Are Your "Friends" Worthless?

Holly Million July 13, 2009

There’s a lot of buzz swirling around Web 2.0 and how it’s going to change—well, everything. Indie filmmakers, too, are embracing blogs, tweets, and social-networking, experimenting with how these tools can help them cast, market, distribute, and, yes, raise money for their films.

A friend of mine has 2,629 followers on Twitter, making him one of the higher-ranked filmmakers on the site, but he hasn’t figured out how to convert his followers’ interest in his narrative feature into cold, hard cash. Another filmmaker I follow on Twitter tweeted me recently, "Thanks, Holly for visiting my webpage. We’re getting traffic but no donations, so feel free to give feedback! :-)" Another documentarian said to me during a fundraising webinar, "I have raised only $250 for my film through my Facebook page. Why aren’t people giving more?"

Why? Because if you don’t use Web 2.0 tools correctly, your "friends" are virtually worthless. So here is some advice about what Web 2.0 changes about fundraising and what it absolutely, positively does not.

Problem: "If we build it, they will come."
There is a common misconception that money is going to pour in from this vast universe of online denizens who now know about you and your film simply because they have stumbled upon you online. Problem is, fundraising depends on relationship, and the virtual world is predicated on anonymity. Unless you take your contacts off Facebook and Twitter and make them flesh-and-blood friends, you can’t expect them to donate to your film in any significant way.

Solution: Find out who among your online friends is really interested in what you’re creating.
Start to nurture an off-line relationship with them. I’ve converted numerous people I "know" online into real contacts by first emailing back and forth with them, then talking on the phone, then meeting in person. The cultivation does not stop there, it just goes on and on. After all, what are friends for?

Problem: I’ve got a blog/Facebook page/MySpace page, but nobody visits.
Yes, I know you have a blog. I’ve visited there. But the last diary you have up was posted in 1978. Your Facebook and My Space pages are pretty much the same. Has anything happened with your film since then? Just asking.

Solution: In order to drive traffic to your website, blog, or social-networking site, you need to give people a reason to go there.
If the content is static, there will be no attraction. Ideally, you will post new content at least once a week or even daily. Tweak your social-networking pages to constantly give updates about the latest and greatest on your film. Make it interesting, and people will continually "drop by" to see what’s new.

Problem: You think you asked them, but you didn’t really ask them.
This is a common mistake I see happen everywhere people are trying to raise money, not just in the indie film world and not just online. People put their need out there on the Internet, thinking they have made a request for support, but then all they hear is the deafening roar of crickets.

Solution: You must be more direct.
Your Facebook page displays your fundraising goal and a link to "donate now." Warm. You sent an email appeal out to 10,000 potential supporters asking them to each give $25. Warmer. You hosted an event for 30 people who knew it was a fundraiser where they would be asked to write checks on the spot. Getting warmer! You picked up the phone and asked 10 friends to each write a check for $100. Getting hot! You sat down with Uncle Warren and asked him face-to-face for a large lead gift to leverage other donations. Hallelujah! You have learned that, at the end of the day, being direct when you ask is really the key to raising money.

Problem: They’re just not that into you.
You’re passionate about your film. But not everybody is passionate enough about it to give to you online. Oh, sure, you will pick up converts, but there are some things you just can’t compete with. After September 11, 2001, I (and millions of others) made online donations to the American Red Cross, the Fire Department of New York, and the New York Police Department without any of these organizations having to ask me for money. Why? Because the need was obvious, urgent, and on a vast scale. Hurricane Katrina, Asian tsunami, terrorist attack? The word goes out and the online donations come in. Your film can’t compete.

Solution: Don’t assume that your film ranks high on people’s lists.
Don’t try to compete online with causes that are in a different league. They can almost exclusively do anonymous, online, and mostly indirect fundraising. You can’t. While Web 2.0 tools can enhance your donor cultivation and communication, when it comes down to actually raising money, you need to be personal, offline and mostly direct in your approach.

Holly Million is a consultant, author, and filmmaker with nearly two decades’ worth of experience in fundraising. In addition to securing funding for A Story of Healing, which won a 1997 Academy Award, Million has raised money for documentary and dramatic films that have aired on PBS, HBO, and other broadcast outlets. She is the author of Fear-Free Fundraising: How to Ask People for Money, available on Visit Million’s website at and her fundraising blog at She invites you to follow her on Twitter @HollyMillion. She’ll follow you back!

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