This is the latest installment in a comprehensive series of posts where I share the process of creating my first feature documentary film, Still Moving. If you find this or any of my other posts valuable in any way, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the film via PayPal.
In my last two posts I wrote about writing your documentary film proposal and registering your film as an LLC. If you aren’t familiar with those topics, I recommend giving them a read before jumping into this post. Here, I’m going to talk about what comes next.
What is a Fiscal Sponsor?
If you’ve written your proposal and registered as an LLC, you’re probably champing at the bit to start pursuing grants, donations, investments, all of the things that will help turn your idea into a film.
But, there’s one last piece of business to get out of the way, especially if you want to take grants and donations: finding a fiscal sponsor.
What is a fiscal sponsor? A fiscal sponsor is not a grantor, donor, or investor. A fiscal sponsor will not fund your film. Rather, a fiscal sponsor is a 501(c)(3) organization that agrees to take tax-deductible donations on behalf of your project.
Why is a fiscal sponsor beneficial? Most grants require 501(c)(3) status for the projects they give money to, and most individuals will be more likely to donate money to your project if they know that their donation is tax-deductible.
Some filmmakers register their production companies or films as 501(c)(3) organizations, and it’s a valid approach so long as they don’t intend to profit off of their work. There are strict rules for 501(c)(3) organizations, especially when it comes to how funds are used and distributed among officers. That’s why most filmmakers take the LLC approach and secure a 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor if they intend to take grant or donation money.
How to Get a Fiscal Sponsor for Your Documentary Film
Now, before I list the fiscal sponsors available for your documentary film, there are two things you must understand.
First, organizations that provide fiscal sponsorship to films almost always require a detailed proposal (including a budget) to be included with your application.
Second, they almost always require that your film be registered as an LLC or other corporate entity before they agree to sponsor it.
So, get all of that business out of the way and then check out some of the fiscal sponsors available for your film:
- International Documentary Association
- Independent Filmmaker Project
- Docs in Progress
- Media Alliance
- The Film Collaborative
- Filmmakers Collaborative
- Film Forum
- Documentary Educational Resources
- Independent Arts & Media
- Living Archives
- Fractured Atlas
- Hartley Film Foundation
- Kartemquin Films
NOTE: Most of these fiscal sponsors charge a fee between 5-12% for all money they accept on behalf of your project for administrative work. There may be organizations that do not charge a fee for fiscal sponsorship, but there is likely to be a trade-off when it comes to mentoring, marketing, or other benefits that come with some of the fiscal sponsors on this list.
The Fiscal Sponsor We’re Working with for Still Moving
I must admit that I was terrified of the application process for fiscal sponsorship, moreso even than I have been for grant applications. The reason is that there are hundreds of grants out there for documentary films, but there are very few fiscal sponsors. We could blow it on several grant applications, but if we mess up on a fiscal sponsorship application, we could face major setbacks.
Additionally, applying for fiscal sponsorship was the first time our documentary’s proposal was sent to anyone beyond our immediate team. It was the first real test our documentary proposal faced, and we still had a lot of doubts about it. Was our story interesting enough? Was our budget realistic enough? Were we qualified enough?
Fortunately, these doubts made us scrutinize our proposal, rewriting it over and over again until we felt like our project was truly represented on paper.
While we were finishing up the proposal, I narrowed in on the fiscal sponsors I thought would suit our project best. The two I was most interested in were the International Documentary Association (IDA) and Media Alliance. These two organizations couldn’t be more different.
The IDA is an obvious choice. It’s one of the largest, most well-established organizations in the documentary space, and they’ve worked with some incredible and well-known projects. Along with that notoriety, however, comes a rigorous application process for fiscal sponsorship that costs money. Not a lot of money, but enough to make rejection a scary prospect.
Media Alliance, on the other hand, is a small organization based out of San Francisco that focuses on media activism. Since I went to college in San Francisco, I was immediately attracted to this organization. Because they are small, there is no fee for applying for fiscal sponsorship and, I assume, there is less competition for fiscal sponsorship.
Upon further research, I realized that one of my former professors at San Francisco State University is actually affiliated with Media Alliance. I reached out to him and he said he is currently on the board of directors. Interesting development…
So, once our proposal was finished, I sent it to Media Alliance along with an application letter to see what would happen.
About a week later I got on the phone with a representative from Media Alliance who talked about the fiscal sponsorship program, what Media Alliance offers to projects they work with, and the fee associated with taking money on behalf of our film.
I was immediately sold. I trust Media Alliance because of the role my former professor plays, because they offer a competitive fee for taking money on behalf of films, because they are a smaller organization and thus are more available for conversation throughout the process, and because they have a decent mailing list that they said they’d share our project with when the time is right.
Cut to a few weeks later and we’ve signed our agreement with Media Alliance. As a result, Still Moving can now accept tax-deductible donations for our documentary film via PayPal, and we can start the process of applying for grants.
In my next few posts I’ll share our process for applying for grants, finding individual donors, and building a community around our film.
In the meantime, I encourage you to support Still Moving by making a tax-deductible donation. Every little bit helps!
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