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

Tag Archives: fiscal sponsorship

The Malcolm X School of Fundraising

I am a graduate and proud alumna of the Malcolm X School of Fundraising. The motto of my alma mater? “Raise the funds by any means necessary.” By any means necessary, you say? As in lie? Cheat? Steal? No, silly! It’s never necessary to become a lawless madman or madwoman in order to raise funds. However, you do need to play the game to win. And that sometimes means bending the rules, not breaking them. There are some key ways this credo comes into play when an indie filmmaker is applying to foundations for grants.

One prime example is the foundation that insists you have to submit a treatment for a film you have not yet shot. A good example is the National Endowment for the Humanities. How can you describe your film if you have not yet shot it? Tricky, right? Nope. Write it up. Fake it. Write the most brilliant, detailed treatment ever submitted. Is that what’s going to end up on film? Probably not. Does the funder know that? Not! Are they going to insist that you submit a big, shiny, flowery, glorious treatment that gives a shot-by-shot description of what they’re going to see in the final product? Yep. Fake it to make it.

Many foundations now refuse fiscally sponsored projects but allow partnerships where one partner has its own 501c3 status. I had a situation where I wanted to apply for a grant from a foundation that had this rule. And they were pretty damn emphatic about it. We had already established a fiscal sponsorship with another production company that had its own 501c3. To make this proposal legit, we signed a separate agreement creating a partnership solely for the purpose of this one grant. We submitted the application under their 501c3. And we got $60,000. Our partner got the same fee they would have gotten as our fiscal sponsor. If I had played by the rules rather than playing the game to win, I would not have been eligible to apply for that grant.

Are there other such examples? Myriad examples! Your job is to sleuth out the hidden truth behind the written guidelines, the real agenda behind what the website says, the actual facts of what they’re looking to fund but can’t say because of politics. Become cunning. It’s the only way to win the funding game.

For more tips about playing the game to win, visit The Money Couch Internet radio show on, or read my Fear-Free Fundraising column on