A few months ago I worked with the absolutely lovely Joanne Butcher of Filmmaker Success to put on an educational event about grant writing here in San Francisco. Joanne has raised millions in grant funding for several non-profits over the course of her life. While I can’t distill everything from her talk into a single blog, I can give the people who weren’t able to make it some of the key takeaways. So without further ado, here are the 5 rules for applying for grants.
This might just be a Guerrilla Rep Media Rule of life at this point. If you understand the field you’re playing on, you’re going to be much better at whatever game you’re going to play there. The only way you understand that field is by researching it. But I digress.
When applying for grants, the first step is to research and find grants to apply to. (Duh) Focus on grants that match the subject matter of your film. It’s best to only apply for grants you’re perfect for, even if they are not directly related to filmmaking.
The fact is that no one can apply to the thousands of grants they are eligible for is why limiting to the perfect matches is going to greatly increase your success. It’s almost always a bad idea to bend something to fit a grant application. The key here is to remove the mindset of scarcity, and instead focus on finding the right fit.
As an example, if we were looking for funding for a reboot of The Little Mermaid, Joanne would recommend looking into marine science foundations, climate change foundations, and local artist grants, local filmmaking grants, or since it’s based on a Hans Christian Andersen book, even Denmark’s Cultural heritage foundations might be worth applying to.
This article is a good place to start for your research.
2. Set a goal for applications
Set an achievable goal for grants you want to apply for. A safe bet is one per month. This would put applying for grants as a heavy part time job for you though.
It can be hard to find relevant grants to apply to get up to 1 per week, so you should consider applying to grants that are thematically related to your content, as opposed to strictly applying for film grants. What I mean by this is if your film is about homelessness, then maybe apply for grants from organizations helping the homeless, stating how you can help increase the awareness and impact of their foundation through the power of motion pictures.
3. Answer the Questions
Now that you’ve researched to find relevant grants, and you’ve set your goals, it’s time to start grant writing! I know that sounds super intimidating, but really it’s just answering a very long series of questions.
Although when you’re answering your questions, you should remember that it’s more than just providing information. Your goal here is to sell the grantor on why your project is the one that will get the most bang for their funders buck.
Every funder’s primary responsibility is to fund the projects that provide the most value to the foundation. Generally, this means the projects that get the most eyeballs on them, and offer the most benefits to the communities that particular funder serves. Your job is to convince that funder that your project is the one that will do that.
4. Hit Send
I know this sounds rather obvious, but once you’ve written your grant you need to press send. However, a lot of filmmakers get stuck at this step, and spend so much time perfecting their application that they either miss the deadline, or could have applied to a whole different grant in the time they spent making one of them about 2% better. Hit send, and start applying for the next one.
5. Apply Again Next Year
Finally, the first time that you apply for a grant, don’t be put off if you don’t get it.. Most funders get far more applications than they have money to fund, and competition is fierce.. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply, it just means that you need to keep applying, and, over time, improve both your proposals, your projects and your relationships with the funders. “After all, says Joanne, “you can’t apply a second time until you’ve applied for a first.”
IF you’re a filmmaker, you’re always likely to have some project that will require funding. Thus, relationships with funders will be very important to your long term career. By applying for film grants, you start to develop a relationship with the grantor, even if your grant applications are unsuccessful.
Also, if you’re declined, you can actually call up the funder, and ask why. Most times, grantors will share some insight as to why your application was declined. Doing this can put you in a much better position to get the grant next year. Just don’t be rude when you do; the point is to build a positive relationship
Thanks so much for reading! I’d heavily encourage you to check out Joanne Butcher’s website below.
Also, if you liked this content, and would like some help strategizing where you can get money for your project, you might want to consider booking a FREE Strategy Session with me. In it we can talk about film funding sources, how to package your project, develop a film distribution game plan, and figure out the next steps to optimize your independent film marketing. You could also submit your film for representation.
Finally, Visit my patreon. It helps keep me writing. I have a very busy schedule with representation, consultation, and my duties at Productionnext. This Patreonhelps me prioritize putting out content for filmmakers just like you. If you appreaciate it, show you do with just a couple of bucks on Patreon.
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My name is Ben, I'm an Entrepreneur, Producer's Rep, and Author. I'm the founder of Guerrilla Rep Media, Co-Founder/CMO of ProductionNext, and founder of PRoducer Foundry. Together, the organizations seek to help make filmmaking a more economically sustainable endeavor. I am dysic, I have capitalization issues, and the blogs are often unedited. opinions all my own.
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