Top 10 Tips To Raise Money For Your Documentary

Photo © aresauburn on flickr.
Photo © aresauburn on flickr.

Documentary fundraising is one of those dirty little secrets that can catch many new documentary filmmakers by surprise.

With the cost of video production gear at a record low, a lot of us filmmakers think we can just grab our camera and make our film on our own without any help.  And in a lot of cases, that’s true!

But unexpected costs can sneak up on even the simplest documentary project.  For example… music fees.  Or lighting gear or hiring a crew or color correcting.  Before you know it, you need tens of thousands of dollars to finish your “simple” film.  Distribution alone can cost as much (if not more) than making your film!

As someone who learned about fundraising the hard way, here are my top 10 tips to raise money for your documentary.

  1. Fundraising Trailer – Your number one priority when raising money for your film is to create a fantastic fundraising trailer.  This is how you pull people into your idea and build buzz for your project.  Keep in mind that a fundraising trailer is not a mini-version of your documentary. This is a teaser meant to give people a taste of your vision and to leave them wanting more!
  2. Build A Team – People are much more willing to donate to a “team” vs. an “individual.”  On top of that, they are much more likely to donate to an EXPERIENED team.  So if you are a brand new filmmaker, make sure to recruit partners who can add credibility to your project.
  3. Relationships – this is one of those vague concepts that is a fundamental aspect of raising money.  People donate to people they know, like and trust.  You can build relationships all kinds of ways: through social media, commenting through your blog, interacting with people at events, inviting people to lunch, etc.   The important thing is to put yourself out there, get to know people and let them get to know you!
  4. Build A Website & E-Mail List– Even if it’s just a one-page website, you need a professional-looking landing page where potential donors can go to learn about your project.  Three key things need to be on your website: your trailer, a donate button and an e-mail sign-up form. You want to make it easy for people to donate as soon as they watch the trailer while the project is FRESH in their minds.  And you can never start building your e-mail list too soon.
  5. Low Hanging Fruit – Sure, it’s nice to fantasize that Coke or the Gates Foundation will write you a check for $250,000, but that’s not usually how it happens, especially for the brand new filmmaker.  Your BEST chance at funding is to go after the “low hanging fruit”, including friends and family and anyone where there’s an existing relationship.
  6. Ask For Advice – There’s a saying among fundraising professionals that if you ask for money you’ll get advice and if you ask for advice you’ll get money.  So find people of influence and ask them for advice!
  7. Avoid Big Numbers – Even if your entire budget is $250,000 never ask for that (unless it’s part of a grant application). Big numbers overwhelm most people and it’s hard for them to understand where all that money is going. Start your fundraising with small amounts for a specific purpose.
  8. Make It A Win-Win – When you approach people for funding, you aren’t begging them for money.  You are asking them to PARTNER with you.  Figure out how your project can be a win-win for both you and the funder.
  9. Your documentary is an opportunity – People feel good when they give. There is actually science behind this – studies have shown that endorphins are released at even the “thought”of doing something good. So when you ask someone for money for a good cause, you are actually giving them the opportunity to feel good!
  10. Give more than you take – Communicate with your supporters even when you don’t need money and build relationships for the long-term. In general, communicate about your project 5-10 times for every one time you ask for money.

So those are just a few tips for successfully raising money for your documentary. What tips or advice can you share from your own experiences.

Faith-Fuller-PixFaith Fuller is an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker and publisher of, a free online resource inspiring the next generation of documentary filmmakers.  Learn step-by-step how to raise money for your documentary with her highly-rated Documentary Fundraising Tool Kit.