Finding impact funders

Impact campaign funders

Our community is pretty familiar with the small group of funders, whose core purpose is funding documentary film: Sundance Institute, BRITDOC, The Fledgling Fund, Tribeca Film Institute, Chicken & Egg, Influence Film Fund, Catapult Film Fund to name but a few - as well as the national film funds - Danish Film Institute, British Film Institute - as well as broadcasters who are still enthusiastic production partners for feature docs - POV Independent Lens, ITVS, BBC Storyville, HBO, Arte/ZDF, NHK, etc.

There is also a broader and growing group of funders including: from large institutional Foundations such as Ford or MacArthur, to smaller family Foundations such as Bertha, to issue specific funders such as Wellcome Trust (biomedical projects), Arcus Foundation (LGBT and environmental projects) or Hartley Film Foundation (on world religions and spirituality), individual philanthropists and even brands such as Patagonia, who also fund film impact campaigns (not necessarily as their core purpose but because it furthers their aims and priorities). Some have film funds allocated within their organisation. Others may only fund film in exceptional circumstances, on a case by case basis. Have a look at three very different examples to get an idea of the range of funders out there:

AMERICAN PROMISE " %} GIVE UP TOMORROW " %} ESCAPE FIRE " %}
{% trans " production funding
ITVS
POV
Sundance Documentary Fund
San Francisco Film Society
Tribeca Gucci Documentary Fund
Jerome Foundation
National Black Programming Consortium
New York State Council on the Arts
" %}
{% trans " production funding
ITVS
POV
BBC
Sundance Documentary Film Program
CAAM (Center for Asian American Media)
The Fledgling Fund
NYSCA
Jerome Foundation
DR Denmark
Gucci Tribeca
Producer's Contributions
" %}
{% trans " production funding
IndieGoGo
Sundance Institute's Documentary Fund
Valerie Beth Schwartz Foundation
Private investor
" %}
{% trans " outreach and engagement funding
Open Society Foundations
Kellogg Foundation
The Fledgling Fund
Ford Foundation
Corporation for Public Broadcasting / American Graduate Initiative (through POV)
" %}
{% trans " outreach and engagement funding
Bertha BRITDOC Connect Fund
The Fledgling Fund
POV
IndieGoGo
" %}
{% trans " outreach and engagement funding
Christy and John Mack Foundation
The California Endowment
The Fledgling Fund
Valerie Beth Schwartz Foundation
Fair Winds Foundation
SHOUTAmerica
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)
" %}

What are the reasons that funders support impact campaigns?

Funders who have supported a feature length documentary will do so for a variety of reasons, including of course artistic merit. But the most common reason funders cite for supporting impact campaigns is that it is a good way to fulfil the funder's objectives in terms of the change they want to see in the world – from changing minds, structures, communities or behaviours.

So identifying funders who share your impact goals is key, and will help you secure funding against the criteria that funders set out. Your Strategic Plan will help you with this. Head back to the planning session to refresh your memory.

Reality check

'Funders & partners bring tremendous knowledge, networks, analytical skills, money and other resources to social change efforts; they need these films to put human faces on the issues they deal with, because doing so helps them build public awareness and influence public will'

Active Voice

Across all the funders we surveyed, the majority of grants given for production and for impact campaigns are under $75k. This is a useful reality check against the budget you have laid out in the previous section. Certainly, it's an indication of the numbers of partners you may need to support the work, and the imperative to create multi-year partnerships.

Funding through many foundations requires real planning. Given most grant cycles take several months between the initial proposal and the actual grant award. Many applications have multiple rounds where additional material is requested and funders may contact you for revisions, clarification or other questions in the interim. Funders may only have one or two call for proposals per year, so map out on a calendar the upcoming dates for proposals you want to submit (hint: deadlines in future years will generally occur around the same time even if you don't know the exact date, so you can still plan ahead).

But don't limit yourself to the MacArthur and Ford foundations of the world. Small family foundations are often overlooked. They don't have fancy websites or visibility, or even formal application processes, but they can be approached individually, can turn around funding on a shorter timelines and may be excited to fund an out of the box project about a local issue. In the United States, The Foundation Center is an excellent place to look for family foundations in your area.

Whether large or small, some Impact funders are very experienced working with filmmakers. Others have only recently begun supporting documentary films and are still testing the water. These are the individuals making the case internally for the support of film and so are under real pressure to deliver. It's just worth acknowledging the differences between these kinds of funders, to be mindful of their level of knowledge and internal needs.

Finally some food for thought:

The most common frustrations funders experience dealing with our community were: lack of clear campaign strategy, lack of funds to deliver the promised campaign, and ultimately not having the right team in place to run the campaign.

A timely reminder to read the Team and Budget" %} sections of this module to get your thinking straight before applying and to be very realistic about what you promise!

What funders expect in return

Getting a funder to commit to your project can take months of work, but in the experience of many producers, once they do provide initial funding, they are often willing to continue adding resources to the project as its impact campaign progresses. It's important that you continue to maintain a process of updating them on the film and campaign's progress, and to keep them aware of your evolving needs. If you take the time to make your partners and funders feel like part of the inner circle, you never know what rewards you could reap down the line.

To quote our very own BRITDOC partnership guru, Mr. Sandi DuBowski: 'Be truly grateful and generous. Take your lead supporters to dinner. Send hand-written thank you notes. Give flowers. Thank supporters publicly at screenings, in printed and online materials. It seems so basic, yet people forget.'

Send good news but also alert them to a change in direction or a slip in timeframe. Of course there is also likely to be formal reporting required. Your funders will want to know what has happened with their resources, will expect you to demonstrate how your campaign has fulfilled its objectives. We'll tackle this in more detail in the Evaluation chapter. How to report effectively and appropriately.

Funders are way more than a cheque book. They are partners who may become major allies to you and to the movement. They can unlock way more important resources than just money. So now let's focus more deeply on how to identify and make great partnerships.


Made byBRITDOC Foundation Made possible by: Ford Foundation - Just Film Bertha Foundation Sundance Institute Knight Foundation