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

Tag Archives: campaign

Real-Time Fundraising: WITH YOU’s New Campaign

I’ve been writing up case-studies of the fundraising I did for two separate documentary films — WITH YOU and JACK LONDON: 20TH CENTURY MAN. Well, things just amped up for WITH YOU. Instead of blogging about our past fundraising success, I’m going to post over the coming weeks about our NEW fundraising campaign to raise $20K by April 20.

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“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. Continue reading

With You, Case One: Feet on the Ground

When we got ready to launch our fundraising campaign for “With You,” we first set our goal, our deadline, and our purpose. Once that job was done, our next task was to amass our arsenal — I mean toolkit, of tools and devices we needed in order to run a successful campaign. I have to watch myself sometimes. The language of war seems to creep into the fundraising lingo sometimes. And this is nothing like war. It’s more like building a community — a community of like-minded people who want to work with you and each other to achieve a goal you all believe in. So, we started work on our toolkit. The toolkit is how you put your feet on the ground and have a strong, steady platform to move forward from. We needed a website with specific language about the campaign. That included a prominent button with a few succinct words about donating right on the home page. Then, we needed a donation page that gave a bit more information and had a link to our online donation page via our fiscal sponsor. That way, with just two clicks, people could go to a secure, online donation page where they could donate by credit card. We also gave instructions on how to donate by check, just for those who don’t like to give their credit card info online. Next, I wrote a one-page letter that described the campaign goal, deadline, and purpose and which gave a “Call to Action.” In the fundraising world, you’re always channeling your activity to the call to action. That’s where you activate people as donors. The letter was printed out and mailed to a select group of people who don’t use the Internet or who are going to be asked for larger amounts of money. This letter contained a reply envelope with our mailing address affixed to it. Then, we set up an EventBrite page to use for the fundraising event we planned to cap our fundraising campaign. By using this tool, we could sell “tickets” to our event in advance, and EventBrite would deduct a small fee. We set ticket prices from $35 to $1,000, allowing people to select what they wanted to give. This made it much easier for us to see who was coming and to ensure that they would give prior to the event. When the money is in your hand, it’s in your hand! When the money is still a promise, who knows? Lots of people gave at the $35 level, and a handful gave at the $1,000 level, including some who knew they would be unable to attend in person. Another tool we created was three short clips from the film that we could show at the event. If you’re making a film, the best draw for an event is sharing something from the work in progress. With all of these tools in our hands, we were able to launch our campaign. Find out more next time about how we secured some major gifts as part of the campaign, how we enlisted lieutenants from the closest friends of the film to help tap their own networks for bigger gifts, and how we kept up the excitement level and awareness of our entire donor prospect list to ensure that we would meet our goal. — In fundraising solidarity, Holly Million (Public domain image by Leigh B. Shaklee)

“Jack London: 20th Century Man,” Case Two: “Jack London Calling!”

My husband, Chris Million, has been an unofficial scholar of the great American author Jack London for the past twenty years. He was at a literary conference more than two decades ago and met Becky London, Jack’s daughter, who autographed a book for him. Meeting the author’s daughter made Jack even more real and tangible for Chris, and from that moment on, he was determined to make the world’s first-ever feature-length documentary about London, his immense literary legacy, and his fascinating times. Flash forward more than two decades to 2012. One of Chris’s academic advisors to the film emailed to say she had a wealthy donor who contributed to her university. This individual had endowed her faculty chair at the university where she was one of the world’s foremost London scholar. Now, the donor was potentially interested in funding Chris’s film, “Jack London: 20th Century Man.” He was a long-time fan of London’s writing who had made his fortune by owning a restaurant chain in the Deep South. He wanted to make a contribution to the film. But there was a catch. There was always a catch. There always IS a catch when it comes to major donors contributing to films, I can assure you of that. He wanted to make his contribution a matching gift. We would have to match his gift dollar for dollar in order to receive it. It was all or nothing. If we did not meet the match, we would not get a dime. His intended gift? $50,000. It was up to me to create a campaign that would take advantage of this offer and succeed. How did I structure the campaign? What did I tell the donor? How did this challenge test our nerves? Find out in my upcoming posts. — In fundraising solidarity, Holly Million

With You, Case One: Sky’s the Limit? Scoping the Campaign

Once we secured our lead gift of $22,000 for “With You,” our next job became scoping the fundraising campaign. To succeed with any fundraising campaign, you need to answer three questions: 1) How much money do I need to raise?, 2) Why do I need this money?, and 3) By when do I need this money? Having specific answers to these questions allows you to create a compelling, urgent, actionable case for potential donors. Sounds simple, right? Yes, and yet, it is so powerful. For the “With You” campaign, to answer question one, we decided $50,000 was the right goal. $50,000 would give us enough to complete the rough-cut of the film and support doing invited sneak-preview screenings at Frameline and Outfest. This seemed like a good goal to me, not only because it served our real needs, but also because it had some flash, some bling. It was a big, hairy, audacious goal, the kind that gets you noticed. But it was also not so big a goal that I feared falling short. In other words, it was achievable. Plus, we already had $22K to kick off the campaign, meaning we just needed to raise another measly $28K to reach the goal. Very good! To answer the second question, we had a simple response. We needed $50K in order to complete a full-length cut of the film. Awesome! Concrete need, grand in scope, but totally achievable. Inherent in that goal was a reward for potential donors — they would help the film reach a significant milestone, and there was the chance they could participate by getting to view that feature-length cut. Boffo! As far as the third question went, I did some mental calculations about the timing. First, we would be able to sustain the excitement level so long as we completed the campaign BEFORE the Frameline screening. We had received word that “With You” would screen on a Thursday evening at San Francisco’s famous Castro Theatre. Definitely prime time. Once that moment passed, so would the impetus for people to donate. So we had to be done before then. To be safe, I set the goal for June 1, a couple weeks ahead of the screening. That meant that we had about eight weeks total to finish the campaign. This was a good target, because it was a fairly quick campaign (which would keep the sense of urgency up), but not so short that we would run out of time to put the messaging and tools of the campaign in place. Next time: I’ll describe what tools we needed to run the campaign. In fundraising solidarity, Holly Million

“With You,” Case One: I just need $20,000.”

The first film in the queue that I was producing during the past three years is “With You.” This is a feature-length documentary that tells the story of Mark Bingham, one of the heroes of United Flight 93 who on September 11, 2001 helped prevent the terrorists who had hijacked the plane from completing their mission. The film also tells the story of Mark’s mother, Alice Hoagland, who was a United Airlines flight attendant before Mark’s death and who became a nationally known advocate for both transportation safety as well as LGBT rights after Mark’s death. I’m going to call “With You” Case One on this blog, and I’ll be writing a series of posts about how we were able to raise the funds we needed to complete the feature-length cut. In January 2011, the filmmaking team that included me, my husband Chris Million, Scott Gracheff our director, and Todd Sarner, a friend of Mark’s from childhood, realized that we needed to capitalize on the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 that was swiftly approaching in 2011. We had been working for more than eight years on this film, following Mark’s mom Alice, interviewing Alice and a wide range of Mark’s friends from childhood and his adult life, filming Mark’s friends as they ran in his honor at a marathon in San Diego, and collecting archival materials to tell Mark’s story. We needed to get a cut together. But we had run out of money we’d raised years earlier to help us with production costs. We were literally down to spare change in the bank account. How were we going to hire an editor? Before you can launch any kind of successful fundraising campaign, you need to create a structure. You need to assemble your tools. You need to know how much you want to raise, by when, and for what purpose. And the first tool you need to have in your hand is a lead gift. You need one person who believes so strongly in your film and who wants it to succeed that they will give you a large sum of money to kick off your campaign. Years earlier, we had secured seed money for “With You” from Mark Bingham’s family and friends. In order to make it to our finish line, we needed to go back to a true believer and get them to plunk down some serious cash. My top prospect was a family friend of Mark’s who was our top donor to date. I approached him by phone with the good news that we had a plan together to finish the film. “Oh, that sounds wonderful,” he said. “Yes, and to make this plan succeed, we need your help. Can you make a donation of $20,000 to kick off our fundraising effort?” There was an almost inaudible gulp on the other end. “$20,000?” “Yes, that’s right,” I said, and waited, patiently and silently for the donor to say yes or no. I needed to stay out of the way until I heard an answer. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll talk to my accountant and see how I can do this.” A few days later, I received a check in the mail — a check for $22,000. The lead donor had decided to enhance his contribution beyond what I had requested. I probably should have asked for $25,000. Next time I will write about how we structured the fundraising campaign: how much, by when, and for what purpose. Things got intense really fast, so stay tuned for all the gory details. In fundraising solidarity, Holly Million