What Crisis? Fundraising During an Economic Meltdown

Holly Million December 3, 2008

When the going gets tough, the tough supposedly get going. The real question is, where exactly do they go? Well, if they are indie filmmakers looking to raise money for their films, they had better go to individual donors. And when they go, they had better do so strategically, that is, armed with a thoughtful, well-crafted plan of action.

Foundations keep their assets in stocks. When the stock market plunges, those assets shrink, and that means foundations have less money to give. Less money means fewer grants. As we head toward the darkest days of the years, filmmakers will be tempted to look toward the light that potential grants seem to offer. You may be one of them, but don’t let your fundraising stop there.

I urge you to approach individual donors and to do so strategically. There is not a moment to lose. Write down a plan that includes tactics, a list of prospects, tools, and a timeframe. Use the plan as your roadmap to reach a specific dollar goal that you set. The dollar goal can be a certain amount of money to reach milestone in the film. Is it $10,000 to cut a trailer? Is it $50,000 to travel to India and secure your key footage? It doesn’t matter what it is or what it’s for. What is important is that you know what it is.

Now, here are details about the components of the plan.

are the ways that you plan to ask for money. They include letters, emails, events, and face-to-face asks. Those are the main tactics. Invent some of your own.

include all the people you will approach for money. Squeeze every last prospect out of your own database, including family, colleagues, friends, and friends of friends. Take a good hard look at the list and decide who on there would be the easiest to approach and who could give the largest amounts of money. Those people are your "A-list." Everybody else is your "B-list." See if there is someone on that list who could give a sizeable chunk of change, say $5,000, $10,000 or thereabouts. Don’t have anybody like that? How about five people who could give $1,000 each? Lump their gifts together into one righteous donation that can be your "lead gift." A lead gift is just what it sounds like, a gift that leads off the fundraising, greasing the skids for other people to follow suit. Go to the potential lead givers before you do anything else. Once you have secured their commitment, use their name and the gift in every ask you make, to show others that someone else really believes in your cause.

are the things that deliver your message about needing financial contributions. They include well-crafted messaging about your film. Who are you? Why are you making this film? Why are you the right person to make this film? Why is this film needed? How will it change the world? Who will see the film? How will they see it? Tools also include a nice website that communicates these messages and how people can give, stationery that looks professional, a logo for your film, a bio for you and your crew, high-quality photos, a reply envelope, a trailer on DVD or on the Internet, etc. You get the picture?

is exactly what the word says it is. The frame of time in which you will raise your money. Set a date by which you need to have the money. Use that deadline in every ask you make. Make sure people know about it and feel some urgency.

Okay, now you’ve got a plan. Now what? Get the tools lined up, get the appeal letters and emails written, get the mailing labels done, go after the lead givers, and then use your tactics in waves to ask your prospects several times during the fundraising campaign for their support. As you make progress toward your goal, announce how close you are getting to the goal. At the very end, if you still have a gap to fill, return to those who gave in the very beginning for another round of gifts to seal the deal. Those who are already invested want you to succeed. They don’t want their investment in your film to go down the drain — just like their stock investments.

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