Documentary Funding | Top Ten Tips for Fundraising and Grants

Documentary Funding

Top 10 Tips for Grants and Fundraising

Documentary FundingNo doubt, documentary funding is tough work. But here's the good news...You CAN raise documentary capital and it may not be as hard as you think.

...Many first time filmmakers have the fantasy their documentary money will come in one big check, from one big donor or foundation. The reality is, funding often comes from many different sources...quoted text

Many thanks to Faith Fuller, author of Desktop Documentaries, for her top documentary fundraising tips:

1) Make a Trailer

There is no way to over-emphasize the importance of having a powerful trailer that excites, inspires and captures your documentary's potential. Equally important, a bad trailer can doom your fundraising efforts, so make sure it’s excellent.

2) Ask For a Specific Amount For a Specific Purpose

Even if you need $250,000 to make your documentary, avoid sharing that big number. It is too vague and intimidating. Raise money in manageable chunks for each step of the filmmaking process.
Example: “I urgently need $10,000 to cover travel expenses and filming for XYZ event in Botswana.”

3) Create Urgency

This is especially important when raising money online. A specific goal within a specific time frame gets people into action. This is why KickStarter.com is such a fantastic online fundraising tool.

4) Build a Documentary Fundraising Team

The more people you ask for help, the higher your chances for success. Enlist help from people who share a passion for your project and are willing to personally approach people they know and other potential donors. Have weekly meetings to keep your team motivated and on track.

5) Low Hanging Fruit

As tempting as it may seem to go after the Gates Foundation for your documentary funding, you will have much better success approaching individuals who already know and trust you or who are already “pre-sold” on the subject matter of your documentary. You’ll find a huge list of documentary funding at http://foundationcenter.org

6) Make a Direct Ask

There is no substitute for picking up the phone or meeting someone in person, passionately stating your case and asking for a specific amount of documentary funding. It is one of the hardest things you'll ever do, but it's one of the most powerful and effective ways to get funding. People need to be able to look you in the eyes or hear in your own voice why this project is important to you.

7) Build a Strong Web Presence

Build a strong web presence for your film including a Facebook page, website and blog. Make sure there’s a clear way for people to donate and sign up for updates.

8) Build a Mailing List

People interested in your project are the core folks you can approach throughout your project for ideas, support and to help get the word out about your project. You can’t start building your list too soon.

9) Offer Special Incentives

Incent people to provide you documentary funding with different donation levels and exclusive gifts, like signed posters, a pre-release DVD, a “members-only” Director’s forum, private invite to a first screening, a credit in the film, free t-shirt, etc. People love to feel they’re part of something unique and exclusive.

10) Offer Sponsorship Packages to Businesses

For example, for a $10,000 donation they’ll get their logo shown at the beginning and end of your documentary and promoted on your website and in all your marketing efforts.


Many first time filmmakers have the fantasy their documentary funding will come in one big check, from one big donor or foundation. The reality is that documentary funding often comes from many different sources and so your fundraising strategy must involve casting a wide net and following any and every lead you can think of. Documentary grants are often the hardest and most time consuming option and are only recommended if you have a solid filmmaking team with a strong list of credits.

In summary, remember people give money to people they like and trust. So, no matter your documentary funding strategy, you can not go wrong interacting and building relationships with as many people as possible and sharing your passion for your project with anyone who will listen.


The Industry's BEST Documentary Funding Tools

Documentary Funding ToolkitIf you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out the Documentary Fundraising Toolkit from the Emmy-winning creator of Desktop Documentaries. The toolkit includes a 190-page full-color documentary fundraising guide, a 25-page documentary proposal template with instructions, two budget templates with budgeting guide, list of the top 100 documentary film grants, e-book with 25 specific fundraising ideas to start raising your first $10,000 and a fundraising check-list. All the best fundraising tools, templates and resources, including 20+ years of experience, combined into one comprehensive packet.

This article is reproduced, with permission, by Faith Fuller, an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker and primary author of Desktop Documentaries, a web-based resource guide providing free advice, tips and inspiration for video and filmmaking enthusiasts of all levels. More Info: www.desktop-documentaries.com

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