Do You Make These Mistakes In Documentary Funding?

Are you baffled by the documentary funding process? Are you uncomfortable asking people for money? Are you confused by the whole fundraising process? If you are, don’t worry! You are not alone. Sometimes just knowing a few simple rules and avoiding common mistakes can make all the difference in your documentary fundraising success.

documentary funding

Do You Make These Mistakes In Documentary Funding?

1. Not having a trailer – There’s nothing that can catapult or doom a documentary funding effort like a trailer. If you have a fantastic trailer that moves people emotionally, your chances for donations dramatically improve.

According to the crowd-funding platform IndieGoGo, campaigns with videos raise 122% more money than those without videos. You not only need a video, but that video needs to hit an emotional nerve with the audience. And NEVER show your video online without having a donate button right next to the video. If people are moved by your trailer, they need a way to donate right then and there while they’re “at the moment” and feeling inspired.

2. Not asking – We all know how nerve-wracking it can be during documentary funding to ask someone for money. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get it! If you’re nervous about asking someone for money, ask yourself why you feel anxious. Have you done ample research to understand whether or not your project is a good fit with the needs and interests of your potential donor? Have you built a relationship with the person? Have you done your research to figure out how much the person is capable of giving?

The more information you have, the more confidence it will give you that you’re making the right ask at the right time. I learned a documentary funding trick from fundraising expert Marc Pitman: take a “prop” with you to a meeting where you’ll be asking for money. That prop can be your trailer, some raw footage you just shot, photos of a location you’re scouting to shoot, some re-enactments, etc. A prop can help take the focus off “the ask” and put you on the same team discussing the “prop.” But there’s no way around it. To get a donation, you’ll have to ask for it.

documentary funding
Find Out How To Sell Your Documentary To Netflix

This leads us to documentary funding mistake #3.

3. Talking too much – When people are nervous or super passionate about a subject, they tend to go on and on. Filmmakers make this mistake all the time. One common situation where this happens is during “the ask.” Imagine sitting across from a potential major donor. You finally get up the nerve to ask for that big donation, and then… you keep talking.

Big mistake! Here’s how it happens. You say something like: “I’d like to ask you to consider a gift of $25,000 for the documentary project.” (uncomfortable pause) “Um… but if you can’t, that’s okay too.” Don’t do this! Don’t try to fill the awkward silence. In documentary funding, as soon as you make the ask, BE QUIET. Let the pitch sink in and let the other person respond FIRST. It’s hard to be quiet, but it’s crucial.

4. Cold Calling– Cold calling seldom works in documentary funding. Typically, some pre-existing relationship and trust must be built before someone gives money for a cause (at least for significant amounts). So if you’re reaching out to a potential donor for money, don’t try to ask for money on that very first call. You first reach out to a person or organization to begin a relationship. You wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on the first date, would you?

There’s a saying in documentary funding: if you ask for money, you’ll get advice. If you ask for advice, you’ll get money. Make it your priority to listen and engage with potential donors. Find out THEIR needs and interests. Do a lot of listening and figure out if your project is a natural fit with the person or organization FIRST before asking for money. For example, get their advice on how to proceed with your project or who they would suggest you contact for support. Build trust and give the person time to understand what you’re trying to accomplish. The goal is to get them thinking about you and your project in a positive way!

5. Going it alone – Don’t make a mistake I did when I first started making documentaries, and try and do the documentary funding thing alone. Having a documentary funding team makes the fundraising process MUCH more straightforward, especially if you are inexperienced with the fundraising process. Get some “gray hair” on your team and people who have connections in the business world. Expanding your field of influence can significantly boost your fundraising success.

The biggest mistake is letting the documentary funding process bog you down. There is always a way to find money! Use those brilliant creative skills you were born with to “think outside the box” and develop fundraising ideas unique to YOUR project. If you want more information on how to make a documentary, you might want to check out: Selling Your Documentary To Netflix. (This is an affiliate link. While we do get paid to promote, we LOVE Faith’s training. We hope you will too.)

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Faith Fuller is the primary author of and the director of the award-winning documentary Briars in the Cotton Patch: The Story of Koinonia Farm, which was broadcast nationally on PBS from 2005 – 2010. She helps filmmakers seeking ideas on how to make a documentary.

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