Nuts, bolts, hot tips, and road-tested information from Holly Million for indie filmmakers raising money

“Jack London: 20th Century Man,” Case Two: Major Donor Madness

If you really want to make serious fundraising hay while the sun shines, you have to build upon all those micro-donations you gather like fallen blossoms. You have to build the top of your funding pyramid. At the top, above all the little, heartfelt gifts from Aunt Mathilda and your former yoga instructor, you need some major gifts. Major gifts take time, cultivation, finesse, and patience. Oh, yes, and patience. More and more patience than you ever thought was contained in the cells of your body. Because major donors are demanding. They are often the kind of people who expect others to jump when they snap their fingers. They’re busy. Busy making money. And you want some of their money. But they want something, too. Usually, they want to make your life hell. If you were to write them a little note acknowledging your feelings, it would go something like this:

Dear Major Donor Guy,

You’re nuts.



When I led the fundraising campaign for my husband Chris Million’s documentary film, “Jack London: Twentieth Century Man” last year, we had a major donor prospect come our way. As I mentioned in earlier blog posts on this site, he arrived out of the blue and came at the perfect time. He offered to donate $50,000 to the film, so long as we first raised $50,000 to match his gift. That was a good beginning. But after that, I needed all of my skill as a hardened fundraising professional who has raised millions of dollars from rich guys (and a few ladies) over the past twenty years. He tended to get upset. Sometimes he was close to yelling on the phone. “You won’t have the film edited for another year!? That’s not how I do business.” His business was fast food. He was the owner of a chain of fast-food restaurants. He really had no experience dealing with films or filmmakers before. He shared a list of the other campaigns he had contributed to in the past by providing the lead, challenge gift. All of them had been with major organizations such as St. Vincent De Paul, large social service organizations, big civic organizations. He was terrified of our having a fiscal sponsor: “I make the check out to WHAT?” He did not understand why most of our smaller donors lived in California (because WE live in California). He wanted us to fax him weekly reports showing who gave, how much, and where they lived. Really, he was pretty demanding. But he never asked for credit in the film. Never asked to be “Executive Producer,” and he never, ever asked to see different cuts of the emerging film in order to weigh in. Which is good, because I never would have agreed to any of that. How did I deal with all of this? I was patient. Patient, patient, oh, so patient! Patient like a tiger lying in the bushes, watching the gazelle sidling up to the waterhole and waiting for it to put its head down to drink. You have to be patient, sophisticated, a good, calm communicator, a diplomat, and a tiger when you are dealing with major donors. Find out next time how we were able to reach our $50,000 goal in order to earn this donor’s match. And find out how I responded when he said, “A year!? That’s not how I build a business!” You’re gonna like it. After all, there’s more than one way to slice a pizza. In fundraising solidarity, Holly Million.

About the author

Have a project you want someone to manage? Have a job that needs to be done professionally, on time, and under budget? That is what I do. I am β€œThe Super Producer.” I take ideas and make them real. My services support fundraising, films, events, publications, and organizations. I assess the situation, prepare the plan, design the fundraising, hire the team, administer the budget, manage the timeline, and guide the project to successful completion. Put me in charge of your project. – See more at:

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