Writing impact budgets

You're making a brilliant film, figuring out a really clever and effective impact campaign. You've got commitment from your team. Now it's time to turn to the thorniest issue of them all: How you're going to finance your campaign.

We need to start by acknowledging here that much of what you'll eventually be able to do is obviously going to be reliant on the funds you have available to do it. And that despite the frankly heroic efforts of filmmakers to bring change to the world, for many teams resources are frustratingly scarce. The reality is that many impact campaigns run out of funds well before the team has run out of steam.

Of the filmmakers we surveyed, 90% say raising money for impact campaigns is a major challenge and most said they wanted to learn more about costing out campaigns.

Fortunately, it's not all doom and gloom. As the field continues to prove itself with ever more successful campaigns, we are seeing an increase in the funds allocated towards this type of work. Which of course, leads to more brilliant impact campaigns. Which leads to more funds being set aside… etc.

Across the case studies in our Library, you'll see that the budgets spanned $53,000 to $2.6M, and with a mean campaign budget of $507,200. That's not to say that those with comparatively tiny budgets didn't also do an amazing job. You can still do a lot with a little bit of money and a cracking strategy, so don't be put off.

We recommend filmmakers developing impact plans and corresponding budgets as early-on as possible. The stronger the early visioning, the more traction the funding will have later on. A well-articulated impact plan can even help secure production dollars.

This section of the module will hopefully guide you through the process of budgeting to turn your ‘ideal' impact campaign into a real live entity.

Developing your 'ideal' impact budget

Before we get down to actually putting the figures in the cells, let's take a moment to consider this great advice from Tricia Finneran, an impact producer and president of Story Matters, who has worked on the impact distribution of countless films including Bully, How to Survive a Plague and The Revolutionary Optimists. She previously worked with the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and is a member of the Good Pitch team.

'Money, money, money…'

Yes, you can access all kinds of non-financial resources to ensure your movie makes a difference, but you will need some money to make it happen. First up put together an impact budget to support the outreach and engagement work that is separate from the film production budget.


Some funders, in particular public broadcasters, prohibit spending on impact related activities. Other public media funders simply will require separate budgets.

Conversely, some funders, such as the Fledgling Fund, exclusively fund outreach and engagement work.

If you have equity financing in your film, your production budget should only include the cost of delivering the film.

Your campaign has a social change goal and may meet the requirement of a non-profit. That means you can access philanthropic support that was not available to your production! (In the US, if you are applying for foundation funds and are not a non-profit, you will need a fiscal sponsor such as Fractured Atlas or the International Documentary Association in order to accept certain philanthropic funds.)

Steps to take:

  1. Write down everything you want to do - with estimated costs attached to each item. Don't worry about being realistic; just begin.
  2. Ask colleagues for their budgets as a reference. (Hint: tell them to strip out salary specifics and they will likely be happy to help.) While projects vary widely, the core elements are similar. These will prod you to include expenses you may not have considered.
  3. Assess how much time it would take you and your core team to accomplish your plan. What's the best use of your time? Would it be better to hire others to do certain things?
  4. What resources do you already have and what can partner organizations offer you for free? For example, would a non-profit partner host a launch event or contribute to a screening guide?
  5. Assess the funding landscape. In a best-case scenario how much could you raise to support your campaign?

The budget will evolve as you assess the time and resources you have on hand, the likelihood of raising funds, and the resources and opportunities that partnerships will bring to your campaign.

To help you get started, here's a rewritable budget that will help prompt your thinking. It is set up to a maximum of £250,00 but can be scaled up or down depending on how much financial and in-kind support you are able to secure.

Think about preparing a few different versions of your budget based on different scenarios. This gives you a way to think big (and prepare for the worst!) without tempting fate.

Remember, as with everything in this process, budgeting is not something you do once and leave to one side. You'll need to constantly revisit your budget in the light of the campaign's organic development - including dropping out things that aren't working for you - and upweighting the elements that are doing well.

Pro tip: don't forget to build in compensation for time and effort, whether it's for yourself, to hire the people to execute the impact plan, or both. Often this is the last thing filmmakers will include - but funders want to know you will actually have the capacity to do the work funded by those other line items!

Been there, done that: some 'watch outs' from filmmakers:

'For people who are not familiar with the costs of running an impact campaign, it can be surprising when filmmakers keep raising money for a film that is 'already finished.' Having an open, honest and early conversation with your film crew, protagonists, and partnering organizations about the need to continue fundraising after the film is released will serve you well when you are successful and the money starts coming in'

Julia Bacha, Just Vision

'In the initial stage of the campaign, we had some valuable strategic and policy advice from one of our funders, who ended up introducing us to other consultants who eventually became part of our campaign team'

Michelle Maughan, Bag It

'Don't forget to budget for things like additional printing costs. Things like badges and other campaign collateral can catch you out'

Marty Syjuco & Michael Collins, Give Up Tomorrow

'Ensure there is budget in the impact work for subjects' travel, hotel, food at festivals, the theatrical run & screening tour'

Sandi DuBowski, Trembling Before G-d

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