Let’s be real Fundraising is difficult. No matter how good or bad the economy is, no matter how wealthy the individual is or how large the documentary grants are, individuals, foundations and organizations do not part with their money easily.
So how do you inspire people to give up their cold hard money? Ah, the million dollar question! Here is the secret that inspires giving and moves people to action. Ask for the amount you need, state when you need it… and create urgency!
Filmmakers often have the fantasy of some big wealthy donor or foundation writing a big fat check to cover the entire budget of the film. Do not get me wrong. It can happen. And it sure doesn’t hurt to ask, but here’s the strategy that will most likely work best for you, especially if you’re a new filmmaker.
Documentary grants are available for almost any topic imaginable, including health, human rights, environmental issues, and education.
Documentary Grants can be an excellent source of funding for your documentary film project.
Each film grant has its own requirements and application process, so make sure you fully understand the purpose and mission of each grant.
Grants are just one of many ways to get money for your film.
- Ask many different people for small, specific amounts of money and set deadlines for when the money is needed. Even if your documentary funding budget is $250,000, don’t ask for the full amount at once. It’s a daunting number that will intimidate most people.
- Gather money in manageable chunks based on how much you need at that particular moment and how much you think your donor can give. Suppose, at the very beginning, you need $5,000 in documentaries to film your first 10 interviews. Tell people that this is exactly what you are doing and that you are raising money for this specific cause.
- Build trust and confidence. This is the key to fundraising. Make sure you report back to your donors when you’ve raised the money and done what you promised. They might be willing to donate again, or at least be willing to fundraise on your behalf!
- Use crowdfunding. If you’re a first-time filmmaker with no track record, you need to start a grassroots fundraiser among people you know. A good starting point is online fundraising hubs like KickStarter or IndieGoGo.
- When fundraising for a documentary, creating the best possible trailer is absolutely essential. People need to see what you’re trying to achieve and feel inspired to help you. You have to convince people that you have the passion and determination to see your project through.
- Remember that success follows success. Being able to come up with the first $5,000-$10,000 gives you more credibility (especially with larger donors) when asking for the next $10,000, $20,000, or $50,000.
- There is no substitute for picking up the phone, pitching your idea and asking for a specific amount of money for a specific cause. Filling out forms for a grant can take days, sometimes weeks, and you’re competing with who knows how many other projects. A passionate 10-minute personal request to someone who already believes in your documentary idea often yields better and faster results.
- As a rule, cold calling does not work with fundraising. For a brand new contact with no prior relationship or credibility, first send an introduction letter (hopefully along with your trailer) and THEN call and follow up as needed.
- Do your research and reach out to people at their level. Before you ask anyone for money, make sure your project is a natural fit for them and that you have a general idea of what they might be able to accomplish. Your college buddy might be able to throw in $20, while your businessman uncle might be able to throw in $1,000.
- Finally, communicate excitement and urgency. Asking a genuine personal question is one of the hardest things you will ever do, but it is one of the most powerful and effective ways to get documentary grants.
Benefits Of A Documentary Grants
- This money is a “gift” so you don’t have to pay the money back.
- Grants are often given in larger amounts of money, eliminating the need to collect donations in small increments
- Generates more publicity when the grant is announced
- Gives credibility to your project.
The Foundation Centre
One of the best places to start looking for grants is at Candid (formerly the Foundation Center).
Candid, a 501©3 nonprofit organization, has six learning centers across the United States and maintains a database of nearly 100,000 foundations, corporate donors, and public charities in the United States. You can find out who is receiving documentary grants and why. They can do basic research for free, but there is a modest fee to access their online database and they have tons of free training and webinars.
Film Grants Database
Browse the list below for a selection of documentary grants. Do you have a film grant or do you know of other funding sources for documentaries? Please create your own grants page here as part of our free online database listing service or browse through all grants below.
Another excellent resource is the International Documentary Association’s Documentary Grants Directory.
Funding For Documentary Grants
These are some sources of documentary grants for filmmakers.
Click on the titles for more information on these Documentary Grants funding opportunities and deadlines.
Documentary Grants With No Geographic Limitations
BlackPublicMedia.org Open Call for Interactive Web Series: Supports the production of interactive online content designed to engage any audience interested in online content from the African Diaspora.
Catapult Film Fund: The Catapult Film Fund provides development funding for production purposes to documentary filmmakers who have a compelling story to tell, secure access to their story, and are willing to shoot and edit a play. Our mission is to enable filmmakers to take their film projects to the next level at a time when financing is difficult to find. We support powerful stories and moving storytelling across a wide range of topics and perspectives. Catapult only makes grants to 501(c)(3) organizations. In most cases, this means getting a 501(c)(3) tax sponsor for the project.
Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) Fund: Production and completion funding for provocative and compelling Asian American independent media projects destined for public television broadcast in the United States. This organization supports several categories of grants, such as the CAAM Innovation Fund, the CAAM Documentary Grants, the CAAM Documentary Completion Fund, and the Ready, Set, Pitch! program. Campaign.
Cinereach: Supports feature-length nonfiction and feature films at every stage of development that have a distinct spirit, represent underrepresented perspectives, and have appeal across international borders. We prefer history to message, character to agenda, complexity to duality. All filmmakers (including international applicants) must have a 501(c)(3) tax sponsor.
The Fledgling Fund: Supports innovative media projects that can play a critical role in sparking social change. The primary focus of The Fledgling Fund’s creative media initiative is outreach and community engagement. Grants typically fall into three broad categories: outreach and community engagement, grants for films in late-stage post-production, innovative creative media for using new technology to reach new audiences. All filmmakers (including international applicants) must have a 501(c)(3) tax sponsor.
The Ford Foundation’s JustFilms Grant: Beginning in 2011, we will invest $10 million annually for five years in documentary funding projects that address pressing social issues and help us understand our past, explore our present, and help us build future. Our goal is to expand the community of emerging and established filmmakers, who often lack funding, and help them realize their visions and reach audiences.
The Frameline Completion Fund: The Frameline Completion Fund provides grants to emerging and established filmmakers. This program aims to provide a much-needed source of financial contributions for artists who often struggle to secure funding to complete their works. Grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 are available for films that depict and reflect LGBT life in all its complexity and richness.
Grantmakers in the Film and Electronic Media Database: The GFEM Media Database is a searchable database of ongoing media projects. GFEM believes that media plays a crucial role in shaping, shaping and catalyzing public discourse and culture. Our goal is to advance the field of media art and public media funding. To this end, the GFEM media database serves as a hub where funders of all types can find a rich selection of media-related projects that fit their funding priorities.
Movies That Matter: An Amnesty International program that provides modest financial support to initiate human rights film festivals and to support the dissemination and exhibition of human rights films in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
PBS’ POV Movie Program: POV, the premier public television showcase for independent non-fiction films and videos, seeks programs from all perspectives to feature in its annual PBS national series. All subjects, styles and lengths are welcome.
PUMA Catalyst Award: These awards are open to emerging and established filmmakers working anywhere in the world. We welcome unique, creative documentary ideas with the aim of becoming feature films. Up to ten prizes worth €5,000 are awarded each year. This award has an open call for applications year-round and awards grants at the discretion of the organization.
PUMA Impact Award: An annual prize of €50,000 recognizing the documentary that has had the most positive impact on society or the environment.
Rooftop Filmmakers’ Fund: Funding for every filmmaker who has ever screened a film at Rooftop Films in New York. Mentoring and Cash grants for short films. Design and post-production grants for feature films.
Rooftop Films/Adrienne Shelly Foundation Short Film Grant for Women: ASF supports the artistic achievements of actresses, writers and directors through a range of grants and grants, offering recipients financial support and advisory access to the Foundation’s Advisory Board of actresses, directors, producers, Composers, lawyers, advertisers, academics and professionals. For this grant, ASF awards a $3,000 grant to a female director. For more information, see http://www.adriennehellyfoundation.org/current-awards.
Sundance Institute Documentary Grants: Research/development and production/post-production grants for cinematic documentaries on urgent human rights, social justice, civil liberties, and related issues from the United States and internationally.
Documentary Grants With Geographically Limited In Anywhere In US
Creative Capital: National grant and artist service organization for individual artists with an open application process. Grant from Creative Capital supports all disciplines in the following categories: Emerging Fields, Film/Video, Innovative Literature, and Performing Arts and Visual Arts.
Independent Television Service (ITVS) Open Call: Funding for individual non-fiction public television programs on any subject and from any angle. Projects must have started production as evidenced by a work-in-progress video. Open Call funding is only available to independent producers who are citizens or legal residents of the United States and its territories.
Independent Television Service (ITVS) Linking Independents and Co-Producing Stations (LINCS): Matching funds to partnerships between public service broadcasters and independent producers. LINCS funds individual non-fiction public television programs on any subject and from any angle. Producers must be US citizens or legal residents.
Lynn and Jules Kroll Fund for Jewish Documentary Film: The fund’s priority is to support projects that deal with important issues; offer fresh, challenging perspectives; address different target groups; and expand understanding of Jewish experiences. Historically, grant amounts have generally ranged from $15,000 to $35,000.
MacArthur Foundation Documentary Film Grant: MacArthur’s goal in providing media grants is to provide the public with high-quality, professionally produced documentaries, informed and analytical journalism, and well-produced news and public affairs programming.
In a media environment marked by a multitude of information sources of varying degrees of reliability, the Foundation seeks to support serious, fact-based journalism for television, radio and the web, the types of original reporting that are likely to be blogged, linked to, tweeted and otherwise spread on the internet.
Foundation-supported programs educate and educate viewers on important and underappreciated topics, provide balanced and accurate information, foster global conversations, and use technology to tell stories in engaging and interactive ways.
National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) Fund for the Arts: Practice-advised scholarship program designed to help Latinos develop their creative talents and make lasting contributions to our communities and society at large.
Launched in 2005 by the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture with significant support from the Ford Foundation, the NALAC Fund for the Arts provides funding to strengthen Latino arts organizations and to support Latino artists in the creation of their work.
National Endowment for the Humanities Media Projects Development Grants: Development grants allow media producers to work with academics to develop humanities content and prepare programs for production. Grants should result in a script or draft document and should also include a detailed plan for outreach and public engagement in collaboration with one or more partner organizations. Supported formats are film and television projects; interactive digital media; and radio projects.
Producing for PBS: The Program Challenge Fund was created to support high quality, limited primetime series for national public television programming. The Program Challenge Fund is managed jointly by the CPB and PBS, who make funding decisions based on jointly determined program goals.
Geographically Limited Within The USA
The Jerome Foundation: Founded by artist and philanthropist Jerome Hill (1905-1972), the Jerome Foundation seeks to contribute to a vibrant and evolving culture by supporting the creation, development and production of new work by emerging artists. The foundation provides grants to nonprofit arts organizations and artists in Minnesota and New York City.
Maryland Humanities Council Opportunity Grants: The Opportunity Grants program offers small grants of up to $1,200 to prioritize the program needs of small institutions and underserved audiences. The Opportunity Grant is flexible, responsive, and encourages the use of the humanities in new and
Pacific Pioneer Fund: Supports emerging documentary filmmakers who live and work in California, Oregon and Washington state. The term “aspiring” is intended to describe a person who has dedicated himself to the craft of documentary filmmaking and has demonstrated that commitment through several years – but no more than ten – of hands-on film or video experience.
Geographically Restricted To Non-US Filmmakers
Hubert Bals Fund: An initiative of the International Film Festival Rotterdam that supports remarkable cinema projects from developing countries. Promotion of feature films and creative, feature-length documentary projects with theatrical potential. Note that creative documentaries will only be accepted for the post-production category.
Independent Television Service (ITVS) International Call: Production resource for individual nonfiction television programs that bring international perspectives, ideas, events, and people to US television. This initiative is for non-US producers who are citizens of another country and live outside the US.