the grocery store or at a party.
Each pitch will vary in length, tone and content depending on the situation, but you
can be prepared for any situation by working through the themes or key points
ahead of time.


Pitching Your Idea: Crafting An Elevator Pitch and Log Line

How do you pitch your story in a way that will grab someone's attention and they'll
immediately get what you're trying to do?
Ask yourself these questions:

What is at the heart of my story?

What are the three primary themes in my film?

Why this story, why now?

What's the urgency for my project?

Why should anyone care this film is being made?

Why me? Why am I making this film?

Tip! People support people first, THEN the project. So make sure you
communicate your enthusiasm and commitment for the project.

Is Your Pitch Memorable?

Not only do you want to grab people's attention with your pitch, you want them to
remember what your film is about. After describing your idea to someone, can
they turn right back around and say it back to you or someone else? If not, you have
not simplified it or made it interesting enough.

Create a Log Line!

Your first step in coming up with a pitch is to narrow down your story to a core
statement. This is what's called a log line. A log line is a 1-2 sentence summary that
describes your film. It's different than a tag line or sub heading for your title. The
log line captures the CORE of the story and the emotional hook. If you browse
Netflix, the short description you read for each film is a log line.
The logline is what makes me want to pull money out of pocket and buy a ticket to
see the film!
Think your documentary is too complex to be narrowed down to a sentence or two?
It's not! ANY story can be condensed down to one core idea. I learned this working
as a television news journalist. Any concept, any story no matter how complex
could always be broken down to a simple statement or two. People that I
interviewed would always be amazed how I was able to explain their story in a 1-2

Pitching Your Idea: Crafting An Elevator Pitch and Log Line

minute news package. It was almost like magic to them. But it's not magic at all! It's
simply the process of peeling back the layers, the noise, and pinpointing the
intriguing nugget or heart of the story.

Log Line Examples for

Award-Winning Documentaries:
Hell and Back Again
In this unvarnished documentary set on the Afghan front lines, U.S. Marine
Sgt. Nathan Harris is wounded by Taliban machine-gun fire, then returns to
his North Carolina home to grapple with the stress of civilian life.

The Cove
Daring animal activists arrive with surveillance equipment at a scenic cove in
Taijii, Japan, to capture footage of a secretive and heavily guarded operation
run by the world's largest supplier of dolphins. As the group sets out to
expose the horrifying truths behind the capture of dolphins for the lucrative
tourist industry, they also uncover an environmental catastrophe.

Food Inc.
Drawing on Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan's The
Omnivore's Dilemma, director Robert Kenner's provocative, Oscar-nominated
documentary explores the food industry's detrimental effects on our health
and environment.

Life In A Day
After thousands of people around the world joined together to record banal
and remarkable everyday events on July 24, 2010, director Kevin MacDonald
led a team of editors to condense more than 4,500 hours of video into this
picture of life on Earth.


Pitching Your Idea: Crafting An Elevator Pitch and Log Line

Tips for Creating Awesome Log Lines

According to Blake Snyder, author of Save The Cat, great log lines have irony. For
example, in my documentary Briars in the Cotton Patch, the statement whites
attacked whites during the Civil Rights Movement is ironic because the listener is
expecting to hear that whites attacked blacks.
All log lines should be composed in the present tense. Rodney Vance, Director of the
Film and TV Program at Pacific Union College, says to avoid variations on the verb
'to be' (is, was, will be, etc.) because they communicate little to no information.
Just like in journalism, a great log line answers these four basic questions: Who,
What, When, Where. More specifically, it should capture the conflict/tension and
what's at stake. What's the juicy core that will intrigue someone enough that they
want to watch your movie? Key elements of a log line:

Who/What is story about

What happens/The goal
The antagonistic force/The conflict

Log Line Formulas

According to screenwriter Dave Anaxagoras (, a
prototype log line might look something like this:
TITLE is a documentary with overtones of TONE about a PROTAGONIST who
must then overcome THE MAIN OBSTACLE in order to accom pl is h
THE U LTIM ATE G OA L o r el se the re will be C ATASTROPHIC
Of course, don't be a slave to the formula. Every story is different and requires its
own unique twist. I nd it easiest to write everything into one long,
unwieldy and awkward sentence rst and then edit down to something elegant
and economical, says Anaxagoras.


Pitching Your Idea: Crafting An Elevator Pitch and Log Line

Here's another take for structuring your logline.

According to writer Anne R. Allen, in her blog, heres
what she suggests as the basic formula for a logline:
When______happens to_____, he/she must_____or face_____.
Her example: When Dorothy gets tornadoed to Oz and accidentally squashes an
unpopular head of state, she must find a wizard to help her get home to Kansas, or
be killed by the ruler's evil sister and some nasty flying monkeys.
Anne Allen also suggests weeding out cliches. Here are some overused phrases she
says to avoid:

little did he know

comes back to haunt her

race against the clock

web of deceit

determined to unmask

wants nothing more

spins out of control

torn apart by

vows to expose

world falls apart

forced to confront

In summary, a great pitch captures the essence of your story and elicits the reaction
I want to see that! So keep practicing and refining.
Creating the perfect pitch for your film is well worth the effort and can be one of
your strongest tools for raising funds.


Pitching Your Idea: Crafting An Elevator Pitch and Log Line

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

Be prepared to pitch your film at all times. If you were on an elevator and
someone asked about your film, could you describe it in thirty seconds or less
and leave them wanting more by the time the elevator doors opened?

Any story, no matter how complex, can be boiled down to a statement or two.

When pitching your story, keep it short and sweet. Don't try to pack in every
detail. A pitch is meant to be a teaser not a monologue.

Practice your pitch over and over again until you can say it in your sleep. Try
it out on friends and family until you get it right.

To prompt conversation about your film, always introduce yourself as a

filmmaker. You are bound to be asked, What are you working on?

Recommended Article for further reading on this topic:

** Importance of attending festivals and events to pitch your project and
network with funders



How To Write A Documentary

Treatment And Proposal
Personality can open doors, but only character can keep them open.
~ Elmer G. Letterman

When it comes to documentary fundraising, a fantastic treatment and proposal

can be the difference between funding and no funding at least for the BIG money.

What Is A Documentary Proposal And
Why Do I Need One?
There is often a lot of overlap when talking about a documentary proposal,
treatment and synopsis.
Documentary Proposal - This is a comprehensive written document that explains the
full scope of your documentary project from story synopsis to the people youre
planning to interview to your distribution plan.
Documentary Treatment The treatment is almost like a script, detailing exact
scenes and describing what the audience will see, hear and experience.
Documentary Synopsis The synopsis is usually the first section of the proposal. It is
an easy-to-read explanation of what your story is about, why the story is significant
and how youre going to tell it.

How To Write A Documentary Treatment And Proposal

Documentary Proposal Cover Page Sample:

A project proposal cover page for a documentary covering the elderly

in Singapore who live in one-room flats.
Courtesy: Yeo Kai Wen


How To Write A Documentary Treatment And Proposal

There are multiple reasons why someone might need a proposal. One of the primary
uses for a proposal is to raise funding for a film. It can also be used to convince a
talented filmmaker to join the documentary team or to enlist an endorsement for
the project from a broadcaster or prestigious individual.

A documentary proposal is basically a business

plan and sales pitch all in one.

Getting Started On Your Proposal

The best kinds of documentary proposals will draw in a reader (like a great novel)
and help them fully envision the possibilities of how the film will look on screen,
what it will take to get the film made and what kind of impact it will have.
The proposal is not just a pretty document with fancy graphics. Its sole purpose is
to elicit a very specific response from the individual reading it: to give money, write
an endorsement or join the filmmaking effort.
So how do you elicit that desired response? How do you convince someone to
support your project?
Here are a few key things a potential supporter or funder will want to know:

How unique is the documentary idea? If someone has already produced a

documentary on this subject, how is your angle significantly different?

Why are YOU uniquely qualified to tell this story? For example, perhaps the
documentary is about the president of Sudan and he is your father. That
certainly gives you unique access and a unique angle to the subject!

Who is on your team and how much experience do they have? This is
perhaps THE most important factor in whether or not you get support.

Who else is already supporting you and how much funding has been raised so
far for the project. (The more items on this list the better!)


How To Write A Documentary Treatment And Proposal

A proposal is a powerful way to show potential supporters and participants that

every aspect of the project has been thoroughly thought through. A proposal can
also help answer any lingering questions someone might have about the project.
Depending how well the proposal is put together, it can quickly illustrate the level of
professionalism for the project.
If the proposal is well written and well thought out, the reader will be more likely to
provide backing for the project. Whereas, if the proposal has a lot of misspellings
and grammatical errors (and doesnt have strong elements as listed above), it can
have the opposite effect.
Even if a filmmaker needs no outside help to make their documentary, creating a
proposal is a powerful exercise to think through every detail of the project.

Documentary Proposal Template (PDF attachment)

If you purchased this guide as part of the
Documentary Fundraising Tool Kit package, you
received as a separate document a 25-page
Documentary Proposal Template (with instructions).
Since most of your funding is likely to come from
individuals, the template is geared less toward
institutions (grants) and more toward relationshipbased sources of funding (individuals).
The proposal can be used for multiple purposes such as pitches to
broadcasters, potential fiscal sponsors, sponsorship applications or any
number of individuals who need to understand the scope of the project.
To download the Documentary Proposal Template separately visit:


How To Write A Documentary Treatment And Proposal

Who Is A Proposal For?

A proposal is for anyone who needs to understand the full scope of the documentary
project beyond a simple fundraising letter or e-mail. Someone giving a $25.00
donation would probably not get a full proposal. Its more for those who have the
potential to give higher dollar amounts or some kind of significant support or
A documentary proposal is appropriate for:

Wealthy or Connected Individuals

Foundations/Government Agencies

Businesses/Corporate Sponsors

Potential Advisors

Potential Crew Members

Your Fundraising Team

Potential Partners such as a Local PBS Station

Fiscal Sponsor

What Should Be Included In A Proposal?

Cover Page Include any artwork/logo for your film and important contact

information. If you are asking for a specific amount of money from the person
receiving the proposal, you may want to put that on the cover page. For example,
you could put Request for $15,000 funding grant just under the proposal heading.

Table of Contents List everything you are including in your proposal.

Synopsis This is a brief one paragraph summary of your documentary to give the
reader a quick snapshot of what the project is about.

Project Overview (Treatment) Make this section as detailed and vibrant as

possible. This is where you make your documentary story come alive.


How To Write A Documentary Treatment And Proposal

Documentary Outline/Scenes This section is optional and only necessary if

you have additional elements you werent able to fully detail in the treatment.

Interview Subjects Who are you planning to interview or profile in your

documentary? Why are they important to the story. Include some or all of your
interviews/characters here. If you can include photos, even better!

Style Approach Explain your artistic vision for the film here. Will the

documentary be filmed in black and white? Will you have a narrator or a host? Will
you be telling your story using stop motion techniques or other animation? Are you
shooting in High Definition or on Super 8 Film?

Documentary Crew/Bios List the key members of your team. Explain not

only each persons accomplishments, but also why they are a good fit for the project.
This is perhaps THE most important section of your proposal. Potential supporters
want to know whos behind the project and whether the team is capable of
completing the project successfully. It is recommended that you list at least three
people here. Funders are much more likely to support a project that has more than
one crew member. If you personally lack experience making documentaries, enlist
the support of accomplished filmmakers. If YOU are the one with a lot of
accomplishments, you can have a less experienced crew. Funders want to know that
at least ONE person on your team has experience managing a successful film project
and can responsibly handle large sums of money.

Target Audience Even if you feel you have a documentary that will appeal to a

large segment of the population, its important to narrow it down to the group most
likely to be drawn to your film. Is it military personnel? Young mothers in the
United States? Teenagers? Internationals living in the U.S.? Stock Brokers?

Partnerships List any groups, organizations or individuals that have agreed to

endorse or support the project. This can be a fiscal sponsor, a broadcaster or a nonprofit. If you dont yet have any endorsements, its okay to list groups that you plan
to approach, just make sure its clear that they have not yet agreed to participate.

Humanities Experts/Advisors Depending on the subject matter of your

film, its often a good idea to have experts who can advise you during the
filmmaking process. You may even want to consider creating a Board of Directors
for your film. These are people who you may or may not include on-camera in your
documentary, but who can serve as advisors for various aspects of your film
including fundraising. Including these accomplished and respected individuals as
part of your documentary team is a great way to provide additional credibility for
your project.

How To Write A Documentary Treatment And Proposal

Interactive Elements This is where you include your plan for a website, social
media, blogs, podcasts or any other interesting ways to engage your audience online
before, during and after the release of your film.

Distribution & Outreach This is a critical, yet often overlooked aspect of the

documentary production process. Filmmakers are so involved and passionate about

the actual film that they often dont stop to consider whats going to happen once the
film is made. It may not seem important to you as a filmmaker, but for a potential
funder, this section is KEY. They want to know what kind of impact their funding
will make.
Once the film is completed, where will it be shown? How will it reach its audience?
What is the plan to market the film in the U.S. and worldwide? Will the film be used
as a tool to raise money, encourage volunteers or change policy? Will it raise
awareness for a certain issue so that significant change can take place? Youll want
to list in this section your plan for how the film will be released (theaters, online,
community screenings, etc).

Tip! Talking to a distributor in advance will greatly enhance your understanding

of the potential demand for your particular film subject. If there IS demand, have
them write a letter stating so! This can be a powerful tool when pitching your idea.
Also, check The Fledgling Fund website for some great examples of documentary
outreach plans.

Production Timetable and Schedule This is where you map out your

production schedule and plan for shooting and editing your documentary. It's best
to use a window of dates approach with a target date for completion as
filmmaking requires flexibility.

Fundraising Strategy List here how much money you need to make your

documentary and how you plan to raise the funds. If you do not personally have
experience raising money, find someone who can guide you on this. There are also
lots of great books on this subject. I highly recommend Shaking the Money Tree by
Morrie Warshawski.

Conclusion or Final Thoughts Make this a brief, final impassioned

statement summarizing the project and what makes the project unique and
important. Really hit home the impact the film could have.
**Additional details about what to include in each section of a proposal are
included with the Documentary Proposal Template (pdf) document.

How To Write A Documentary Treatment And Proposal

How is a Documentary Treatment
Different from a Proposal?
Theres a lot of overlap when talking about a documentary treatment and proposal.
Often the terms are used interchangeably.
A treatment, in its literal meaning, is more like an actual script.
A treatment describes exactly what your audience is going to see, hear and feel when
they watch your film -- from the opening sequence to the last shot.
A treatment is just one part of a proposal. A full proposal includes not only the
treatment, but also other items such as the distribution plan, intended audience,
budget and crew bios.

Heres a two-paragraph sample of a documentary treatment from

Briars in the Cotton Patch:
As the conflict intensifies, we hear the voice of newspaper reporter Rudy Hayes
describe the scene. Old black and white film clips of the Ku Klux Klan stream across
the screen - a huge 10-foot tall cross burns in the background - as Rudy explains the
purpose of the meeting and the Klans intention to visit the residents of Koinonia
Farm. A long line of cars from the 1950s slowly move along a remote country road
as the music intensifies and the feeling of dread is palpable.
With the Klans motorcade closing in on the farm, we hear an old scratchy recording
of Koinoina founder Clarence Jordan quoting a verse from the Bible and describing
the intensity of the moment as members of the Klan pull through the front entrance
of the farm. The camera slowly zooms into a faded sepia colored photo showing a
group of white men standing in a broken circle. The Klansmen are no longer
wearing their robes, so its unclear who in the group is from Koinonia and who is
from the Klan. Koinonia resident Con Brown compares the scene, somewhat
humorously, to the beginning of a football game when captains from the two sides
come up for the coin toss.


How To Write A Documentary Treatment And Proposal

The nature of a documentary is that the story often unfolds as it is being shot and
edited, so writing a script in advance is difficult, if not impossible.
Writing a treatment becomes easier if your film is historical in nature where the
events have already taken place or if you are shooting reenactments which would be
scripted in advance. But for most documentary projects, the treatment is less script
and more detailed overview. That doesnt mean a dry research report! You still
need to use an active voice and tell a compelling story.
Here are some basic guidelines that can apply to the overall description of your

Tips for Writing Your Treatment/Overview:

1) Use an active voice. Dont say We may be doing this film; say This film
is. Make the reader believe this film is already happening.
2) Write colorfully. Avoid generic descriptions like unique or magical.
Explain why something is magical or unique.
3) Be specific. Dont just give a generic vague overview of your story. Describe
situations, people, events and characters in vivid detail to help make the story
come alive.
4) Keep it simple. Stay away from convoluted sentences. Make simple and
direct statements that are clear and easy to understand.
5) Avoid unfounded hyperbole. Stay away from grand generic statements
such as This is the most amazing film anyone in America will ever see. This
kind of language is a turn-off for readers.
6) Tell a story. Take your reader on a journey through both narrative and
imagery. Make sure the structure of your treatment mirrors the structure of
the documentary.
7) Make it personal. Capture the personal and human element of the story.
8) Engage and Inspire. Lay out a compelling case for why this documentary
needs to be made using quotes, statistics and any other evidence. Leave the
reader feeling like this story MUST be told.


How To Write A Documentary Treatment And Proposal

What Should Be Included In the

Documentary Treatment?
When describing your documentary idea, include some or all the following

Why this documentary, why now?

Establish the basic story line and what you will be uncovering that is
different, unusual or unique to any other film to date.

Tell a story; dont just regurgitate history. Weave together historical

information, facts and statistics with human characters. State the storys
relevance in todays terms.

Include your passion into the treatment. Think about the elements of the
story that intrigue and fascinate you. Let that be your guide as you write.
This is your chance to express your style and vision.

What is your unique point of view and, if appropriate, why are you uniquely
qualified to tell this story.

Is your documentary breaking new ground in some way: new ideas, an

innovative style or creative format?

Do you have special access to the people and story youre pitching?

How will you stimulate new ways of looking at the world through this film

What issues are you bringing to light?

Your treatment should weave a great story, create a human connection and establish
the greater vision of how your film will make the world a better place.

Someone reading the treatment should enjoy the

experience the way one enjoys reading a well-written magazine
article, and that this article should give a good sense of
the film as it would unfold on screen.
~ Sheila Curran Bernard, Documentary Storytelling

How To Write A Documentary Treatment And Proposal

How to Deal with Unknown Information

Even the most organized researcher or filmmaker cannot
predict exactly how a documentary project will unfold, so
the project will need to be described as best as possible
with the information available. If you dont know all the
people you plan to interview, its okay to list Potential
Interviewees. Its also okay to pull a quote from a
published article from one of your experts to show the
type of information that person will likely provide in an
Your proposal is a constantly changing document. More
than likely you will be using it throughout the various
stages of production to solicit support. Youll be adding
partnerships along the way, gathering endorsements, or you may possibly come
across an unexpected interview that changes the storyline. The better you get to
know your story, the more refined and detailed your proposal will become.
At each stage of the process, youll want to include information in the proposal that
accurately reflects the current state of the project and how you foresee the project
unfolding. For example, its okay to predict who you will be interviewing even if you
dont have everything lined up. And again, as stated above, its okay to guess at your
storytelling technique. Those are creative elements that are expected to change
along the way. Whats NOT okay is to say that a prominent person or organization is
endorsing your project if they have not yet agreed. You can certainly mention that
theyve been approached, but make sure you dont make a statement that isnt true.

Dont Sell Yourself Short In The Proposal

Sheila Curran Bernard, author of Documentary Storytelling, writes in her book that
she is often surprised that filmmakers will submit proposals that make it appear
they only did an afternoons worth of research, when in fact, theyve been working
on their film for weeks or months and may have even have shot some interviews or
She suggests including specific details in the proposal that illustrates your
commitment to the project or any progress youve made. For example, you may
write: In an interview filmed last August, Ms. Wingate expressed her sadness and
regret over the actions of her father. Or When our crew showed up to film this

How To Write A Documentary Treatment And Proposal

years festival, we captured an amazing scene where farmers and immigrants

clashed over wages. Bernard says to make sure you include enough detail to show
you know your subject inside and out, while acknowledging you still have much to

What Is The Correct Length For A

Documentary Proposal?
It is best if you keep the entire proposal between 10-15 pages, including a 1-5 page
long treatment/overview. Know your audience. You may need to modify the
proposal length depending on the recipient. (A busy CEO may only have time for a
quick 1-page read). Or a more complex documentary project may require a bit more

Tip! Keep in mind that the people reading your proposal are busy, so only include
the most critical and compelling information in the most concise manner possible.

Your Full Proposal Package

A full documentary proposal packet to a potential funder might include the following
1) Cover Letter
2) Documentary Proposal/Treatment
3) Budget
4) Press clippings, props or photos that help tell the story
5) Video trailer or supporting footage on DVD
6) Letters of recommendation from your fiscal sponsor and other high
profile individuals or organizations such as a local PBS station or


How To Write A Documentary Treatment And Proposal

Cover Letter - When you submit your proposal and budget to a potential funder,
more than likely you will also want to send a cover letter, along with any other
support materials such as press clippings, a trailer and letters of support. (Your
cover letter could be in the form of an e-mail)

Your cover letter is a great place to personalize your request and ask for a specific
amount of money. This means you will need to have done your research on the
individual or group youre submitting your proposal to. There are any number of
ways you can figure out how much to ask for. If its an organization, you can just
outright ask your contact what would be an appropriate amount to request. If its a
wealthy individual, try to research other gifts the person has given or ask around the
community for opinions on what the individual might be willing to give.
In your cover letter, make a brief statement about why the project is meaningful for
you and your current need for financial help. Briefly state some recent successes
(Weve just learned the Smith Foundation is giving us $2500 or Weve just lined
up an interview with Senator Jane Williams) people like to be part of a winning
cause. Let the funder know there is momentum with the project and their support
can help you take it to the next level. Explain exactly what their funds will be used
for. Limit your cover letter to one page.

Budget - A budget is a reflection of your entire project. It shows in detail the type

of equipment you plan to use, the shooting locations, travel expenses, music and
archival usage, animation, crew and length of post-production just to name a few.
Anyone making a significant contribution to your project will likely want to see your
budget, so make sure its accurate, professional and realistic.

Press Clippings - Being able to share a link to a news story about your

documentary, or a newspaper clipping of an article from a local paper can go a long

way toward building credibility for your project and creating some buzz. So make
an effort to send press releases to the media about your project and do whatever it
takes to get some media coverage. And as soon as you get some coverage, add it to
your fundraising proposal pack.

Trailer - If I had to choose ONE item that is most important -- above all else -- in

your fundraising efforts, I would say its the trailer. If you know the saying a picture
is worth a thousand words, then you can imagine the importance and impact of a
film. According to the online crowdfunding site IndieGoGo, a campaign with a video
raised 122% more money than one without. If the trailer can bring a viewer to tears
or move them emotionally, a donation is almost guaranteed. Of course, a solid
proposal and strong leadership on your team are also key factors, but if you dont
have a strong trailer, prepare for a long hard road.

How To Write A Documentary Treatment And Proposal

Letters of Support - Every little bit helps when youre fundraising. Your goal is

to bring everything youve got and make a slam dunk when you are requesting
funds. In addition to your trailer, proposal and budget, letters of support from
reputable individuals and organizations such as a local PBS station help solidify the
importance of your project.

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

Proposal are a very personal endeavor and no two pitches will be the same.

Each proposal must take into account the tone of the project, the characters,
the story, style approach and even your own personality.

If you do not consider yourself a strong writer, solicit help from a

professional. A strong proposal can literally be the difference between
funding or no funding. For help, check out the American Grantwriters'

If you hit a snag while writing your proposal, think back to what originally
piqued your interest about the documentary idea. When you get excited
about the idea, how do you describe the story to friends and family? Let
those feelings guide you through the proposal writing process.

Allow the reader to feel your genuine passion, excitement and intrigue for the
story. Try to stay away from sounding official. Make your words personal
and real. If you can convey your deepest sincere connection to the story, you
have a much better chance of winning over the person reading your proposal.

Is there a story you can tell that might bring tears to the eyes of a reader? Or
make them laugh? Choose the best, most interesting components of your
story and make sure to weave them in throughout your proposal.

When sending your proposal to a potential donor/investor, read it over with

the potential donor in mind and modify if necessary.



Adding It Up:

Documentary Budgeting Guide

All I've ever wanted was an honest week's pay for an honest day's work.
~ Steve Martin (Bilko)

A key item in your documentary fundraising tool kit is your budget.

A budget may seem like a bunch of boring numbers. Au contraire! It's a super
valuable tool for you, your team and anyone considering making a significant
donation to your project. Your budget and proposal go hand-in-hand.


Adding It Up: Documentary Budgeting Guide

What Is A Documentary Budget?

A budget is your film's blueprint. It's a reflection of your documentary project and
what kind of story you plan to tell.
A budget describes your crew, travel locations, how many days of shooting,
administrative costs, the type of equipment youre using and all the other nuts and
bolts involved in getting your film made.
Before you can begin putting together a budget, youll need to have a clear vision of
your story and what elements youll need to tell that story properly. Its helpful to
first map out a basic production schedule and timeline to get you started.

Are you shooting reenactments?

Are you purchasing 50 Flip cameras to hand out to a school?

Are you using tapes or hard drives to capture your footage?

How many people will you be interviewing?

How many locations?

Are you paying your crew or is everyone working for free?

Are you shooting in a dangerous location? (If so, youll want to

consider insurance).

Do you want to include distribution/marketing costs in your

production or make that its own separate budget down the line?
As you can see, every little decision you make regarding your film is often attached
to a line item in the budget.

Documentary Budget Template

The budget sections below refer to the Big Budget
Template that came part of the Documentary Fundraising
Tool Kit package as a separate document.
(The Easy Budget Template is shown above)
To download the Documentary Budget Template package:


Adding It Up: Documentary Budgeting Guide

Budget Sections Line By Line

1000 Research and Development

This section covers any items that are involved in the pre-production phase of your
project. These items can include scouting locations, books/downloads and
consultant fees.

1100 Directors, Writers, Research Staff

This section covers any costs for you and your staff during the pre-production phase.

1200 Story/Title Rights

Not all projects will need this section, but if your film is based on a book, you may
need to pay story rights. You may also want to hire a title search company to find
out if the title of your documentary is clear to use. (If your budget is tight, a simple
Google search is probably adequate)

2000 Crew and Personnel

This covers salaries for all your crew during the production/shooting of your
Important! Depending on where you live, you may need to pay Personnel Taxes
(also known as Fringes) in addition to salaries for your crew to cover things like
Social Security, Federal and State unemployment insurance, Medicare and Workers
Comp. Most of the time you can simply hire your crew as Independent Contractors.
But PLEASE check with your accountant or lawyer to make sure you are following all
laws in your area.

2100 Equipment Rental

List any equipment and video gear you will need during your shoots. Depending on
the length of the production, renting equipment can sometimes exceed the cost of
purchasing the equipment out right. If this is the case, you can purchase the
equipment and sell it once the project ends. Or a crew person may decide to buy a
piece of equipment and rent it back to the production. To protect the integrity of the
project, the rental fees should not exceed 75% of what it cost to buy the equipment.

2200 Production Expenses

These items include any items you will need related to production such as hard
drives, DVD's, extra batteries and transcription services.


Adding It Up: Documentary Budgeting Guide

2300 Travel Expenses

List all items related to travel including hotel/lodging, meals, airline tickets, baggage
fees, tips, mileage, etc. A funder may not understand what a P2 card is, but they
know what a hotel room and airline ticket should cost. So be especially diligent to
keep these costs to a minimum. Also, if you choose to give your crew a set fee to
cover daily expenses such as meals (per diems), make sure these are also kept to a
minimum. (Be aware that some funding agencies dont allow pier diems.)

2400 Talent/Host

If you plan to have a host or narrator for your film, they may or may not request
payment. These costs can vary widely depending on who you get. And if youre
using a union performer, make sure you understand all the rules involved.

3000 Director, Editors, Writer, Composer, Specialists

List all crew and staff involved in the post-production & editing phase.

3100 Editing Equipment and Facility

Whether you are editing out of your home or in an production studio, list all costs
related to the editing process including hard drives, special editing software and
tape deck rentals.

3200 Graphics and Animation

In the old days, documentaries tended to be pretty straightforward, capturing reality

and cutting the shots together in a fairly simple way. Today, documentaries have
become more sophisticated using very creative methods to tell the story including
stop motion and cartoon animation. Some of these effects can be quite labor
intensive. List here any animation and special effects you plan to use and their costs.

3300 Color Correction

To have a seamless looking film, youll probably want some kind of color correction.
If your footage is less than stellar, this section could end up being a much bigger
budget item than you expected. So do your best to shoot great footage in the
beginning to avoid this section becoming a major budget item.

3400 Sound Design and Recordings

Some say sound is even more important than the visuals. Include any expected costs
associated with sound design and any special recordings such as narration.

3500 Music/Composer

To keep things simple regarding music rights, its recommended that you bring on
board a composer to create an original sound track for your film. Otherwise, it can
be quite a difficult process (and expensive) to track down rights for every piece of

Adding It Up: Documentary Budgeting Guide

music you want to use, especially if its popular music. Royalty free music is also an
option, just make sure to check if there are any hidden restrictions.

3600 Stock Footage/Photos

Unless you are shooting everything in your film from scratch, you may need to use
some archival stock footage or photos. A lot of footage can be found for free such as
on or through Creative Commons, but you may need to purchase
specialty shots which you should list in this section.

3700 Final Output/Mastering

List here any costs involved in the final mastering of your film such as any special
decks you may need to rent to dub out to a Digi-Beta tape.

3800 Closed Captioning and Subtitles

If you plan to have your film broadcast on television or seen by an international

audience, youll need to budget in items such as translation services and subtitle

4000 Office/Admin

Here you list all the administration and office items for the project including internet
fees, postage, cell phone, etc.

4100 Website

You dont necessarily need a website, but its highly recommended for any kind of
major project. Its like a business card and online hub where people can go and
learn about your project and hopefully donate. If you are on a super low budget, a
Facebook Page can work just fine.

4200 Promotion, Print, Publicity

This section can be big or small depending on your distribution plan. Include items
such as film festival fees, logo design, postcards, posters and hiring a publicist. Be
aware that some funding agencies such as broadcasters dont allow this section to be
included in the budget.

4300 Insurance

Talk to your insurance agent and use your own judgment on how much insurance
you need for your project. Insurance should be considered when crew members
travel out of the country or are working/filming in potentially dangerous situations.
Errors and Omissions insurance is also something you'll need to consider once your
film is completed. And if you've created a Board of Directors for your film, you'll
want to look into Officers and Liability Insurance.


Adding It Up: Documentary Budgeting Guide

4400 Professional Services

These items include attorney and accounting fees, bank account fees,
fundraising/distribution experts, etc.

4500 Film Festivals

If you plan to take your documentary on the film festival circuit, be aware that those
costs can add up. Include here any expected festival fees and travel expenses.

Contingency This is a safety net, usually set at 8-10%, to give you some wiggle
room in case you go over budget.

Fiscal Sponsor Fees This is the fee you pay to a non-profit organization who

handles all the cash flow and donations that come in for your project. Not all fiscal
sponsors will charge a fee, but 5%-10% is standard for those who do.

I find shoestrings very hard work. I like big budgets.

Julie Harris

How to Think About A Budget

A budget can be whatever you want it to be. The same documentary idea can be
produced for $50,000 or $1-million. So budgets are a loosy-goosy game based on
your experience level, where youre located and how extravagant your vision for
your film.
Youve got to start somewhere, so on your first go-round with your budget, go ahead
and list everything you can think of and input standard professional rates as if you
were paying retail prices. Once you do that and hit ENTER, you will surely be
shocked by the final price. At that point, youll want to go through your budget -item by item -- and figure out where you can slice and dice to get the final figure
down to a reasonable total. (Don't forget to look for potential in-kind donations and
discount options).
So what is reasonable?
This is where your own judgment needs to come into play. How much experience do
you and your crew have? How much do you think youll be able to raise?


Adding It Up: Documentary Budgeting Guide

Say for example you and your crew have never produced a documentary before and
you have a few short non-profit videos under your belt. You have no awards to your
name and for all intent and purposes, you dont have a solid portfolio of work. All of
your friends are fellow artists and you dont have a lot of business connections to
people with money. Is it reasonable to think you can raise $250,000 for your first
documentary project?
Hmmmm Probably not.
Truthfully, $10,000 - $25,000 is a more realistic goal (and THATs if you have a
fantastic trailer). A budget of $250,000 will probably not be taken seriously by
those you approach for funding.
HOWEVER, if you have a solid portfolio of work and have proven that you are
capable of producing professional work and overseeing a large budget and a crew,
you have a much better chance of raising larger sums of money. People will have
confidence in you based on your past work. So your budget can reflect a more
professional endeavor.

A low budget is uncomfortable.

Lukas Haas

An Organic Budget
A film budget is a constantly changing document. At the beginning of the project,
you will make your best attempt to think of everything you will need and research
prices and rates to the best of your ability. And this is important. DO YOUR
RESEARCH. Don't just guess at what things cost. A business person reading your
budget will catch your mistakes (forget getting money from that guy).
Call up vendors and freelancers and ask what they charge. Even with excellent
planning, things will cost more or less than budgeted (usually more), so the budget
will need to be modified as you go.
Also, if you know that you will be getting some services or equipment donated,
indicate that on the budget. In fact, that can be a great motivator for a potential
funder to see that you and/or others are already pitching in to help cut costs.


Adding It Up: Documentary Budgeting Guide

Two Budgets
It's a great idea to create two versions of your budget. One is the official budget
listing all the standard industry costs and the other is a bare-bones worse-case
scenario budget. Although you will be attempting to raise the full amount of money
listed in your retail budget, you also want to know in the back of your mind the
absolute bare minimum you need to make your documentary a reality. The barebones budget is for your eyes only so that you can be prepared for any scenario.

Should You Pay Yourself?

This is a great question and, again, your judgment will need to come into play here.
How badly do you want the documentary made? Is this your first or fifth
documentary? Are you willing to work for free if needed?
For the purpose of your budget, YES, include payment to yourself that is reasonable
for your level of experience. Funders understand that you have to survive during
the making of your film. In fact, they may view it as a negative if you DON'T include
compensation for yourself because that means you are having to make your living
some other way which may cut into the quality and time you put into your
As a general rule of thumb -- decide what you need to make to pay your bills and add
20% or even double that amount. So if you need $3,000/month to survive, create a
budget where you are paid $3600 -$6,000/month (that gives you a buffer for
savings, emergencies, etc).
This is not the time to get stars in your eyes, be realistic. Funders are not naive.
They know the difference between a Oscar-winning professional and a college
graduate. Dont try to give yourself a top-of-the-line salary if you have no experience
to your name.
Ask yourself what someone with your experience level would get paid in the real
world. If a top professional with tons of experience would make $1300/day and
someone at the low end would make $250/day, you have to make that judgment call
of where you fit. And if you are a complete newbie, you will more than likely have to
work for free until you build up some experience. (Big funders rarely give money to
those with no track record).
Funders like to know that you are personally sacrificing and contributing to the
project, so during the fundraising process, its a powerful thing to say that you and

Adding It Up: Documentary Budgeting Guide

your crew are prepared to defer compensation if needed to get the project
completed. Or that you are donating your equipment or covering your own travel
costs, etc.

Marketing and Distribution:

"The Unexpected Budgeting Surprise"
Be aware that the distribution and marketing phase of a documentary project can
become quite costly depending on what route you choose for your film. Include a
section in your budget to cover expenses related to distribution.
Be prepared that you could easily need $50,000+ for the final phase which can
include everything from print costs, travel, dvd duplication, donation perks/gifts,
theater rentals, publicity and film festival fees.
For my PBS documentary, I was shocked to find out that I had to pay $3,000 to
calibrate my documentary before it could be broadcast (all the audio and video
had to be adjusted exactly to PBS's technical specifications). So know in advance
where your documentary will be shown and find out what costs are involved in the


Adding It Up: Documentary Budgeting Guide

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

A budget may be time consuming at the beginning, but youll be glad you took
the extra effort to think things through and put it all together.

A budget and proposal go hand in hand when requesting funding from a

major donor.

Yes, include a salary for yourself in the budget, but don't go overboard.

Be especially diligent when listing travel costs. Funders tend to scrutinize

that section the most.

Don't get caught off guard by the high cost of distribution and marketing.



Tips For A
Sizzling Fundraising Trailer
The only way around is through.
~ Robert Frost

Whatever it takes, make a trailer for your documentary. Even if you have to pay
for it out of your own pocket, this is a must-have when fundraising for a

Few people can visualize an idea. So if you want to build or create anything a car, a
house, a film it makes all the difference to have a visual presentation of what you
are trying to make. Think of your documentary trailer as the artist rendering of a
house before its built. If you can SEE it and fall in love it, you are much more willing
to PAY for it because you can now see with your own eyes the potential story it will

Tips For A Sizzling Fundraising Trailer

Our trailer got us $250,000. ITVS told us later that they

weren't going to fund our film, but then they watched the trailer
and said oh yeah we're going to fund this.
~Jilann Spitzmiller, Documentary Filmmaker

An Effective Fundraising Trailer Should:

1) Not be boring! Grab the audience from the start and keep them glued to the
2) Capture the essence of the story you are wanting to tell
3) Set the tone and the style
4) Pose the key questions you hope to answer in the documentary
5) Make the audience want to see and know more
If your trailer is boring or uninspiring, this will be the death of your fundraising
efforts. So make sure your trailer is not just so-so, but fantastic.
When making a trailer, think about who will most likely be giving you money for the
documentary and make the trailer with them in mind as your audience.

A trailer is also sometimes referred

to as a sizzle reel.
A trailer can be anywhere from 1-20 minutes depending on the subject matter. The
ideal trailer is somewhere between 3-7 minutes.
Documentary consultant Fernanda Rossi, who has doctored over 300
documentaries, fiction scripts and fundraising trailers including two Academy
Award nominees, recommends filmmakers create a 10-minute trailer that can be
modified for various purposes. In general, she recommends a 1-3 minute trailer for
the web/online platforms and a 7-12 minute trailer for grant applications.

Tips For A Sizzling Fundraising Trailer

Anatomy of a Fantastic Fundraising


Catch people off guard Your trailer should grab your audience's

attention right off the bat in the first :30-:45. The trailer must show
something engaging right at the beginning. It's best to catch people off
guard, show something that is unexpected. If documentary is about a
peaceful commune, start with violence. If it's about the mafia, start with a
laughing child. If you show people what they are expecting, they will be
bored. If you can catch an audience off guard, you've got their attention.

Only put the best, most compelling elements of your story in

your trailer. Your trailer is meant to offer a little taste of your film. It's a
teaser! Introduce the basic elements and characters of your story as
creatively as you can with the resources you have.

Don't bring the story to a conclusion. The audience shouldn't feel

that the trailer is a short version of the completed documentary. They should
be left wanting more and with the clear understanding that there is much
more to the story that needs to be told. Pose questions or create a cliffhanger
hinting of more to come or a pending situation.

Structure/tone of trailer should match the documentary A

fundraising trailer should capture or mimic the director's vision of how the
final documentary will look and feel.

Tip! Don't fade to black at the end of a trailer that is posted on YouTube or Vimeo.
Since the last frame of the video pauses, you want the last frame to be the URL of the
documentary's website.. not black.


Tips For A Sizzling Fundraising Trailer

Advice from Documentary Doctor Fernanda Rossi posted in an

article by the San Francisco Film Society (SF360):
Trailers start with a bang, at the core of the issue. Title of the film, yes;
credits, no. The opening should capture unequivocally the main conflicting
issue if any, or the main topic to be discussed if topic-driven. If this can also
be done symbolically, all the better. Such symbolism is well executed in the
opening of the fundraising trailer of Free Swim by Jennifer Galvin, where a
group of Bahamians ponder off camera why islanders dont swim even if
surrounded by water, while a kid holds a flask with a fish trapped inside.
To achieve an enticing opening, ask yourself whats the main message of your
documentary? What is the burning question everybody will want to have
answered by the end of your documentary? Why do we care about this topic
or person? Is anybody presenting an opposing view? Whats the universal
aspect of this story? Whats unique about this story? These and many more
questions like them can guide you in what should be your opening scenes.
In terms of type of footage to make a lasting impression, high on the list is
verit footageor "actuality," as they call it in England; that is, an event or
situation unfolding in real time in front of our eyes. If that option isnt
available because its not the style of your film or the main issue doesnt come
across clearly in a verit scene, a statement from a character or interviewee
would be second best. It has to be a statement worthy of tabloid headlines,
unlike the overused "ID" type"My name is X, Im this many years old, and
this is my story." Those openings, more often than not, get everybody running
for the remote. Go instead for humor, shock, an irreverent statement or
provocative question that defines the issue.
Another option is to start with two contradictory statements from two
different people. That will definitely pique viewers interests.


Tips For A Sizzling Fundraising Trailer

Fundraising Trailer vs. Promo Trailer

A fundraising trailer is different from a promotional or marketing trailer. We've all
seen the compelling trailers in the theaters before watching the feature film. That's
NOT what this is. A fundraising trailer should leave the viewer with the distinct
feeling that there's more to the story that is yet to be discovered. Achieve this by
posing the various questions or mysteries that will be explored in the documentary
and leave your audience intrigued and wanting more.

Planning Your Trailer

A fundraising trailer should not be an after-thought. It should be planned out just
like your documentary with its own budget, script/outline and production schedule.
Three Questions A Fundraising Trailer Should Answer:
1. Why is the film important? (Why Should I Care?)
2. Why this film, why now?
3. Why Will I Want To Watch This Film?

How To Make a Trailer on Zero Budget

It's do-able to create an effective trailer for little to no money using free
footage/photos/music from the internet. A fantastic resource for free archive stock
footage is the Internet Archive ( Another great resource for free photos
is Stock.XCHNG ( For Creative Commons-licensed music, check out
SoundCloud and Free Music Archive. Always check the specific licensing terms for
each item and be sure to give credit where credit is due.

With some creative storytelling techniques, appropriate

pacing and a simple music bed, it's possible to create a
compelling trailer with little to no money.
More than likely your fundraising trailer will be constantly evolving as your project
progresses. Your very first trailer might simply be the director on-camera explaining

Tips For A Sizzling Fundraising Trailer

his or her vision for the film or a compilation of free clips from the internet. At the
very least, use past work to show the caliber of the director's work. You are raising
money for a FILM, so people need to see a film in some form or another.
As new elements become available, the trailer can be updated and revised. This is a
great way to keep your community of supporters engaged. It shows you are making
progress (i.e. builds confidence that money is being used properly) and creates an
opportunity to ask for additional funding as well as an opportunity to ask for
feedback which further engages the donor.
As a side note, make sure you have a good donation system in place before releasing
your trailer (a simple PayPal button on your website will do). There is only one
chance to make that first impression. If people are inspired, you want them to have
the opportunity to donate right then and there.

What About Copyright Issues For A Trailer?

Just like your documentary or any other film project, all elements of your trailer
music, video, graphics, photos, etc. should be cleared with the copyright owner.
Using copyrighted material without permission is almost always illegal and can lead
to expensive lawsuits later. The easiest way to avoid hassle for yourself is to create
all the content yourself or use material that's in the public domain.
If you have any concern or question, speak with an entertainment attorney.

Get Inspired!
A great place to get inspiration for your fundraising trailer is to browse the film
section of Kickstarter and IndieGoGo.


Tips For A Sizzling Fundraising Trailer

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

A trailer for your project is a must if you want to raise money.

Don't confuse your fundraising trailer with a promotional or marketing

trailer. A fundraising trailer should leave the viewer with the distinct feeling
that there's more to the story that is yet to be discovered.

A good trailer raises questions and piques interest in the project.

Your trailer should capture the viewers attention with a hook in the first
thirty seconds.

Recommended Reading:
For more detailed instruction on creating a fundraising trailer,
consider grabbing a copy of renowned Documentary Doctor
Fernanda Rossi's book:
Trailer Mechanics: How To Make Your Documentary Fundraising



What's A Fiscal Sponsor

And Why Do I Need One?
Eighty percent of success is turning up.
~ Woody Allen

When someone wants to give money to your documentary project, who do they
make the check out to? You personally? Your production company? Or is there a
better option?
Unless you're Michael Moore and expecting to make millions in profits from your
documentary, you are more than likely embarking on a non-profit endeavor.
Instead of investment capital (for-profit), you will be
seeking out donations (non-profit). It is preferable to
offer donors the option of a tax deductible donation/gift.
In order for the donor to receive a tax deduction, the gift
must be made in the name of a non-profit 5013
You can either 1) create your own non-profit or 2)
partner with an existing non-profit.
The only time you might want to consider creating your own non-profit is if you
anticipate producing more than two or three documentaries. Otherwise it's
probably not worth the hassle. (You have to create a board of directors, submit
articles of incorporation, submit annual financial statements and sometimes you
have to get permits for fundraising. Application and preparation fees can range from
a few hundred dollars to $1500 depending on the type of non-profit you are creating
and it can take many months for the application to go through.)
My personal recommendation is to find an existing non-profit organization to be
your fiscal sponsor.

What's A Fiscal Sponsor And Why Do I Need One?

What's A Fiscal Sponsor And Why Do I

Need One
A fiscal sponsor is a 501(c)3 registered non-profit organization that agrees to
sponsor or represent your documentary project.
They agree, in a sense, to become the project's parent or guardian. As your fiscal
sponsor they accept and process donations on your behalf and then transfer the
money to you.
It's optimal to have a fiscal sponsor for several key reasons.

Benefits Of A Fiscal Sponsor:

1) By donating to a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization, people who donate to your
project through the fiscal sponsor are able to get a tax deduction for that gift.
2) By partnering with an established and respected organization, it not only
provides instant credibility for your project, it offers peace of mind to
potential donors that their money is being handled properly.
3) The fiscal sponsor processes all the donations whether they come in by
check, online, gift of stock, life insurance, property, etc. This eliminates a
huge hassle for you trying to figure out how to deal with various forms of
payment. They handle receipts, accounting and legal issues.
4) Depending on what organization you choose as your fiscal sponsor, they may
also be able to provide some great perks including fundraising support,
financial advice, feedback on your grant proposals, office space and access to
in-house video production equipment.
5) Since most foundations do not give grant money to individuals, the fiscal
sponsor can receive grant funding on behalf of the documentary project.
As a general rule, fiscal sponsors will charge a 5-8% management fee on all the
donations that come in for your project. That covers staff time to handle all the
paperwork and manage your account. You may even be able to negotiate other


What's A Fiscal Sponsor And Why Do I Need One?

Carol Dean of From The Heart Productions says that as part of her fiscal sponsorship
program, she provides filmmakers financial advice, guidance on fundraising trailers
and help with proposal packages.
Learn more about Carol's sponsorship program here:
Examples of other organizations that specialize in being fiscal sponsors for

The International Documentary Association

Women Making Movies

The Center for Independent Documentary

Southern Documentary Fund

Independent Film Project (IFP)

IMAGE Film and Video Center

How Do I Find A Fiscal Sponsor?

As long as an organization is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization, they can
be a fiscal sponsor. Be picky who you choose. And realize that the smaller the
organization, the easier it will be for you to create a partnership (especially if this is
your first project).
A common strategy for finding a fiscal sponsor is to pinpoint a non-profit that is
aligned with the subject of your documentary. For example, if you are doing a
documentary on the Civil Rights, you might try to find a non-profit that is focused on
Civil Rights issues. With this strategy, the non-profit may or may not charge a
management fee because your documentary will directly support their mission.
The organization can also be a great resource for providing potential leads for
funding within the Civil Rights community.


What's A Fiscal Sponsor And Why Do I Need One?

Tips For Working With A Fiscal Sponsor:

Create a written legal agreement outlining how the partnership will work,
including any fees and exactly how and when the filmmaker/production
company will get paid. View a sample Fiscal Sponsor agreement:

Make sure you're working with someone you trust and who you feel is
genuinely interested in your documentary project and helping you succeed.

Ideally, choose a fiscal sponsor located within driving distance in order to

more easily meet face to face on a regular basis.

Unless you want to negotiate otherwise, make it clear that the filmmaker is
the sole owner of the documentary, not the fiscal sponsor. (This can be very
touchy since the fiscal sponsor may feel they are co-owners, particularly if
they invest significant time and effort in the project. Make sure the
ownership language is clear and in writing.)

Make it clear that the filmmaker holds all creative rights over how the
documentary is put together (assuming that's the agreement you want to

Understand that all agreements will be different and must be a win-win for
both the filmmaker and the fiscal sponsor.

Once all is agreed to, ask the fiscal sponsor to provide a strong letter of
endorsement for your project that you can use to raise funds.


What's A Fiscal Sponsor And Why Do I Need One?

Pre-Nups Between Filmmakers and

Ellen Schneider, former executive producer of PBS's P.O.V., is the founder of an
organization called Active Voice. She recognizes that there are some touchy issues
when it comes to filmmakers and funders. Who owns the rights if I give you
money? Can I see rough cuts of the film?
Schneider says filmmakers and funders MUST have a clear understanding about the
process before a partnership is formed and money exchanges hands. This issue also
applies to fiscal sponsors.
Active Voice created The Prenups and identified three key areas that must be
resolved before a filmmaker and funder should tie the knot:
1) Visions and Expectations: What is each party's background? How's the
chemistry? What are each party's goals? What's the final product(s), and
where will it be shown in order to have the desired impact?
2) Roles and Participation: Who controls the story? What's the process for
giving input during production, and who gives it?
3) Business and Legal: Who owns the film? How will it be distributed? What's
a reasonable budget? How long will it take to make? What about legal
liability? Reporting?

Watch a fun little animated video to better understand the Prenups concept:


What's A Fiscal Sponsor And Why Do I Need One?

Here's a story documented in the Prenups to represent the types of issues that can
A funder and filmmaker started out on what they thought would be a great
relationship. The funder was head of a nonprofit agency with $25,000 to put
toward a documentary film on immigration; the filmmaker was interested in
the issue and had a track record in documentaries.
The filmmaker developed a proposal, and since she always felt like an
independent filmmaker, she expected she would have editorial control. The
parties agreed that the funder would be the fiscal sponsor, or nonprofit
umbrella organization, for the project. All the discussions and agreements at
this point were verbal, says the filmmaker. It all seemed fine.
But when the funder made the project proposal more public than the
filmmaker wanted, an angry exchange followed. The filmmaker recalls the
funder saying that since they had come up with the idea together, they would
have equal say. This came as a shock to the filmmaker, who had assumed that
the funder shared her understanding about the roles of producers, directors
and funders. The funder knew the film would cost far more than $25,000 and
that other contributors would be coming on board.
Much as the two parties tried to find common ground, the funder finally put
his foot down, saying that he would continue only if he had equal editorial
control with the producer/director and full copyright ownership. The
filmmaker walked away from the project and is still negotiating the return of
unused grant dollars, as well as ownership of the existing footage. The
funder was as shocked as we were, she recalls. Early on, there was this
flurry of excitement, and maybe that prevented us from talking about the
practicalities of making this film.
You can learn more about The Prenups for filmmakers & funders and download a
free MatchMaker Guide at:


What's A Fiscal Sponsor And Why Do I Need One?

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

A fiscal sponsor (non-profit organization) can be a huge help in fundraising

and overall business management of your documentary project.

Before moving forward with a fiscal sponsor, make sure both parties are clear
with regards to editorial control and ownership of the film.

Creating a contract or Pre-Nup with the fiscal sponsor helps to ensure both
parties are entering into the agreement with the same expectations and helps
avoids future misunderstandings and conflicts.



Internet 101:

Building A Documentary Website

Don't judge each day by the harvest your reap but the seed you plant.
~ Robert Louis Stevenson

You've learned some great ways to use social media to help build your audience

and base of support. A website is another fantastic fundraising and communication

In this chapter you will learn the basics of creating a website, how a website can help
generate funding and how to build traffic.


Internet 101: Building A Documentary Website

Do You Need A Website?

It depends. Answering this question is really up to each individual filmmaker, their
particular situation and what they are trying to accomplish. Because of the cost and
time involved, many filmmakers run solo with just a Facebook page. (According to
marketing expert Devon Smith, more films have a Facebook page than a website. )
Another option is to create a site within a site as exampled in the documentary
Payback which is hosted on the production company's site.
A filmmaker may also choose to host a page on a distributor's site such as These sites offer a catalog of films usually within a certain
niche such as sports or religion.
If you are trying to raise significant funding and/or you have hopes of selling your
film, you should lean toward having a dedicated web site for your film.
Even just a one page website with your trailer and a donate button is a great start.

Facebook Page vs. Website

The question is not Facebook OR a website. You definitely want a Facebook page no
matter what. The question here is whether you want a Facebook page AND a
website? If your goal is simply to have information somewhere on the internet about
your project, Facebook or a hosted page on someone else's site will do just fine.

Benefits Of A Website:

A website can help establish legitimacy. Since perception can play a key
role in the sale of your film, this is a good reason to have a website.

A website allows you to feature content in ways that social media can't. For
example: a merchandise page/shop, opportunities for the public to upload
their own content to the site and dedicated areas where only the press or
potential funders can download information (for example a pdf of your
budget, copyrighted photos or resumes or your crew).


Internet 101: Building A Documentary Website

Great way to brand your film and create professionalism around your project.
A professional looking and easy-to-navigate website helps build credibility
and illustrates to potential funders that the filmmakers have an eye and
sensibility for what works.
*Word of caution: A sloppy/ugly website can do more damage than good, so if
you decide to build a website, make it worth your effort. As my dad taught
me, anything worth doing is worth doing right!

Allows you to have your fundraising trailer and donate button side by side.
This is VERY important. That way, someone who sees your trailer can
immediately donate and get involved. Grab 'em while they're hot!

Your website is your fundraising and communications headquarters. It helps

keep everything organized and in one place. It's your online business card!

Convenient place to send potential donors. Eliminates the need to send out
your full proposal to individuals through the mail or e-mail. One simple link
and they have everything they need in one place. This also eliminates the
possibility that funders will read an outdated proposal that's been sitting in
their e-mail for weeks or months.

Let's Keep It Simple!

Filmmakers usually don't have the time or money to hassle with a complicated
website. Am I right? They need a simple, easily updatable website with a blog and a
way to gather e-mails. That's it.
The problem is that it's easy to get confused and overwhelmed by the choices.
There are literally hundreds of website builders including Wix, Soholaunch, Weebly,
GoDaddy's WebSite Tonight, Zazavi, Trendy Site Builder, Concrete5 and Drupal
Gardens. Some of them are really cool with some neat features.
Where to start??
You need to ask yourself two questions:
1) Do I just want my website to be an online business card basically a landing
page with my trailer and a donate button that people can only find if I send
them a link?
2) Or do I want a more robust website that will generate organic traffic from
Google and draw potential donors/supporters to my project?


Internet 101: Building A Documentary Website

If you answered #1, this chapter may be a bit overkill for you. Just read what you
need and move on to the next chapters. If you answered #2, let's get started!

Building A Website 101

There are three basic elements that are needed to build a website:
Domain Name
Website/Content Builder
There are plenty of all-in-one website builders that provide all three or you can
piece them together separately. If you are a website newbie, I recommend you keep
things simple.
Instead of listing 10-15 choices and making things even more confusing, I'm
recommending what I think is the best and simplest option: It's
what I use for my documentary website.
Now, you could stop right there and just sign up for a Wordpress blog and you'll be
ready to go in about 2-minutes with a totally free site (as simple as it may be). But if
you want a more professional site, I suggest you take it a few steps further and
register a domain name and sign up for a hosting plan.


Internet 101: Building A Documentary Website

Why Do I Need A Domain Name and

Hosting Account?
Without a registered domain name, your free Wordpress blog's URL will look
something like this: which doesn't look very
And with regard to the hosting, Wordpress is basically letting you borrow their
hosting which has its disadvantages. Since you don't own the site, Wordpress can
basically delete your blog for any reason without notice. Advertising is not allowed
on free Wordpress sites. And finally, the Wordpress and other free hosting plans
often have limited capabilites and can have server issues with extended downtimes.
The bottom line is it's worth a few bucks a month to purchase hosting. You'll have a
lot more flexibility with how your website looks and operates.

Recommended Website Building Tools:

I recommend using for building your site and BlueHost for hosting
(you can also set up your domain name through BlueHost). It is very easy to set up.
Even though these are two separate entities, you simply go to the BlueHost website
and it's a one-click set-up from there.

Why Wordpress?
Wordpress accounts for nearly 25% of all new websites in the world and is currently
the most popular CMS (content management system) in use on the Internet. If you
ever have problems with your site or need help, there's a large base of knowledge
and pool of resources. More than likely your neighbor or colleague has a Wordpress
site and can help you out in a pinch.
Having a Wordpress site allows you to build a website without having to write any
website code or know any website design, so it is ideal for people who know nothing
about building websites.
In addition, Wordpress sites come with a built-in blog function which is convenient
and great for building traffic.


Internet 101: Building A Documentary Website

(*Please note that you'll want to use Wordpress.COM, NOT Wordpress.ORG. It's a bit
complicated to explain, but basically is where webmasters go to
download code for building custom sites. is for regular folks who
just want to build a simple site)

Why BlueHost?
There are thousands of hosting sites. To keep things simple, I decided to choose one
option that I KNOW works great with Wordpress.
BlueHost is the top recommended hosting service for Wordpress and the two are
already linked together for seamless integration. Getting a website up and running
is a snap. Go to the BlueHost website and they take you step by step to set up your
According to web designer Tom Jones, it's possible to have a website up and running
in 4 minutes and he has a video on his website to prove it! You can even register
your domain name through BlueHost which is included as part of your hosting
service (saving you about $35 year).

Wordpress Template option:

Try the Wordpress Filmmaker Theme created by the team at
It's free! There's no technical support, but it's a great product worth checking out.


Internet 101: Building A Documentary Website

Hiring a Web Designer

If you've got some spare change and want your website customized, there are plenty
of talented freelancers who can help you. My friend Indra at Eternalhorizon is a
filmmaker and also builds fantastic websites. CrowdSpring and 99 Designs are
also great options. For as little as $500.00, you can have a basic site up and ready.
Just make sure you have all the content written in advance and any graphical
elements you want to use.
To keep the costs down, have as much as possible created in advance. In fact, if you
have a simple graphics software program (I use Mac's Print Shop Software), try to
create a mock-up of how youd like your website to look. Or at the very least, find
examples of other websites you like that you can show to your web designer to give
them a point of reference. Another idea is to create a wireframe which is a
blueprint of the of the site's content and functionality. See an example of a
wireframe here:


Internet 101: Building A Documentary Website

What To Put On Your Site

Whereas the blog is your news feed, your website is like your portfolio.
A simple 5-10 page website is all you need. This is where you post your trailer
(hopefully you have one), documentary synopsis, crew bios, news stories and a
paypal button for people to donate.
The trailer and donate button (or crowdfunding widget) need to be right there next
to one another, front and center, on the homepage. The Capital C documentary
website above is a great example.

Home page Include your fundraising trailer, donate button and an e-mail

sign-up form. You MUST have a video (this is a film website after all), even if
it's just the director giving a greeting. Also plan in advance if you're willing to
include a spot on your homepage for company logos in exchange for
sponsorship money.

Crew Page Include your film crew and anyone of importance working on

the project. This is a KEY page for donations. People are more willing to
provide financial support a project if there is more than one person on the
crew. And even more important, what are the qualifications of the crew. If
you personally don't have a lot of experience, make sure you recruit others to
be on your team who can fill the experience gap.

About Page Grab attention with your first paragraph. Many people don't

make it past the first 1-2 paragraphs on a web page, so make sure you quickly
summarize your project at the top. You can then provide more details and
background after that. You don't need a dissertation here. In general, the
better your trailer, the less you need on your about page.

News Including links to news stories about your documentary is highly

valuable and a great tool to build credibility for your project (i.e. donations).
News stories don't just happen magically, you'll need to actively seek them

Donate Page include on this page the following items:

-A donate button
-A brief explanation about your Fiscal Sponsor partnership and how it
allows your project to accept tax deductible donations.
-An address for those who want to write a check
-A list of incentives and levels of giving. For example, the producers of

Internet 101: Building A Documentary Website

the documentary Dust Radio are giving away a warm and fuzzy feeling for
a donation of a $1 or more ;), a limited edition guitar pick for $10 and a movie
poster/guitar pick/production pack for $50. You can browse the
documentary section in KickStarter to see what other filmmakers are giving
away for various levels of giving.

Partners This is your thank you page. This is a good place to list any

partnerships you've made with non-profits, companies, funders,

broadcasters, etc. and for company logos. You want to make sure you are
always recognizing and giving thanks to your supporters.

Blog Your blog serves several purposes. You need to have a blog! It not

only helps keep your community of supporters up to date and engaged in

your project, it's a great way to help build traffic to your website. The search
engines LOVE blogs and will pick up on your keywords. So make sure when
you write your blogs to choose keyword rich topics that relate to your film.
Include the keyword in your blog's title and peppered throughout the article.
(Learn more about keywords a few paragraphs below)

Link to Facebook and other social media sites It's amazing how

many filmmakers/webmasters forget to do this. It's so easy to embed a

Facebook widget on your site. Just go to to set up
your widget and get the embed code.

Contact The main recommendation for this page is to use a contact form

(see below) instead of your actual e-mail because spammers will steal your email. Also, your contact page is a great place to ask people to sign-up for your


Internet 101: Building A Documentary Website

Get People To Your Site:

How To Build Traffic (and Awareness)
Just because you have a website doesnt mean people are going to find you and
donate. Youll have to do plenty of work to lead people to your site and get them
to make a donation.
Reports indicate that Google, the world's most-used internet search engine, uses up
to 250 indicators to determine a website's importance and page rank. Google
keeps these indicators top secret in order to keep spammers at bay and retain an
edge over their competitors. Despite the secrecy, there are some common known
ways to make the pages on your website rise to the top in searches. This is called
Search Engine Optimization (SEO). You are optimizing your site to look good to
both Google and human visitors. Below are common ways to optimize your site.


Check out Google Grants for free Google Adwords campaigns to help build
traffic to your website.

Using the right keywords is KEY. If you are using keywords that no one is searching
for or if there's a lot of competition for that keyword (ie travel or food), you will
not build your traffic. In order to rank well in search results, you need to use
keywords/keyword phrases that people are actually searching for and that don't
have a lot of competition. How do you FIND these keywords? There are several free
Keyword search tools including Wordtracker and NicheBot. This one topic could
be the subject of an entire book, so take it step by step and dive as deep as you have
time for.
Essentially, try to write your pages based on keywords around the topic of your
documentary. So if your documentary is about flamingos, make sure you write a
page about pink flamingos, another page about blue flamingos, another about
flamingos in Spain... etc.
A page called today I went to the grocery store may be entertaining to your human
visitors, but it will not draw in new visitors looking for information about flamingos.


Internet 101: Building A Documentary Website

Make sure your page about pink flamingos has that phrase in the URL, in the page
title and peppered throughout the article (not too much otherwise Google thinks
you're trying to trick them)... so maybe once every 1-2 paragraphs. And make sure
Pink Flamingos is a text link somewhere on that page. The idea is that you're
giving Google clues to know what your page is about.
Here's how your primary keyword/phrase should be used when building your page:
KEYWORD PLACEMENT ON A WEB PAGE (to maximize traffic):
In the URL address
Headline/title of the blog
First sentence of the blog article
Placed every 1-2 paragraphs
In the Custom Document Title (the one that will show up in Google
In the Meta/Keywords section
In the Meta Description (shows up on the Google search page)

See example below using the keyword phrase primary keyword.


Internet 101: Building A Documentary Website

Links In
Another important factor that Google considers when ranking your website is how
many links are coming into your site from other sites. Websites are run by people
and Google figures that if a lot of people are pointing to your site then you must have
something good happening at your site. Links from spam sites don't count. In fact,
they could hurt you. Make sure to get good links from legitimate sites. The bigger
the website pointing to you (ie CNN or Yahoo News), the more cred you have with
Google. And you also want links in from websites related to the topic of your

Write a Blog
I've already mentioned the importance of a blog. A blog is a great way to keep your
website active. Dormant websites do not rank well with Google. Search engines are
constantly crawling the web to find new information. Having fresh new content
keeps Google interested in your site. Plus, every page you write is one more chance
for you to rank in the search engines and help people learn about your project.

Guest Articles
Not only is it important to write you own blog, but writing guest blogs/articles for
other sites is a great way to lead visitors to your site and build up your traffic.
There's a huge need for new and original content on the internet and webmasters
will be very glad to hear from you that you want to provide content for their site.
They will gladly provide a link back to your site in exchange for providing them with

Ezine Articles
In addition to writing articles for specific blogs and websites, you can also utilitze
article publishing sites like The key is these are not promotional
articles or commercials for your documentary. Instead, you might write a how-to
article about crowdfunding. Or tips for writing a script. Or ten steps to better health
(if your doc is health related).
The idea is to write a helpful article that teaches people about something and then
there's a plug for you and your film at the bottom. It can be a bit time consuming,
but it's a great way to increase interest and links back to your website.


Internet 101: Building A Documentary Website

Social Media
There is significant overlap between raising awareness for your documentary,
building an audience and building traffic for your website.
Earlier I wrote about ways to utilize social media to get the word out about your
project. Those same tools can be used to lead people back to your website:
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Podcasts and Forums just to name a few.

Build Your E-mail List

One of the best ways to build traffic and a base of support for your film is to start
gathering e-mails and sending out regular e-newsletters. You want to ensure a clear
easy way for people to join your e-mail list from your website.
I recommend using an e-mail marketing company such as Constant Contact, Aweber
or MailChimp. You simply embed an easy little sign-up widget/form on your website
and like magic you can start gathering names!
There's a whole art and science behind building your e-mail list and doing e-mail
campaigns which I discuss a bit later.


Internet 101: Building A Documentary Website

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

As soon as possible, set up a Facebook page for your project to start building
a base of support.

Make sure your website is optimized for the search engines (SEO friendly).
This is how Google and other search engines find your site and rank you.
Make sure each URL on your website includes the main keyword for that
page like this:
You don't want a URL that looks like this: Google can't read that.
Include keywords on your site related to the topic of your film so that if
someone is doing a Google search they can find you. For example, if your
documentary is about toxic waste, make sure you have pages with the
keyword phrase toxic waste.
Include a short 1-4 sentence on your homepage to describe your

The homepage should be kept as simple as possible. Your trailer should be

FRONT and CENTER with a big donate button.

Have a SIGN-UP form prominently on your homepage and throughout your

site for people to sign up for updates.

Having a dedicated website for your project adds legitimacy, more branding
options and the ability to accept donations.

You do not have to be a web designer to create a web page. There are many
free and inexpensive ways to create your own unique web presence.

Building traffic and links-in to your website, although time consuming, are
great ways to generate new supporters and potential donors for your film.




Major Donors | Partnering With

Wealthy Individuals
When we recognize that a better word for fundraising is friend raising, we open
limitless doors to creativity in support of our causes.
~ Sue Vineyard

We've come a long way baby.

Now that you've done all the
prep work and gathered your
fundraising tools, it's time to
start honing in on exactly who
you're going to ask for money
(or rather, who you're going to
build a relationship with!).
This chapter is specifically about how to connect with and solicit wealthy individuals
and people who contribute in some significant way to your project also referred to
as major donors.

What Is A Major Donor?

A major donor is someone who gives a significant contribution, either all at once
or cumulatively over time. There is no simple definition here. Significant is defined
differently from organization to organization and project to project. A major donor
can be a wealthy individual who gives one large donation or a person of modest
means who gives a lot of small donations over time.
In general terms, a major donation is one that has the potential to have a significant
impact on the project, perhaps anything that is at least 5% of the total budget.


Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals

For a documentary with a budget of $100,000, a contribution of $5,000 or more

would be considered a major gift. For a documentary project with a $1-million
budget, a major gift might be defined as anything $50,000 and above.
Whatever the criteria, it is crucial to focus on and develop relationships with those
who are the most likely to donate the largest amounts of money. This is because
statistically 10% of your donors will contribute 80-90% of your funding.

How To Connect With Potential Major Donors

Your Personal Contact List Check your personal list of contacts, your
LinkedIn network, Facebook friends and family connections. Examine any
and every potential connection with people who might be interested in your
project. These will be your strongest links to funding since there is already
an established connection.

Your Local Community Your best prospects for major donations will
be those closest to home. The farther away your donor geographically, the
more challenging to reach and connect with them.

Organizations Find organizations and associations that are tied to the

subject matter of your documentary. For example, if your documentary is

about education, you may learn that your local Rotary Club is a strong
supporter of literacy programs. There may be a few major donors within the
organization who would be interested in learning about and supporting your

Documentary Ending Credits Check the ending credits and websites

of documentaries that have a similar theme to your documentary and look to
see who supported those projects. Past behavior is a strong indication of
future behavior. Anyone willing to donate once to a film project is likely to
donate again (assuming they had a good experience with the first project).

Annual Reports and 990's This a

GOLD mine! Most non-profits will post their

tax returns (Form 990) and annual reports on
their websites. You can often find names of
their largest donors at the end of the annual


Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals

Below is an excerpt from Habitat for Humanity's

Annal Report listing some of their major donors:

Source: Habitat for Humanity's 2011 annual report


Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals

Researching The Donor: Who Are They?

Once you've identified a potential major donor, learn everything you can about them.
This is James Bond 101. The technical term is called prospecting.
First, type the prospect's name into Google and see what comes up. Read
articles theyve written, learn their family history, what causes they support,
community or civic activities, etc.
Network with the prospect's friends and colleagues. This can produce
valuable insights and may even lead to an introduction.
Research websites that specialize in collecting personal data. (Don't worry,
everything listed below is perfectly legal and common practice in the
fundraising world. It just feels awkward if you've never done it before!) The
following sites and resources are recommended by The Foundation Center:
Marquis | Who's Who's on the Web
Biographies of leaders and achievers from around the world. Check
your nearest Foundation Center library for free access to this
Philanthropy News Digest (PND) | Foundation Center
Publishes news, RFPs and notices of awards. Keyword searchable back
to 1995 to find media coverage of individual and institutional donors
and their gifts. Updated daily.
Portico | University of Virginia
Collection of sites used by the university's prospect researchers.
Includes sections on biographical information, corporate information,
asset location and evaluation, public records, occupations, and
OpenSecrets (formerly The Center for Responsive Politics) is a
nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based research group that tracks money
in politics, and its effect on elections and public policy. The Web site
offers a searchable database of political donors, campaign
contributions, news and analysis, and donations to PACs.


Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals

What Is The Donor's Giving Potential?

This step can be somewhat challenging since individuals are not required to publicly
disclose their financial and philanthropic activities. The good news is that there are
research tools available.
Can a potential donor give $1000, $100,000 or $1-million? This is critical
One filmmaker learned about a donor that routinely gave donations of $4,000.
When it came time to ask for a donation, she requested $4,000 and got it! What if
she hadn't done her research and only asked for $1,000 or even worse, asked for
$50,000? If you ask the person for too little, you've lost an opportunity for a larger
donation. If you ask for too much, you risk alienating and embarrassing the donor
(and yourself!).

How do you figure out how much a person can give?

If the prospect is a major donor for a non-profit, look up the organization's
annual report to see the person's level of giving.
Ask their friends and acquaintances what would be an appropriate amount to
ask for and the best way to approach them.
Research websites that specialize in gathering financial and other personal
information such as a person's net worth and their ability to give. (According
to NP Action, the typical major donor request is approximately one percent
of a person's net worth).
WealthEngine | Prospect Research Technology
WealthEngine is a web-based research tool which yields information
on individuals, non-profits, foundations and companies.
DonorSearch is a prospect research tool providing information on
donor giving history and assets.
International Donor Research Resources
A volunteer-created and maintained list of sources for finding
information on international donors, foundations, and corporations.


Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals

Tip! These type of sites generally charge fees, so check with your local Foundation

Center libraries for free access these databases. To view a map and list of locations:

Qualifying A Major Donor

Just because someone has a lot of money does not mean they should necessarily be
pursued for a donation. Everyone in town is probably asking them for money! Bill
Gates has a lot of money, but does that mean he's the right fit for your project?
Before approaching someone, ask these questions:

Do they have a passion for documentaries and/or the cause your

documentary is about?

Do they already have some kind of natural connection to your project either
to you personally or to the subject?

Do they have a capacity to give a large donation? Have they given similar
donations in the past?

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, you have a potential prospect!
Do not ask an individual for money until you know what they are capable of giving,
you have established a relationship and are SURE your project is a good fit for them.

It is a good idea to focus on the potential of individuals that

are closest to your organization and its mission rather than
approaching wealthy public figures. Most celebrities are
inundated with requests for money, and they may have no
connection to your nonprofits mission or location.
~ Grant Space, The Foundation Center


Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals

Contacting A Major Donor For The First Time:

First Contact: An introduction from a trusted mutual friend is ideal. Do

you know someone who knows someone? If there is no personal connection,

send a personable letter/e-mail of introduction explaining who you are and a
little about your project. Give them enough, but not too much. You may even
want to ask the person to join your board or advisory group.
The goal is to pique their interest. Dont send them your full documentary
proposal right off the bat. Get them to request the information. If they request
it, they will be much more likely to pay attention and read it once you send it.
Let them know in the letter that you will be calling them in a few days to
gauge their interest, answer any questions and/or to set up a one-on-one
You will probably run into a secretary or gate-keeper. If you do, be friendly
and explain that you're following up on a letter you sent and just need 3minutes of their bosses time.

Listen: When you talk one-on-one with the potential donor the first time,

give a brief introduction and then LISTEN!!! Keep the focus on them. Figure
out if they are a good match for your project first before fully pitching them
your project. Figure out THEIR needs, values and interests. Understand what
might motivate them to support you. For example, a business owner may be
more interested in tax breaks whereas a high flyer socialite may like the
recognition of being involved with a film project.

Tip! Don't ask for money too soon! Make sure your project is the right fit
for the donor first.

Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals

Ask for advice: Another great approach with potential major donors is to

ask for advice. There's a saying in the fundraising industry: If you ask for
money you get advice. If you ask for advice you get money. Someone with
wealth is probably in that position because they have skill, connections,
wisdom and experience. Make sure you listen and take notes. Even if they
don't donate, they could provide you with some valuable insights you had not
thought of or an introduction to other potential donors.

Be flexible: You may have initially contacted someone with the hopes they
would donate to your project, but be open to other ways the person can
provide value. For example, they could act as an advisor to your project, host
a fundraising event or simply guide you to other sources of funding. And you
never know, the more engaged they become and the more confidence they
have in the project, they may decide to donate later on.

Follow-up: During that conversation, ask them if theyd like for you to send
them the project's full proposal and the trailer (hopefully you have one). If
they say they want to see more, follow up promptly. This is your first
opportunity to start building your credibility.

Make sure you have everything ready to send before you call or
contact them (budget, proposal, treatment, trailer, etc). If you
fail to follow up properly just ONCE, you begin to plant seeds of
doubt in the mind of the donor and they will lose trust in your
ability to handle their funds properly.
Every donor will be different. Once you initiate contact, you
will simply need to continue following up as needed. The idea
is to keep the momentum going. Do everything you can to
keep the line of communication open. As long as the individual
continues to show interest and ask for information, continue to
follow up.
Be persistent, but dont stalk. This is a fine line. Once you have
made contact say 2-3 times and you continue to get silence, let
it go and move on to the next potential donor. But as long as
the person is engaged, stay with them. Only you can feel
when the time is right to ask for a donation.

Tip! During your first visit with the potential donor, take some materials with you,
but don't bring everything. Save something that gives you an excuse to follow up.

Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals

Fundraising Expert Tip | Have Patience:

Most major givers to non-profits dont make on the spot decisions to support
the charities they do. Major donors generally like to get involved slowly,
learning more about the organization as they go along, getting involved in
programs, events, and advisory roles, and then start with small gifts and
work their way up to bigger gifts. In short, these donors like to make good
decisions about whom they support.
What does this mean for your organization? It means you have to be
prepared to wait. Youll need to answer prospects questions, call them to
touch base, invite them to events, take them to lunch, and ask for their
advice all before asking for a major gift. Major donors like to make good
decisions you'll need to take the time to prove to them that your non-profit
is a good decision, and a good place for their hard earned dollars to find a

Joe Garecht,


Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals

Building Relationships (Most Important!)

People donate to people they know and trust. So take the time to build
relationships. And don't think of a major donor as a one-time gift opportunity.
During a recent filmmaking seminar, documentary filmmaker Jilann Spitzmiller
talked about the importance of relationships and building trust:
One woman gave us $1,000 for the very first thing we did an advocacy video
for native elders. We don't even know how this lady found us. We kept the list of
everyone who gave us funding for that project and hit them up again for our
Homeland doc. That same woman ended up giving us $20,000 and then gave
us $10,000 for another documentary. She was an angel and you want to
nurture those relationships. Keep people in the loop.. it makes them feel
Even if someone donates $20 to
your project, stay in touch with
them because your best source
of funding is from those who
have already donated. Even a
small $20 at the beginning of
your project could become
$1,000 or more! So treat every
donation as a major gift, thank
everyone and stay in touch.
If people understand at your
core what you're trying to do, if
they feel invested -- first with
their time and energy -- they want to see you succeed and will support you however
they can. If they like you, if they believe in your sincerity and ability to make the
project happen, you can win their support. It just takes time.
You simply cant turn the big-money faucet on and off at will. Nobody gets in
the shower and then turns the water on. The water is turned on first and we
wait for it to warm up before we get under it. Soliciting major gifts is the same.
If, out of the blue, you ask someone for a large gift simply because that person is
capable of making one, the response youll get is likely to be about as warm as
the water that first flows out of a shower head. We need to warm up major
donors before we can expect the dollars to flow.
~ Tony Poderis, Fundraising Consultant

Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals

Friendships are not created overnight. Think of your best friends.. how long did
those relationships take?
There needs to be a genuine connection with the donor. Sometimes this can take
years. Think of your donors as partners and friends (not ATM machines). These are
human beings with their own struggles empathize with them, try to understand
who they are and communicate with them.. not just about your project but asking
about THEIR lives. Send them a birthday card or congrats if a child gets married..
pay attention! Little gestures like that go a LONG way.

Major donors rarely just show up and write a check.

Major donor fundraising takes time, patience, and a game plan.
~ Joe Garecht

Making The Ask

Making the actual ask for money can be totally nerve-wracking. Have you ever
planned to ask someone for money and then chickened out? This is why so many
filmmakers prefer the idea of grants. At least that way, you just write a nice
proposal, send it off in the mail and hope for the best!
With major donors, you literally have to look the person in the eye and ask for
money. This is tough to do, but statistically is much more effective than grants.

Tip! If you don't ask, you don't receive!

Here are some tips from fundraising consultant Marc Pitman of on making the ask. These tips are adapted from his book
Ask Without Fear (highly recommended).
Getting together with a donor doesnt qualify as an ask unless they're asked
for a gift of a specific dollar amount. A vague, Would you consider giving to
our cause doesnt do it. The donor has no idea what youre asking for. They
may end up giving $25 and think theyre doing you a favor when you'd been
anticipating a gift of $25,000.


Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals

When making an appointment with the donor, assuming you've already

developed a relationship, give them the courtesy of letting them know you
will be asking for a donation. Say something like While were together, Id
really like to talk about your involvement with my documentary project. You
could even say something as specific as, I'm going to be in your area and
would love to get together so I can show you the progress we're making on
the documentary and how you can be involved in the next phase of filming.
Bring a prop to the meeting to diffuse the uncomfortableness of asking for a
donation. The best prop is your fundraising trailer. You could also bring
some clips of raw footage you've just shot or some photographs of a location
where you need funding to shoot. Or if you are trying to raise money to shoot
a reenactment scene that will cost $30,000, show the potential donor a
similar type of reenactment from another documentary to illustrate what
youre trying to accomplish. All of a sudden, with a prop, the solicitation is no
longer you against them. Instead, youre both focusing on the same thing.
Ask for a specific amount of money for a specific purpose. If you need
$30,000 to shoot the re-enactment scene, bring to the meeting your
storyboards, photos of potential actors, location photos, etc. Showing a donor
exactly what their money is going toward is much more powerful than just a
general ask such as, Can you give $30,000 to my documentary?
One important note: dont use the prop as a substitute for asking. A danger
with great props is youll succumb to the temptation of just popping them in
the mail with a personal note. Would YOU make a large donation with a
solicitation you got in the mail? Probably not. Get on the phone, set up the
solicitation appointment and bring the prop with you. Youll be glad you did!
It's important to practice your ask in advance. Marc says one of the best
phrases to practice is: Id like to ask you to consider a gift of $25,000 for the
documentary project.
As soon as you make the ask, BE QUITE. People need time to process the
request. And if they have any objections to the request, its always good to be
prepared with an affirming response. You might respond with a phrase like, I
can appreciate that and let the silence fill the air. Watch what happens.
Sometimes people just need to hear themselves explain why a gift is so
important. Its hard to be quiet at times like this but its crucial.


Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals

Think about any potential objections in advance and how you can help the
donor work through them. For example, if they're concerned about coming
up with the full amount all at once, a $1,000 donation could be turned into
This final tip is from fundraising expert Doug Lawson. Instead of a one-onone meeting, invite 2-5 potential major donors together in a room and show
them the trailer as a group. Provide an overview of the project, explain how
much is needed and ask for their support. If you can have a respected peer of
theirs in the room the make the ask on your behalf, even better. It carries
more weight and takes that uncomfortable moment away from you.

Fundraising Idea! Matching Campaign

One way to engage a major donor is to invite them to use their
donation as part of a MATCHING campaign.
Here's how it works.
A major donor agrees to donate UP TO a certain amount of money if it
is matched by other donors. Say a major donor is willing to give
$5,000 to your project. If a random supporter gives $20, the major
donor would also give $20. If someone else donated $500, the major
donor would also give $500.
Once enough people have donated to reach $5,000, the major donor
would give their promised $5,000 for a total of $10,000. So people feel
their donation is being doubled! And it also creates that important
crisis element which is so effective in fundraising. (If we don't
reach the matching donation amount we'll lose it!)


Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals

Donor Levels
Not every donor will want something in return for their donation. If they are giving
away $25,000, they probably have enough money to buy anything they need. But
you want to be ready with a list of perks and incentives for each level of giving just in
case. (Perks for smaller donation levels $25, $50, $100, etc. are listed in the
crowdfunding chapter)
Major Donor/Sponsorship Levels might look something like this:
$5,000 Donor Level Red Carpet Sponsor
*A thank you in the credits and recognition on the film's website
*Signed Limited Edition DVD, t-shirt and poster
*Two complimentary tickets to opening premiere of film
$10,000 Donor Level Silver Sponsor
*A PRODUCER credit at the end of the film and recognition in all
publicity materials.
*Five signed Limited Edition DVDs of the finished film, plus the
director will come to your local theater to screen/discuss the film.
*Two complimentary tickets to opening premiere of film, plus dinner
with the filmmakers
$25,000 Donor Level Gold Sponsor
*PRODUCER credit on the completed film
*Name/logo shown at the beginning and end on the PBS Broadcast
*Box of ten Limited Edition signed DVDs of the finished film, plus the
director will come to your local theater or venue of your choice and
screen and discuss the film.
*Two complimentary VIP tickets to opening premiere of film, plus
dinner with the filmmakers
$50,000 Donor Level Premiere Sponsor
*EXECUTIVE PRODUCER credit on the completed film
*Name/logo shown at the beginning and end on the PBS Broadcast
*Box of twenty-five signed Limited Edition DVDs of the finished film,
plus the director will come to your local theater and screen/discuss
the film
*Two complimentary VIP tickets to opening premiere of film, plus
dinner with the filmmakers


Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals

Handling Major Donors

Whereas a company sponsor will usually be concerned about getting something in
return for their donation such as publicity and promotion, this is usually not a big
concern for individuals. Some will give quietly while others will expect and
appreciate more. Don't be afraid to ask them directly how you can thank them for
their gift.

At the very minimum, make a phone call and thank them, then follow-up with
a heart-felt thank you note.

Send the donor regular updates about the project and how their money is
being used. Even if they don't ask for this, DO IT.

Resist the urge to buy an expensive thank you gift for the donor. They will
interpret that as a sign you are misusing the funds. Instead, a much better
gift is to show them how their money is being used and keeping them

Treat major donors as partners. Give them special recognition whenever

possible (unless they explicitly request otherwise). Create a press release
announcing their gift, list their name on your website, send them special VIP
invitations to events, announce their gift in your e-newsletter, send them a
first release draft cut of the film for their feedback, send them a dozen free
DVDs when the film is completed to hand out to their friends, etc.

Fund-raising is hard work, but I also believe fund-raising is

sacred work. It offers a powerful and privileged
opportunity to be in intimate conversation with another
person about the nature of his or her highest commitments
and values.
~ Lynn Twist, Author of Soul of Money


Major Donors | Partnering With Wealthy Individuals

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

A major donor is someone who gives a significant donation.

Don't cold call a major donor and ask them for a big donation. Build a
relationship first!

When first contacting a potential major donor, you simply want to pique their
curiosity. The idea you want to convey is: I don't want anything from you
other than some quick advice.. do you have five minutes?

No two donors are the same. Make sure you know why the donor is a good fit
for your project and how much they are capable of giving before making the

Major donors want to hear from someone who's making things happen... not
wasting their time. They want to know you already have support and its not
up to them to make or break your project. Communicate your desire to be a

Use each success to build on the next. Start with the low-hanging fruit
(friends, family, colleagues) and build your team from there.. Don't just go by
yourself to the biggest player in town without first gathering your core
support. Show these big players you are serious and already have X,Y,Z in

When you're ready to make the ask for money from a potential major donor,
don't just send a letter and a packet with your proposal. You won't get a
donation that way! You must talk with the person face to face and make the
ask directly.

Remember, it's not about you or the documentary. It's about helping the
donor define their values and commitments.



Mega Millions:
Grants and Foundations
Donors don't give to institutions.
They invest in ideas and people in whom they believe.
~ G.T. Smith

There are literally tens of millions of

dollars worth of grants available for

documentaries and media arts projects.
The Ford Foundation alone launched an
initiative called JustFilms that will grant
$50-million over five years for social issue
It's almost a cruel joke for filmmakers.
Funding is out there, yet it's like breaking into Fort Knox to get it! But take heart, it
IS possible. You just have to know how the system works, where to look and how to
get in.

Where Do You Find Documentary Grants?

Basically, grants are divided up into three categories in United States:

Federal Government Grants

State and Local Humanities and Arts Councils

Private Foundations


Mega Millions: Grants and Foundations

I. Federal Government Grants - The three biggies in this category include the
National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and
the National Science Foundation. These grants can range from $50,000 - $350,000
or more. Beware. These are very complex and difficult grants to get. No amateurs
here. While these grants can sometimes fund the bulk of a documentary budget,
they are extremely difficult grants to get without a track record and, in some cases,
require the equivalent of a graduate dissertation to fill out the grant materials,
according to Docs in Progress.

II. State and Local Humanities and Arts Councils These are smaller

grants, usually ranging between $1,000 - $10,000. These grants can be easier to get,
especially if the subject of your documentary has a local connection. Don't discount
these small grants. They can help establish your credibility and lead to additional

III. Private Foundations There are tens of thousands of foundations

registered with The Foundation Center. They range from the small mom & pop
family foundations to the mega big ones such as The Ford Foundation and the John
D. and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation. They each support their own pet
projects so you'll need to carefully vet each organization to find the ones that are the
right match for your film. Some of the smaller family foundations are not listed with
the Foundation Center and can be found at

Tip! Don't be dissuaded if a foundation says they don't fund media projects. If the
foundation's mission is a great fit for your project and they like your pitch, they may
be willing to make an exception if they believe your film will provide significant
visibility to their cause.

What Is The Foundation Center

The Foundation Center is a 5013 non-profit organization that maintains a
database of nearly 100,000 foundations, corporate donors, and grant-making public
charities in the U.S. You can find out who is receiving funding and why.
The Center has five learning centers across the United States. You can literally go
into their online database and do a search for film and environment (or any
keywords/themes related to your doc) and pull up all the foundations that have
supported films relating to that topic.
It's a phenomenal resource. You can see exactly what kinds of projects foundations
support, who they've funded in the past and exactly how much money was given to

Mega Millions: Grants and Foundations

whom. You can look up contact information, proposal guidelines, tax information
and deadlines.

FORM 990 As mentioned in the previous chapter, this is a deceivingly mundane
term for a GOLD mine of information. All non-profit organizations are required by
the US Government to fill out an IRS Form 990. This is where you'll find some juicy
top secret information including salaries and grant recipients.

So where do you find these forms? The Foundation Center has an amazing database
listing nearly 100,000 grantmakers and more than 900,000 grants. To find a
particular organization, go to the Foundation Finder at
Here's an example of the type of information you can find on a foundation's Form
990. Below is a list of organizations that received funding from the Amos Family


Mega Millions: Grants and Foundations

In addition to the huge database, The Foundation Center also provides gobs of free
training resources, webinars, podcasts and articles (including a tutorial on how to
read the 990 Forms).
You could spend a lifetime going through their resource library.
They have an entire section just for film and video fundraising which is worth

Benefits Of A Documentary Film Grant:

This money is a gift, so you do not have the burden of paying the money
Grants often come in larger amounts of money, so it eliminates fundraising
in small increments
Provides a boost of publicity when the grant is announced
Provides credibility for your project.

Disadvantages Of A Documentary Film

Time consuming to research each grant to find the ones that match your
niche or topic
Time consuming to fill out the paperwork
Wait times to hear grant results can be excruciating and may not fit into
your timeline or may require adjustment to the planned timeline.
High level of competition, so the more experienced filmmakers will often
win out


Mega Millions: Grants and Foundations

Narrowing Down Your List of Grants

*For a list of documentary film grants, see the 100 Top Film Funders document that
came free with this book. You can also find a sample list of documentary film grants
in the resources section at the end of this book.
I once read that a person's greatest strength is also their greatest weakness. That's
certainly true with grants and foundations. There are so many out there, so many
choices, that it's hard to know where to start!
I say, start with the low hanging fruit. Start with who and what you know!
This how I got my very first grant of $25,000. Somehow in the process of making my
documentary I got connected with a religion professor who loved my project and he
suggested a foundation that he thought might be a good fit for my project. I called
the foundation and poured my heart out. They requested a short proposal. Within a
few short weeks, I received a $25,000 check! Granted, I'd already shot dozens of
interviews, completed hundreds of hours of research and edited a sample reel. Plus
I had a track record of professional work. But that personal recommendation
catapulted the process. If I had just sent that foundation a proposal COLD as part of
their regular grant process, only the heavens know if my project would have been
So the lesson here is ask anyone and everyone you know for suggestions and advice
on how to find grant money.
1) Ask friends, family, colleagues, friends of friends.. (anyone!) if they have any
connections to foundations or grant money. A personal in to a foundation is
ALWAYS better than sending a proposal cold.
2) Ask non-profits or other organizations that have a connection in some way to
your documentary if they can recommend any foundations or grants. If so,
ask them if they have a personal connection to someone within the grant
agency that they can introduce you to. Every grant organization has its own
politics and biases and, if at all possible, you want someone from the inside
to give you advice on the best way to go about getting money from them.
*As a side note, keep in mind that people who work at non-profits tend to be
very protective of their donor base which they have worked years to
establish. So you want to be very careful to make them feel that you are not
competing for their dollars. You want them to understand your documentary
will SUPPORT them in their fundraising efforts, not take money away.

Mega Millions: Grants and Foundations

3) Go to your local or state arts and humanities councils. The next best thing to
a personal recommendation is a local connection.
4) Watch documentaries that have similar themes to your film and watch the
credits. See who funded those documentaries. That tells you right away that
those organizations are open to funding films.
5) Search the Foundation Center database. Type in your keywords such as
film environment Utah and try to come up with an initial list of maybe
40-50 foundations that seem like a potential fit for your documentary. At that
point, scan the guidelines of each grant and narrow your options to maybe
10-15 foundations that seem to have the strongest, most compelling fit with
your project. STUDY the guidelines, take notes of any questions that pop into
your head and then look up the main contact for the grant. The idea here is
that you are looking to make a HUMAN connection with someone at the
agency and start the process of letting them know you exist so that when the
time comes for them to look over your application, you're not a random
With questions in hand, call the person and tell them who you are. You might
say something like: Hi, my name is Jane Smith and I'm a documentary
filmmaker. I've been reading through the guidelines of your grant and I have
just a few quick questions. Are you the right person to speak to? If they say
yes, continue with your questions and DON'T TAKE A LOT OF THEIR TIME.
The goal is simply to open that line of communication and begin the
relationship. Your last question should be Do you have any additional advice
for me regarding this grant? or Any suggestions where I might seek
funding? Once the call is over, send them a brief and friendly thank you email.

Tips For Searching For Grants:

The number one complaint from grant organizations is that filmmakers don't
read the guidelines for the grant. If the grant asks for a one page proposal,
send a one page proposal. If they ask for a short (2-10 minute) demo reel,
send a short demo reel (not an hour's worth of raw footage!).
If you dread the process of researching and sorting through hundreds of
grants, see if you can find an intern to help. Or even a librarian may be
willing to help you in exchange for a credit in your film (thanks to Carol Dean
for that tip!).


Mega Millions: Grants and Foundations

Grant Decisions Are Subjective And Political

When you look at a list of foundations and grants there may be the tendency to think
everything is nice and tidy with these organizations and that if you just follow the
rules, and do everything they say, you'll get the grant. But it simply doesn't work that
way. There is always the human element.
Grants are awarded by an individual or a committee. They each bring with them
their own biases and personalities. This is why it's important to talk to a real
person before applying for a grant. You want to understand the culture of the grant
organization and the type of people who will be reading your proposal. The more
you can understand your audience, the better you can craft your proposal so that it
resonates with the decision makers.

A rejection is nothing more than a necessary

step in the pursuit of success.
~ Bo Bennett

Get Feedback / Learn From Your

Mistakes / Try and Try Again
If you are rejected for a grant, take heart! It is a normal part of the process. One
filmmaker I know applied for an ITVS (Independent Television Service) grant FOUR
times before she finally got accepted for funding.
Please be kind and gracious to the agency if you get turned down. Whatever you do,
do not get upset or angry. This will only make the agency reluctant to support you if
you apply again in the future. You may have heard the saying that you learn more
about the character of a person when things are going wrong than when they are
going right. Show these funders what you're made of. There are many reasons why
your project may have been turned down, so don't take the rejection personally.


Mega Millions: Grants and Foundations

Many agencies will provide feedback about why your proposal was rejected if you
request it. It's perfectly okay to request a one-on-one consultation either in person
or by phone or at least a letter outlining ways you can improve your proposal for
next time. After all, you spent a lot of time putting together the proposal. You owe it
to yourself to find out where you went wrong. Be humble, kind, gracious and open to
suggestions. Refine your pitch and try, try again!


It's worth mentioning ITVS and PBS here.
The Independent Television Service (ITVS) is a major funder for documentaries, but
it's not technically a grant. Whereas a grant is a free and clear gift, ITVS funding
comes with strings attached. They actually become a partner in the project and get a
percentage of any revenue the documentary makes.
For example, if they provide 50% of the funding for your film, they receive 25% of
the revenue. They also ask for exclusive U.S. broadcast rights. Often, ITVS funded
documentaries will showcase on PBS's Independent Lens series. Even though you
give up some of your rights, ITVS is great deal for filmmakers because they provide a
full staff of support to make sure your film gets finished and distributed. ITVS seeks
out promising filmmakers who want to be professionals, so it's a great entry point if
you're just getting started in documentaries.
To learn more about the ITVS application process, visit
PBS funding tends to be reserved for high-end experienced filmmakers and for
series programming. Read their funding guidelines carefully to make sure your
project is the right fit before applying for funding. Usually, PBS requires a finished,
fully funded film. That's what I did with my documentary Briars in the Cotton
Patch. It was accepted by PBS-Plus and was distributed via satellite directly to all
the independent PBS stations.
**Very important fundraising note. If you anticipate your documentary getting
picked up by PBS, they have very strict policies regarding who can provide funding
for your film. They want no conflict of interest. For example, if your documentary is
about Jane Doe, you cannot accept money from Jane Doe. So when you submit your
film to PBS they want to see a list of your funders to make sure the content was not
influenced by the funding sources.

Mega Millions: Grants and Foundations

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

Applying for grant funding can be a long and tedious process, but can pay off
with patience and persistence.

Although it's possible to acquire all the funding you'll need to complete your
project through one grant, more than likely grant funding will be one piece of
your fundraising puzzle.

When applying for a grant, make a human connection with the grant's

There are tens of thousands of grants. Seek out the grants and organizations
most closely aligned with your project.

If you are rejected for a grant, it doesn't necessarily mean your project is not
worthwhile. Get feedback and keep trying!



Reaching The Masses:

Crowdfunding Campaigns
People give money to an idea they are passionate about or a story that is too
compelling to ignore. Your pitch should be one, or both, of these things.
~ IndieGoGo

Ready for some cash? Crowdfunding is one of the best ways for documentary
filmmakers to raise money for their projects.

What Is Crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is a term used to describe an online fundraising effort that engages
numerous individuals a crowd to each pitch in a small donation to fund a larger
effort. For example, 100 people might each donate $100 which adds up to $10,000.
A signature feature of crowdfunding campaigns is the rewards system. Contributors
receive something tangible for their donation. Various gifts or perks are offered at
different funding levels.


Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

Crowdfunding For Filmmakers

Since most documentary filmmakers work independently without the backing of a
studio, and because grants can be tough to get, crowdfunding has become a popular
choice for many doc producers. Its a great way to not only launch a fundraising
effort, but also to test the viability of a documentary idea.
Crowdfunding for documentary filmmakers has become synonymous with sites like
IndieGogo and KickStarter but you can certainly conduct your own crowd funding
campaign on your own website and/or through social networking sites like
Facebook and Twitter.

KickStarter, and platforms like it, are modern, democratic

forms of arts patronage where people donate money to get
art made.
~ Jennifer Fox, Documentary Filmmaker
Examples of crowdfunding campaigns on IndieGogo:


Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

How Crowdfunding Works | Tips for Success

1. DOCUMENTARY TRAILER: Create a trailer for your documentary this step
should not be skipped!!! According to IndieGoGo, campaigns with videos raise
122% more money than those without.
2. FUNDRAISING PAGE: Set up a special fundraising page on your own website
or go through an existing online fundraising system such as IndieGoGo or
KickStarter. Your fundraising page will include a compelling pitch for your
film, your trailer and a donate button.
3. SET A GOAL: Set a specific fundraising goal for a specific purpose (example,
set a goal to raise $10,000 to jump start your documentary project and shoot
your first 10 interviews).
4. SET A DEADLINE: People want to know theres an end in sight and a deadline
creates pressure and urgency to donate.
5. CREATE INCENTIVES: Come up with creative gifts or perks for your
donors such as a VIP pass to your documentary premiere, signed movie
posters, directors cut DVD, a credit in your film, etc.
6. GET THE WORD OUT: Send out a blast e-mail to anyone you can think of
announcing the campaign. Post the campaign on your Facebook and Twitter
feeds, yours and others blogs, relevant websites, send press releases,
basically shout from the mountain top about your campaign.
7. SEND UPDATES: According to IndieGoGo, campaigns that send 11 or more
updates raise 137% more money than those that dont. They recommend
sending one e-mail update per week to fans and supporters throughout the
8. FOLLOW-UP! Once your campaign is done, make sure to send everyone an
update and a big thanks to those who contributed. And make sure to followup with the promised gifts. (Tip! Not following up will do serious damage to
your credibility and will hurt any future campaigns) So send plenty of thank
you's and updates... they'll love you for it!


Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

KickStarter Vs. IndieGogo

Since KickStarter and IndieGogo are two of the most popular crowdfunding sites for
filmmakers let's see how they compare.
KickStarter (All-Or-Nothing): This is a deadline, crises-centered, model of
fundraising where you only get to keep the funds raised if you meet your
fundraising goal. Thats right, all the money pledged for your film is given
BACK if the goal is not reached. This aspect of KickStarter makes a lot of
filmmakers nervous. But its one of the factors that make this model so
compelling and effective.
IndieGoGo (Keep It All): With this fundraising model, whether or not you
reach your goal, you keep all cash raised during the campaign. The maximum
length for a campaign on IndieGogo is 120 days, although they recommend a
60 70 day campaign. This is a safer crowdfunding model and you get paid as
soon as the donations come in.
Both models of crowdfunding can be very successful. The best choice comes down
to what you personally feel comfortable with and the nature of each project.
A sense of urgency is key to a crowd-funding campaign, says documentary
filmmaker Katherine Nolfi. Kickstarters all or nothing policy certainly helps dial up
the pressure. This can be difficult though when facing a big ask. If you are tight for
time, IndieGoGos delivery of PayPal money as it is donated can also be valuable.
I tend to favor the All-Or-Nothing (KickStarter) model for two primary reasons:
Creates a Crisis The potential of getting so close to the goal and then
losing it all will often compel more people to donate. A crisis creates emotion
and excitement and provides an added incentive to get people moving.
More Compelling for Donor - It provides supporters the peace of mind that
their money wont be wasted on a project that never gets made (or gets made
poorly) because it didnt get enough funding. People like to know they are
part of something successful!
Of course, the downside of the All-Or-Nothing campaign is that you could lose it all.
Plus, its really hard to go back to the same people and ask them to donate again to a
project that seems like a loser. The KEY here is to create a goal that you feel sure
you can meet because you dont want to lose that funding. One idea is to have an
angel investor in the wings ready to donate a large amount at the last minute if it
looks like you might not meet your goal. Keep in mind that KickStarter and
IndieGoGo keep a percentage of the funds you raise (see below), so plan for that in
your budgeting.

Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

Two Popular Crowdfunding Sites



All or Nothing
Funding Model

Keep It all
Funding Model

5% Service Fee
(if project is successful)

4% Service Fee if goal is reached

9% fee if goal is not reached

Payment Fee: 3-5%

Payment Fee: 3%

Total Fees: 8-10%

Total Fees: 7-12%

Payment Method:

Payment Method:
PayPal/Credit Card

International Projects? No

International Projects? Yes

Creative Projects Only

(Entertainment, Publishing, Tech)

Most Projects Accepted

Campaigns can last up

to 60 days, although they
recommend limiting campaigns to
30 days or less.

The maximum length for a

campaign is 120 days, although
they recommend a 60 70 day

Funds are processed and

distributed at the end of the
campaign, usually within a few

Donations made through PayPal

are available immediately.
Donations made through credit
card are distributed at the end of
the campaign.


Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

Crowdfunding Perks
Perks are gifts, rewards, incentives, and gestures of thanks that you can create to
help give possible funders incentives to fund your campaign.
Examples of perks include a signed DVD, T-shirt, VIP tickets to documentary
premiere, a producer credit, dinner for six prepared by film crew, private showing of
first rough cut, donated case of award-winning wine, etc.

Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

The Science of Perks

According to IndieGogo, 70% of the campaigns on their site that hit their fundraising
goal offer 3-8 perks.

Source: IndieGoGo Blog 2011

A very effective strategy is to tie in rewards/perks with the subject of the film. For
example, if your documentary is about a famous musician, give away a music CD
from the artist. And make sure you can easily follow-through with delivering the
gifts and that they're not too expensive.
According to IndieGoGo, creating the right amount of perk options, at the different
contribution amounts, is one of the most important steps to creating a great
campaign. Of course, don't assume that just because you offer 3-8 perks you will
have a successful campaign. Success is dependent on a variety of factors including
your ideas, creativity and hard work... and of course a great story pitch.


Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

Setting Prices for Gifts and Perks

There is no exact science here. A key factor in a projects potential success is how its
rewards are priced. Here's a section from Kickstarter's blog:
We champion exchanges that are a mix of commerce and patronage, and the
numbers bear this out. To date the median pledge is $25. Small amounts are
where its at: 83% of successfully funded projects have a reward priced at
less than $20. Its not about hunting whales, its about amassing support.
There's a fantastic report from a KickStarter user who figured out the best price
points for his Art Space Tokyo project. Read about it here:

Crowdfunding & Sundance Films

Just to give you an idea of what's happening in the world of crowdfunding: social
media and marketing expert Devon Smith surveyed the films (both feature films and
documentaries) in the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
She says she saw a huge jump in the number of films using funding websites like
Kickstarter. Of the 12 films who engaged in a crowdfunding campaign (with 3 still
in progress at the time of her survey), here's what she found:


Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

Median goal for money raised was $19,500 (though one film raised more
than 4x that amount), and every film thus far made its goal, including a Most
Improbable Finish award given to Mosquita y Mari for raising $35k in their
final 48 hours.
Average film raised $80 per donor, and found 176 people to give some
The benefit level for on screen credit was all over the mapfrom $15 to
$2,500; but Producer (or Associate Producer) credit typically began at the
$5,000 mark.

Wildly Successful Campaigns

There are those few and rare crowdfunding campaigns that are wildly successful
such as Jennifer Fox's documentary MY REINCARNATION which raised an
astounding $150,456 via Kickstarter.
Granted, Fox had been working on her documentary for 22 years and had a
significant base of support already established. However, she points out that having
such a long on-going project worked against her because all of the contacts were
long tapped out for donations. So how did she do it?


Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

As part of a series of guest articles for IndieWire, Fox listed out her top 42 tips for
launching a KickStarter campaign. With Fox's permission, below is a condensed
Top 15 list:

15 Tips for Launching a Six-figure KickStarter

Adapted from a series of articles by Jennifer Fox for IndieWire
1. Build A Team First and foremost is "Build a Team". I could NEVER have
done this campaign without Katherine Nolfi, Lisa Duva and Stefanie Diaz.
They brought skills I did not have and also added support to stand the
2. Brainstorm The Campaign As A Rollout With Different Phases
- This included building email lists, adding new incentives, and creating
regular new videos for our website, Facebook and Twitter that could be
linked with our consistent updates on Kickstarter. We saw our campaign as
having three initiatives: the web campaign; seeking out and approaching
larger private donors to become Producers, and setting up Sneak Preview
Benefit Screenings in key locations.
3. Incentives - We gathered a mixture of incentives, some Buddhist oriented
and some film community oriented. We offered the DVD in two ways: the
Commercial DVD in 2012 at $25 and the Limited Special Edition Pre-Release
DVD in September 2011 at $108. This was our most successful incentive.
4. Use Web 2.0: Facebook, Twitter, Bloggers - We are posting updates
on social networking sites many times a week. We work hard to build up our
Facebook and Twitter pages daily. We also post on other organizations and
individuals pages and walls searching for related topics like Buddhism,
Tibet, Spirituality, Religion, and Yoga.
5. Blast Often, Regularly, and Best at the Beginning of the Week Get those eblasts out on Monday or Tuesday. Later in the week they get lost in
peoples over-loaded inboxes. Its important to keep up the pressure. Its hard
to know what the tipping point is for someone to make a donation. It can be
the first letter or the twentieth letter that prompts a donation.


Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

6. Write From The Heart We learned that writing personally made a big
difference with REAL stories and real struggles including the anxiety of
fundraising and the difficult concept of asking people for money. What I see
too often is people just asking for money in their blogs -- and there are only
so many ways a person can ask for money -- but stories are part of what you
are giving people to donate.
7. Kickstarter Is Not For Sissies No one can prepare you for the
amount of work a Kickstarter campaign involves. Dont start your campaign
until you make the time, mental space and have enough pressure on yourself
(meaning financial need) to do so.
8. How Many"Web-Days" Is Right For Your Campaign? KickStarter
says the shorter the better so that the campaign doesn't lose momentum
(they say 30 day campaigns seem to be the most successful). We didn't know
this and set our campaign for 90 days. It felt like a year! Essentially we
ended up doing two campaigns the first one to reach our initial goal of
$50,000 and then a second campaign to push it beyond $150,000.
9. Fundraising Is Not A Passive Act Running a Kickstarter campaign
has made me realize that fundraising only works if you actively go out to the
potential donors and grab their attention by talking to them directly in a
compelling way, whether virtually via email, facebook, twitter, by phone or
Skype or god forbid, in person. No one is going to accidentally click a donate
10. Words Are Everything What Is Your Message? In our team, we
constantly evaluated our success and changed direction from each
evaluation. One of the very simple things we did was evolve and adapt the
way we wrote about the film in response to what we learned.
We kept rewriting and rewriting our pitches to hone in on what worked.
We also wrote different pitches for different audiences Buddhist,
Filmmakers, and General/Family population. I slowly began to realize that
the word donation was the wrong word to use in a campaign like this. First
we changed the word to Support, but even that was not far enough. Finally,
we changed it to Participate.


Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

11. GIVE vs GET We are not asking for money per say -- meaning we are not
'taking from some poor shmo' -- but we are 'giving' people the opportunity to
share in an artistic or political experience that gives meaning to their lives.
I think it is very important that we reframe the concept of fundraising especially with crowdfunding -- which is the ultimate form of democratic
patronage. Why did rich people become patrons historically? To become
connected to the artist, his work and his world.
The patron does not have the gift or skill to do what the artist does - either in
terms of beauty or issue. So by giving money we create an umbilical cord
from the patron to the artist, the art, or the cause. This makes the patron feel
good about themselves and gives pleasure and involvement. Now, with
crowdfunding, ordinary people can have the same experience that rich
patrons have had throughout history. This is beautiful.
12. How Many Times Does It Take? The Rule of Three (at least)
For many years I heard distributors say that you have to hear the name of a
film three times before you will go to see it in the movie theater (the same
applies for purchasing any new product). I am not sure why this is the case,
but the idea is that you have to have a new idea reinforced several times and
several ways before you will take decisive action.
13. New News A rollout means that you have to constantly create new
reasons for people to keep checking your site and read your email blasts. This
may not be so true on a shorter campaign but on a longer campaign like ours,
which lasted 90 days, it becomes absolutely evident. I would give it about 10days and then all that newness becomes old hat.
As a campaign goes on, you have to keep upping the ante, which means
adding something new, every two weeks, then every week, then every day
until D-day. So the question becomes: what new incentives are you giving
your audience to continue their involvement or begin their involvement? For
our campaign... we released various new video and photo clips - outtakes
from the film, festival screening clips, photos from world travels, etc.


Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

14. Late Game Discoveries What We Wish We Knew 90 Days

Earlier The last day of the campaign I started to post individual messages
on friends Facebook pages. This had enormous success and people
contributed with hours to go. If I had to do it over again, I would have done
this much sooner and more widespread. In fact, I would have slowly posted
on all 3,500+ facebook friends I have built from the campaign of my last film.
I wouldnt make the posts obnoxious, just personal with a link to the MY
REINCARNATION Kickstarter page.
15. The Power of Testimonials From our analytics, we saw immediately
that contributions rose when we posted videos from people praising the film.
People will be more likely to join your project and make a contribution if they
hear others singing its praises.
Any way you can get these video testimonies is worthwhile Ideas include:

Videotape discussions about the film in the edit room with your editor
and yourself and post them.

Bring people into the edit room to screen parts of the film and tape
their responses. Or ask them discuss the films important topic and its
meaning for the world.

Ask your films current partners, who are already on board the project,
to talk to camera about what they love about the film and why they are
supporting it. Then edit that into a string of testimonies for the web.

If you do any mid-game interviews with press, make sure you tape
them and post on your website, your Facebook, your Kickstarter page.

Read Jennifer's entire list of 42 Crowdfunding Tips on IndieWire

Learn about the film:


Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

Other Examples Of Successful

Crowdfunding Campaigns:
FrackNation Documentary - $212,265 raised Wow!

More Than Skin Deep Documentary - $7,176 raised

The Illusionists Documentary - $37,708 raised


Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

Be Realistic
Depending on the size of your documentary project, crowdfunding will likely be just
one tool in your fundraising efforts. I would not
want to raise expectations that this model of
fundraising will bank your entire project.
You want to set a realistic fundraising goal.
According to a TechCrunch article, only 43% of
KickStarter projects are successful. So that means
less than HALF of all projects meet their
fundraising goal.
What's realistic for your project may be way out of
line for another project. So consider your existing
base of support, the popularity of your project and how much time and effort you
are willing to put into the campaign.
For an unknown filmmaker on a first-time project $5,000 may be appropriate. For
more experienced documentary filmmakers, $25,000+ is a more doable goal.

It's important to know going in that the crowd-funding

platform is just a tool and that all of the leg work to secure
donors will be done by you and your team.
~ Katherine Nolfi, Filmmaker


Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

Crowdfunding Campaign
Tip! To maximize your success, set aside at least 60 days to prepare for your
crowdfunding campaign. (Thanks to Susan Lopes of Good News Reuse for
contributing the majority of these tips)

Crowdfunding Campaign: 60-Day Pre-Launch Check List

Choose beginning and ending dates for your campaign that do not fall on
a holiday since those are slow donation times.
Find an audience that cares. Before launching your campaign, build up as
big of a following as possible through your blog, social media pages and email accounts. That way you have a ready-to-go audience/contact list to
reach out to for your campaign.
Conduct social media mini-campaigns to boost friends and followers on
your film's Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Sign up for a social media management site like SproutSocial to manage
all of your social media accounts from one spot.
Start a blog and keep it updated with various points of interest about your
Create a team for your crowdfunding campaign. According to IndieGoGo,
four people is ideal to help spread out the work.
Create strategic alliances with individuals and groups who can help
promote the campaign such as bloggers and non-profit groups connected
to your cause.
Have weekly meetings with your fundraising team to assess the campaign.
Plan out the theme/content of a weekly e-blast that will go out during the
Create a series of short videos (raw footage clips, outtakes, interview
clips, message from director, testimonials from partners excited about the
project, etc) that you will release throughout your campaign.


Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

Organize your contacts/e-mails into groups such as close friends & family,
cause-specific supporters, evangelists, filmmaking community, partners,
etc. You will be messaging each group differently throughout your
Like/Support projects on the crowdfunding platform of your choice
(IndieGoGo or KickStarter). Become familiar with the way the process
Create an email signature with links to your social networks. (Links to
your campaign to be added later.)
Identify and develop a list of relevant targeted media outlets for press
releases local and other newspapers, online publications, blogs. (Find
out what their lead times are and any special requirements and plan
Leave comments on blogs related to your film. Post genuine and relevant
comments. Don't spam. Build rapport with the site owner so that when it
comes time for your campaign, they already know and trust you.
Make business cards and include campaign web address.
Identify and follow celebrities using social media who might take an
interest in the campaign.
Have an Angel Donor on stand-by to make a large donation in case you
don't reach your goal.

Crowdfunding Campaign: A Few Days Prior To Launch

At least three working days before launch, submit press release to a press
release service such as EReleases or PRweb ($80). Best days to send out are
Tuesday and Thursday mornings. (These services will critique your press
release upon request.)
Draft posting/article for your blog and campaign website. Have it ready
for day #1.
Post fundraising video/trailer on YouTube.
Prepare a heartfelt e-mail to send to your personal list of contacts on the
morning of the launch.

Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

Draft a second personalized email specifically for your hard-core

supporters. (A version of the above, but with more specifics on how to help
with the campaign via social media, emails.)
Send email to all groups announcing the upcoming campaign. Include
links to campaign and all social media.

Crowdfunding Campaign: Day Of Launch

Add a campaign link to email signature - as
soon as you have link.
Add IndieGoGo or KickStarter campaign
widget (pictured right) to website and post as far
and wide as possible.
Update all Social Media sites to include
campaign info.
Post launch blog on website.
Add campaign link to Google chat, Skype,
Instant Messaging.
Email all groups (Make it easy for them to
share give them a bullet point list with your campaign url and all social
media urls.)

Crowdfunding Campaign | On-Going

Post on Facebook and Twitter every day, all day!
(Much easier to do with SproutSocial. Post about anything youre interested
in, not only about the campaign. Mix it up with articles related to your topic
and personal.)
Email blast updates about the campaign once a week. (More than that
and you may start to annoy people)
LIKE and support other projects on IndieGoGo/KickStarter.
Blog regularly. Stay current on relevant blogs and news. Post comments
to engage.

Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

Reply to all emails, comments, social media postings.

Post updates on your campaign at least once a week. (Add new videos,
raw footage clips, photos, etc.)

Crowdfunding How-To
When you're ready to get serious about your crowdfunding campaign, both
KickStarter and IndieGoGo have excellent tutorials and online training to teach you
exactly how to conduct your campaign for maximum success.
To get started, check out KickStarter School and the 10 Crowdfunding Tips from
Visit both crowdfunding sites to view examples of other ongoing campaigns and
donate to a campaign to experience the process of being a donor. Study the thank
you e-mail that is sent to you and how the filmmakers communicate with you.
To see the most successful IndieGoGo campaigns, click on successes on the left side
of the website.


Reaching The Masses: Crowdfunding Campaigns

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

A crowdfunding campaign is only as successful as you make it. Little effort

will produce little results.

A crowdfunding campaign is hard work. If you are not 100% committed to

the effort, don't waste your time doing it half-way because the results will be
poor. The campaigns that struggle are those that believe you just post and
the money will come.

Crowdfunding is an excellent way to gauge what kind of support and

response your documentary will receive once its finished and whether it will
SELL. So if your crowdfunding campaign bombs, you may want to rethink
your concept or your pitch in the next go round.

A trailer or video is a MUST-HAVE item for a successful crowdfunding

campaign. Even a simple video with the director explaining the project is
better than no video at all.

When producing your fundraising trailer, keep in mind most people won't
watch the full trailer (according to IndieGoGo, 80% don't watch through to
the end), so put your ask for support up front.

When conducting your crowdfunding campaign, remember the key rules for
successful online fundraising: Create urgency, create a crisis and ask for a
specific amount of money for a specific purpose.

Have a clear call to action. Make a strong pitch as to why you are the right
person, why you are doing the project and why your film is important.
People contribute to people!



Raising Money Through

E-mail Campaigns
The only safe thing is to take a chance.
~ Mike Nichols

Whether it's part of a crowdfunding campaign, sending out

e-newsletter updates or simply following up with a major
donor, e-mail is the cornerstone of every filmmaker's
communication and fundraising efforts.

In just a few easy steps you can transform your online fundraising from feeble to

What is E-mail Fundraising?

E-mail fundraising is a technique that involves designing a campaign around a
certain need/goal, writing a series of e-mails, building an e-mail list and measuring
the results. You can either conduct an e-mail fundraising campaign on your own or
as part of a crowd-funding campaign.

Contributions made in response to a direct email are 34% higher

than contributions made in response to other forms of (online)
outreach. The average contribution amount in response to a direct
email is $90 where as the average contribution in response to other
forms of outreach (i.e. facebook post, blog, etc) is $67.
(IndieGogo Blog 2012)


Raising Money Through E-mail Campaigns

Organizing Your E-mail List

You could certainly just send out e-mails from your personal e-mail account, but
once your list starts to grow, your e-mail provider may start blocking your ability to
send large group e-blasts as they may consider that spam.
So at some point, it's highly recommended that you transition to an e-mail list
manager like Constant Contact, Aweber or MailChimp. Youll pay a modest monthly
fee of $10-$15/month (MailChimp is free with a basic plan). There are many
benefits to using a service like this.

Benefits Of An E-mail Marketing Manager:

They provide numerous pre-made templates.

Their system is specially optimized so that your e-mails dont get sent to
spam folders.

They have e-mail sign up widgets you can embed on your documentary
website to easily gather e-mails from visitors to your site.

They have behind the scenes analytics so you can see who opened your email and what links they clicked on inside your e-mail which helps you figure
out what strategies are working.

You can schedule e-mails to be sent out on a specific date at a specific time.

You can easily organize e-mails into groups (donors, prospects, family,
friends, etc).

E-mails will not go out to the same person twice even if their name is in two
groups that you send your e-mail to. This prevents accidental duplication.

You can set automatic e-mail responders to go out after someone signs up for
your e-mail list. This is a GREAT feature.

E-mails can be automatically personalized (Dear Jane) at the top of every email that goes out.

Easy unsubscribe options for those who no longer wish to hear from you.


Raising Money Through E-mail Campaigns

E-mail is recommended not only for fundraising campaigns, but also as a general
communication tool to keep your supporters up to date on your documentary

Donations follow involvement, so if you can keep

people involved in the process, they are more likely
to support you financially.
Make sure you're sending out a regular e-newsletter to your list, perhaps one every
1-2 months. In between the regular newsletters, you'll conduct online fundraising
campaigns, either through a crowd-funding sites like IndieGogo or on your own.

Sample E-newsletter template from MailChimp

**To avoid getting blacklisted, make sure to follow SPAM regulations when sending
out bulk e-mails:


Raising Money Through E-mail Campaigns

Tips For Effective E-mail Fundraising

1) Create urgency - The general rule of thumb for successful online
fundraising is to raise a specific amount of money in a very short specific
amount of time. An example campaign might be: $5,000 in 5 days for 12
2) Create a crisis If there's a reason you must have a certain amount of
money by a certain time (i.e. we only have access to this location through the
end of November) create your campaign around this crisis. There are few
things that motivate people like a crisis!
3) Create micro-campaigns Don't campaign for $300,000!!! Even if
that's what you need for your full project, people capable of giving only $10,
$25 or $50 will feel intimidated and you'll lose out on those precious smaller
donations which can add up to big money. People can more easily relate to
smaller amounts for specific purposes. For example, we need $10,000 to
capture XYZ event in Africa. People need to know WHY you need the money
and they need to be INSPIRED to give.
4) Make an emotional connection Touch people's hearts, tell a story...
introduce one of the characters in your film.
5) Stay Positive Only share the good stuff. People might freak out if they
actually knew how tough it is to make a movie. Even when creating a crisis,
create a positive crisis!
6) Create strong subject line Create appropriate subject lines that will
capture attention and get the click.
7) Ask Friends to Invite Friends Your core base of supporters probably
know of others who would be interested in your project. So at the bottom of
every e-mail, make sure to ask people to forward the e-mail on to friends.
8) Test, Test, Test! - No two organizations or projects are the same.
Experiment with your e-mails to see what works best with your particular
audience and group of supporters.


Raising Money Through E-mail Campaigns

How do you make your e-mail stand-out

and get the click?

Study of Best and Worst E-Mail Open Rates

E-mail marketing company MailChimp analyzed over 40-million e-mails sent
through their service and sorted out the ones with the highest open rates and the
ones with the lowest open rates. They pulled 20 from each pile and did a side-byside comparison. Granted, the list is skewed toward companies (not specifically
documentary projects), but the lessons are universal.


Raising Money Through E-mail Campaigns

Surprising Results
The results of the above survey surprised me at first glance. The left side column
with the best open rates don't seem very interesting at all!

Here's what MailChimp had to say about their study:

On the "best" side, you'll notice the subject lines are pretty straightforward.
They're not very "salesy" or "pushy" at all. Heck, some people might even say
they're "boring." On the "worst" side however, notice how the subject lines
read like headlines from advertisements you'd see in the Sunday paper. They
might look more "creative," but their open rates are horrible. It's as if those
email marketers assumed that subject lines have to jump off the screen and
"GRAB THE READER'S ATTENTION!" or something. Unfortunately, most
people get so much junk mail in their inbox, anything that even hints of spam
gets thrown away immediately.
The Secret Formula for Subject-Lines
So what's our advice for email subject lines? This is going to sound "stupid
simple" to a lot of people, but here goes: Your subject line should (drum roll
please): Describe the subject of your email. Yep, that's it.
Always set your subscribers' expectations during the opt-in process about
what kinds of emails they'll be receiving. Don't confuse newsletters with
promotions. If your email is a newsletter, put the name and issue of the
newsletter in your subject line. Because that's what's inside. If your email is a
special promotion, tell them what's inside. Either way, just don't write your
subject lines like advertisements.
When it comes to email marketing, the best subject lines tell what's inside,
and the worst subject lines sell what's inside.


Raising Money Through E-mail Campaigns

Key Strategies for Building Your E-mail List:

1) E-mail campaigns/E-Newsletters Every time you communicate about your
project is another chance for someone to forward it on.
2) Facebook/Twitter Use your social media accounts to encourage people to
sign up for your e-newsletter.
3) SEO/Blogs By building your website/blogs optimized for the search
engines, you are attracting people to your site from around the world that
would have otherwise never known about you. If they are interested in what
they see, hopefully they will sign up for your list.
4) Offer incentives on your website to encourage people to sign up for your
mailing list. Kate Schermerhorn, director of the documentary After Happily
Ever After, offers Ten Secrets to Marital Bliss as a free gift for signing up for
her mailing list. Offering a PDF file is perfect because it costs nothing.
5) Attend events with people who are interested in the subject of your
documentary and ask people for their contact information
6) Brainstorm all the groups who are a natural fit with your project and find out
if they'd be willing to help promote your project to their contact lists.

E-Mail Fundraising Strategy

It's highly recommended that you schedule your e-mail blasts in advance so they
build naturally on each other. Perhaps your e-mail campaign will consist of a series
of three or four e-mails. Your first e-mail might provide some of the history of the
project. The next e-mail might introduce the crew or give a poignant story and the
final e-mail would contain a thank-you.
Your fundraising campaigns will be much stronger if people understand the
background and are involved in the process. You especially want to plan your
strategy for a crowdfunding campaign where you have new information to release
right up until the deadline.
Don't be afraid to ask the same people for money at various points in your project as
long as you are mixing in regular updates in between. A $50 donation can turn into
$300 over time.. so keep people engaged and they'll keep donating.


Raising Money Through E-mail Campaigns

Your best potential donors are people who

have given in the past.

Source: IndieGogo (2012)

According to IndieGogo, Half of funders who contribute more than once to the same
campaign do it within 2 weeks. They say the key to getting funders to donate more
than once is to thank people and keep them engaged immediately after they

E-Mail Marketing Best Practices

All of the E-mail Marketing companies such as Constant Contact, MailChimp and
Aweber (all great choices) offer lots of free how-to articles and tutorials. So when
you're ready to get serious about communicating about your documentary project
and building your base of support, these companies are a great place to start.

Raising Money Through E-mail Campaigns

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

E-mail campaigns are an effective way to keep people up to date about your
project and to fundraise.

For every five update e-mails, include one fundraising request. Don't use
every e-mail as an opportunity to ask for funding. People will start tuning
you out. Tell stories and entertain.

There are some great e-mail management services out there. Consider
signing up for one of them once your mailing list reaches 50-100 people.

Be vigilant in your efforts to grow your e-mail list. It will pay off in the long

Make sure to thank your supporters and keep them engaged. They will very
likely donate again if they have a good experience.



Direct Mail:

The Power Of Fundraising Letters

When courage, genius, and generosity hold hands, all things are possible.

There is much debate in the fundraising community as to whether direct mail is

dead or thriving. Some non-profits have completely eliminated direct mail as a
fundraising tool, while others continue to find it to be a powerful and effective
method for soliciting funds.

What Is Direct Mail?

Direct mail is a form of advertising that
involves sending out an identical item
such as a fundraising letter, postcard or
advertisement to a large group of people.
The item is sent in bulk via the postal
service or other mass distribution
methods (i.e. newspapers) to a targeted
list, such as a special interest group or
people living in a particular geographic
region with the purpose of soliciting a
response (donating, purchasing a
product, volunteering, voting, rsvp, etc).


Direct Mail: The Power Of Fundraising Letters


Direct Mail: The Power Of Fundraising Letters

Is Direct Mail Dead for Filmmakers?

Direct mail used to be the ONLY way for filmmakers to reach large numbers of
individuals. Here's an example of a direct mail campaign posted on
Paris Poirier who made the documentary Last Call at Maud's (1993) used
direct mail for her documentary. She printed 18,000 pieces. 3,000 were sent
to people the filmmakers knew, and 15,000 were used as an insert in a
monthly newsletter. Their paper and printing were donated. They spent
$1000 for postage and insert fees. Their letter brought them $8,500 from 80
different individuals. The largest donation was $500 from someone they
didn't even know. Poirier created nine different versions of a letter. Her
strategy was to appeal for larger donations of $100 and $200 dollars. She
offered a space in the credits for that donation. She also made it possible for
people to give small donations of $20 each.

For filmmakers, online fundraising and crowdfunding platforms such as IndieGoGo

and KickStarter have essentially replaced direct mail. Potentially tens of thousands
of people can be reached at a fraction of the cost.
But I believe there's still a place for direct mail in a filmmaker's fundraising efforts.

With electronic communication choking our e-mail

inboxes, smartphones and social media accounts,
snail mail is an area ripe for opportunity.
If you have an older audience you are trying to reach or you have a long list of
mailing addresses with no e-mails and/or just want to stand out in some way, snail
mail should definitely be considered as part of your fundraising mix.
You may not want to send tens of thousands of pieces, but perhaps a few hundred
heart-felt letters to a very targeted list of people.


Direct Mail: The Power Of Fundraising Letters

Benefits of Direct Mail

[Source: Australian Direct Marketing Association, Don't Count Direct Mail Out (2011)]

Endurance - Consistently, research and in-market results prove that printed

messages like direct mail last longer than digital ones. Millward Brown did an
analysis using MRI technology that found, time and time again, print
messages engaged the brain more deeply and more emotionally than digital
ones. The marketplace concurs. Direct mail response rates are consistently
two to three times higher than email response rates.
Acquisition - Direct mail has always been a great method to introduce
products and acquire customers. One of the greatest acquisition marketing
tools of all time is the Quite Frankly letter from American Express Co. We
wrote this letter for Amex in the 1980s and it has helped the company
acquire 100 million new card members around the world to date. Do you
know who uses direct mail to win new enterprise and SMB customers? None
other than the digital powerhouse Google.
Impact - Direct mail has impact and importance. When people stop using
direct mail for wedding invitations and send an email, then I will believe
direct mail is dead. Until then, it conveys importance like no other medium.
When American Express launched its most prestigious product, The
Centurion Card, they did it with mail. It was a big, important communication
that brought the personal service offering to life. And it worked.
Sensory - Direct mail is sensory in nature. You cannot feel a banner ad or
smell an email. When IBM Corp. wanted to market its infrastructure
solutions, it used a 3-D mailing with a puzzle to let prospects experience the
complexity of integrating the pieces.


Direct Mail: The Power Of Fundraising Letters

Here are a few ways you may want

to use direct mail:
Send a simple, personalized fundraising letter
Send a postcard announcing the film premiere
Create a printed newsletter

Send an order form for the documentary

Lingering In the Shadows: Teens Talk About

Depression Documentary
Direct Mail Promotion for Premiere


Direct Mail: The Power Of Fundraising Letters

Where do you get a mailing list?

Depending on your project, your mailing list could come from any number of
sources. Big companies and organizations will actually BUY lists from other similar
organizations. Assuming you dont have the budget to buy a list, here are some
common places to get names for your mailing list:

Your personal contact list - these can be friends or peoples name youve
gathered through your website or by any other means.

Your parents contact list

Your fundraising team's personal network

Other filmmakers

The contact list belonging to an organization that would most benefit from
your documentary being made.

Tip! Organizations usually will not want to give you their contact list directly, but

they might be willing to include a pitch for your project in one of their own mailings
or newsletters.
The key with a mailing list is to only send your letter out to people who you
genuinely feel might be interested in your project.

Tips For A Successful Fundraising Letter

Whether youre sending your fundraising appeal to a large group via a direct mail
campaign or to a potential major donor, there are some basic rules to follow when
writing your fundraising letter.

Make it personal this is YOUR documentary, explain from the heart why
this project is important to you. Don't be afraid to use words that mirror
your true feelings about the project. This tip should be a no brainer, but
unfortunately, many of us are afraid to use simple emotional language when
we write because we fear it doesnt sound professional.


Direct Mail: The Power Of Fundraising Letters

Make it relevant Explain why they are receiving the letter. Because of
your past interest in this subject. or Because of your connection to the
XYZ foundation or Your Aunt Jane suggested I write to you..

Make a direct appeal and a direct ask Explain in your letter exactly what
you need and want you want the person to do. I am in urgent need of
$25,000 to shoot the re-enactment scenes of this documentary. Can you
help? If 250 people donate $100 each, we will have it!

Give options for involvement- Let them know they are appreciated and you
want them involved in the process even if they dont give financially. Ask
them to sign up for your E-News and join your Facebook page. They may be
inspired to give LATER once they hear more about the project.

Keep it short Try to keep your letter to one page. In the old days of direct
mail, a longer multi-page letter got a better response. Today, people
appreciate quick succinct information.

Include visuals People support people and things they can see and
visualize. A photo of you, either a head shot or working as part of a
filmmaking team or any other photos that represent your project can go a
long way to capture the imagination of your reader and pull them into your

Include a handwritten note on each letter Even though you may be

printing off 100 or more copies of your letter, write something on the letter in
your handwriting. Even a simple Thanks Tom for helping make this
documentary a reality. Or if you know the person, include something
personal. Great seeing you at the XYZ event last week.

Include your trailer This is where you really have the chance to grab
someones attention and support. Either include a DVD of your trailer or
include a URL web address to your trailer in your letter. It can add to your
costs considerably if you include a DVD in your mailing, so a link to your
trailer can be just as effective. In fact, it could be even MORE effective to have
your trailer on-line IF you have a donate button just below the trailer where
they can make an immediate donation.

Make the envelope appealing Hand write each address. This will make
them feel they are receiving a personal letter and will be more likely to open
the letter. And make sure to use a real stamp.


Direct Mail: The Power Of Fundraising Letters

Don't forget to add a P.S. Traditionally, a P.S. is for a bit of extra

information the writer forgot to include in the letter. In a fundraising letter,
however, a P.S. can be an effective place to rephrase and emphasize your
donation request. In fact, studies have proven that readers often go to the P.S.
before they even read the body of a letter.

View Sample Fundraising Letters:

The Follow-Up
Depending how many people you send the letter to and your relationship with each
person, it can be effective to follow up with a phone call or e-mail a few days after
the person has received the letter. It's easy for people to lay aside a letter and forget
about it. Following up can be the difference between getting a donation or not.
**ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL If you remember nothing else from this book,
remember this. When anyone does ANYTHING to help you with your project, thank
them in writing and do it immediately. This is especially important if someone gives
a financial gift.
Please, please, please let people know you appreciate their help and generosity. If
you can make people feel good about helping you, they will be much more willing to
help you again in the future. And not only thanking people for their gift when you
receive it, but thank them AGAIN once you have accomplished your goal. Tell them
because of their gift, you were able to make the film.


Direct Mail: The Power Of Fundraising Letters

Peer to Peer Fundraising Letter

If there is someone who seems particularly interested or supportive of your project
(ideally, they have already donated), ask them if they would be willing to write a
letter to their friends and colleagues inviting them to support the project.
It's very powerful when someone can say I have donated, will you donate too?
Having others boast about your project is extremely valuable. Of course, YOU think
your film is great, but to have others say it can give the project more credibility.
If the person doesn't have time to write the letter, offer to write it for them. They can
tweak it and write a short handwritten note on each letter. You handle all the
logistics of addressing the envelopes and getting them mailed. The easier you can
make it for people, the more willing they'll be to help you.
Of course, they could also send out an e-mail with a link to your campaign or donate
page. It's really up to each individual which method they prefer.


Direct Mail: The Power Of Fundraising Letters

--_--Final Thoughts | Recap

Sending a letter in the mail may seem old fashioned, but can help you stand
out from the electronic crowd. Beware that costs can add up quickly for a
large mailing and may or may not pay off depending on the strength of your
letter and the interest of the person receiving the appeal.

Make sure your fundraising letter captures your heart and passion for the
project and clearly states what you need from the donor. And don't forget
the handwritten note and the P.S.!

Having a supporter of your project send out a fundraising letter on your

behalf is extremely valuable. People will be less skeptical if an outside person
or organization speaks highly of you and your project.

Be grateful for all support you get and send out plenty of thank-you's.

Tons of great tips for writing fundraising letters:



Quick Reference Guide:

Fundraising Clues and Quick Tips

Even if your entire budget is $250,000 never ask for that. Dont even
mention it! Big numbers overwhelm most people and its hard for them
to understand where all that money is going. Start your fundraising with
small amounts for a specific purpose.
Move forward with your documentary even if you dont have money! Its
easier for people to join something thats already happening than to feel
like the project succeeds or fails because of them. So start filming and
keep filming and people WILL come forward to help you.
Raise money for your project one segment at a time. Start with what you
need RIGHT NOW. If you need $5,000 to produce the trailer and get the
website going, then raise money for that first! Then ask for your next
$5,000 to shoot your first interviews. Then $10,000 for the reenactments. People respond to a specific amount of money for a specific
People are more important than money. Show an interest in their lives
and who they are as people FIRST. Make sure your project is a natural fit
with their core values and beliefs before asking someone for a donation.
Research! Know how much an individual is capable of giving and ask for
an appropriate donation. Your college buddy might be able to give $20,
whereas your businessman uncle could give $1,000. If someone has just
gone bankrupt, that is not the right time to ask for a donation.


Quick Reference Guide: Fundraising Clues and Quick Tips

Engage potential donors FIRST, then ASK. There's a saying among

fundraising professionals: If you ask someone for money, they'll give you
advice. If you ask for advice, you'll get money.
Its great to get money from foundations and the government, but those
groups often have complex bureaucracies and a lot of time can be
wasted on paperwork. Time is often much better spent developing
personal relationships with people who are already passionate about
your cause and convincing them your project is worth supporting.
People give money to people they like and trust. So be likeable! Be
People feel good when they give. There is actually science behind this
studies have shown that endorphins are released at even the thought
of doing something good. So when you ask someone for money for a
good cause, you are actually giving them the opportunity to feel good! I
highly recommend a book by Douglas Lawson called Give To Live: How
Giving Can Change Your Life.
Communicate even when you dont need money and build relationships
for the long-term. In general, communicate 5-10 times for every one
time you ask for money.
Sending letters and e-mails are fantastic ways to fundraise, but in
general, use those tools to communicate about your project and stay in
touch with people. For the actual ask for money, especially big money,
call or make a personal visit. People need to see, hear and feel your
passion for the project... in your own words.
Sometimes it can takes years of developing a relationship before that
person decides to give you money. People do not part with their money
easily and they need to feel complete trust in where the money is going
and how it will be used. This is why the fastest way to raise money is to
approach people who already know and trust you.


Quick Reference Guide: Fundraising Clues and Quick Tips

When asking for large sums of money ($1,000 and above), set up a
meeting in advance with the person and explain the project in your own
words. Let them see how passionate you are about the project. This is
where having a fantastic trailer and a documentary proposal can help
show your level of commitment to the project and what kind of work
you are capable of.
As soon as you make the ask for money, shut up and listen. Dont say,
Can you give me $5,000 to help me shoot these next set of interviews?
UmBut if you cant I understand. Stop and listen after you ask for the
$5,000. People need a few moments to process what you've just asked.
Yes, there may be an uncomfortable pause, but let the person you
ask give a response FIRST.
Expand your search. Once youve tapped out your own network of
people, ask around and look on the internet to find people of means who
are already pre sold on your cause (ie the subject matter of your
documentary). Start figuring out who these people are, their likes and
dislikes and whether they might be someone who could support you. By
finding out everything you can about them, it will give you clues as to
the best way to approach them.
Keep major donors appraised of the progress/stages of the film, the
positive and negative. Be honest. If your proposal stated it would take
three months to film re-enactments but it took six months, explain the
delay, increase in expenses, etc.

Individuals often donate for emotional reasons. If you can move

someone, they are more likely to support you. So tell stories and pull at
the heart strings.



Summary & Resources

Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out.
~ John Wooden

Congratulations! You made it to the end.

What You've Learned
Chapters 1 - 3 Setting The Ground Work

Before you can start fundraising, mental preparation is key. Set goals, create a
mission statement and get familiar with some basic rules of fundraising such as not
asking for the full amount of your budget all at once. Take your fundraising one step
at a time.

Chapter 4 Finding the Money

There is money everywhere, you just have to know where to look. The primary
categories of where money can be found is with individuals,
businesses/corporations, government, foundations and non-profits. Statistically, the
best chance for funding is with individuals. Don't discount in-kind donations such as
a free rental car, donated pizza and discounted printing services which can add up to
big cash value.

Chapters 5 13 Fundraising Tool Kit

Making documentaries is like running a small business. You'll need to set up bank
accounts, get incorporated, find partners, set up a website/social media accounts,
write a business plan (proposal), create a budget, set up an e-mail marketing system
and produce a fundraising trailer (among other things).

Chapters 14 15 Major Donors: Making The Ask

Once you've done your research and gathered your fundraising tools, it's time to
hone in on exactly who you're going to ask for money. Whether it's an individual,
business or foundation, make sure they are a natural fit with your project. Stay close

Summary & Resources

to home, both literally and figuratively, in terms of people and organizations who are
closely aligned with you personally or the subject matter of your film. That's where
you'll have the best luck.

Chapters 16 18 Fundraising Campaigns

A good fundraising strategy involves using a variety of methods and tools. In

addition to contacting wealthy individuals, government agencies and foundations for
big money, it's also a good idea to cast a wide net to reach numerous smaller donors
whose cumulative giving can also add up to big money. Types of fundraising
campaigns include e-mail/online, crowdfunding and direct mail. The best strategy
for these campaigns is to launch micro-fundraisers to raise a specific amount of
money for a specific purpose within a specified amount of time.

Dont give up. Fundraising is not easy and, for many

filmmakers, it is the last thing you envisioned yourself
doing when you got into film in the first place. Through all
the work and frustrations with raising money for your film,
dont ever lose your greatest resource your passion. It will
often take you much further than you think.
Docs In Progress

If you have any questions about documentary fundraising, please contact me at
To leave a review about this book, visit:


Summary & Resources

Recommended Reading

Shaking the Money Tree, by Morrie Warshawski

The Fundraising House Party, by Morrie Warshawski

The Art of Film Funding, by Carol Dean

Ask Without Fear, by Marc Pitman

Articles and resources about documentary funding:

Best practices in action : 2010-2011 yearbook - Descriptions of the development and
fundraising practices of 18 organizations in the arts & culture, higher education, and
Your donors...11 ways to use technology to thank them - Introduces a variety of ways
to engage donors and make them feel more appreciated, from simple to high-tech.


Summary & Resources

A Funder's Perspective
Read an interview with a grant funder:
Inside the mind of a funder (Fledgling Fund):

Recommended Websites The Foundation Center. If you only visit ONE

site for funding, this is it. Excellent source of numerous articles of interest

for documentary filmmakers including funding.

10MPH website Great tips from the filmmakers about how they funded
their documentary Run by award-winning documentary filmmakers

and educators Jilann Spitzmiller and Hank Rogerson, an excellent resource
for all things documentary. Lots of great film finance information. Great resource for film financing. The site is primarily

for narrative feature films, but can be helpful for any filmmaker seeking
investment funds. Organization that founded The Prenups to help

filmmakers and funders create strong partnerships. - Documentary Educational Resources Filmmakers Collaborative

The D-Word Wonderful community of documentary filmmakers discussing

everything A-Z documentary filmmaking, including fundraising.


Summary & Resources

Documentary Film Grants

The Independent Television Service (ITVS) | Documentary and Television Funding ITVS funds, distributes, and promotes new programs primarily for public television.
TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund - The TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund seeks exceptional narrative features at any stage from treatment to completed film that are scientifically
Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund - The Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund provides
finishing funds to feature-length documentaries which highlight and humanize issues of social importance.
Tribeca Film Institute Documentary Fund - The TFI Documentary Fund, Presented
by HBO, provides grants and guidance to exceptional filmmakers developing engaging feature-length documentaries.
Sundance Institute | Documentary Fund Grant - The Sundance Institute Documentary Fund provides support for U.S. and international documentary films that focus
on current human rights issues.
Women In Film | Film Finishing Fund Grant (WIFF FFF) - The Women In Film
Foundation's Film Finishing Fund (WIFF FFF) supports films by, for or about women
by providing cash grants of up to $15,000 and in-kind funding.
MacArthur Foundation | Documentary Grant - MacArthur's goal in media grantmaking is to provide the public with high-quality, professionally-produced documentary
films, deep and analytical journalism.
Pacific Pioneer Fund | Documentary Film Grant - The mission of this film grant is to
support emerging documentary filmmakers.

**For more documentary film grants, visit:


About the Author

Faith Fuller is the founder and publisher of
She's been in the filmmaking, video production,
news and communications industry for 20+
years. She has directed and produced 1500+
video/film productions including news stories,
documentaries, PSA's and educational videos.
Her filmmaking travels have taken her to 40+
countries around the world including Saudi
Arabia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Honduras,
Romania, Egypt and Malaysia. Her work has
been seen on CNN, The Discovery Health
Channel and PBS and won numerous awards
including Telly's, a CINE and regional EMMY.
She does not consider herself a fundraising guru, rather a documentary producer
and journalist who loves the craft of visual storytelling and helping other
filmmakers. She became an unsuspecting student of fundraising in 2001 while
producing her first feature-length documentary Briars in the Cotton Patch which
was broadcast on PBS stations across the United States from 2005 2010. This
book is a result of her own journey to better understand the art of fundraising and to
help demystify the fundraising process for smart and talented filmmakers
everywhere who are in need of funding to tell their stories.
Her father, Millard Fuller, was one of the greatest speakers and fundraisers of his
time, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for Habitat for Humanity, the non-profit
home-building organization he founded with his wife Linda in 1976. Many of the
lessons in this book she learned from her parents and numerous other fundraising
professionals she has worked with over the years in her role as a producer, online
fundraiser and communications executive.
She is currently writing and publishing articles for,
consulting with documentary filmmakers, authoring documentary instructional ebooks and exploring ideas for her next documentary project. Send Faith a message
and let her know what you think of this book.


Additional Documentary Fundraising Tools

from Desktop Documentaries:

Documentary Fundraising Tool Kit

25 Fundraising Ideas for Documentary and Video Projects
Documentary Proposal Template
Documentary Budgeting Template Pack (2 budgets, guide)
Documentary Fundraising Check-List
Top 100 Film Funders (included in tool kit)