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

Tag Archives: major gift

Case Two: “Jack London: 20th Century Man — Compassion Clinches a Major Gift

So I left off in my last blog post for Case Two with my saga of the major donor who would not be reasonable. This is the guy who had promised to give me $50K for a documentary if I raised another $50K first. I promised to tell you how I responded when he got a little hot under the collar. I said in the last post that I was like a tiger waiting in the bushes at the watering hole for the gazelle to lower its head and extend its neck. So true. Continue reading

“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

“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: 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