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

Tag Archives: tips

Break Through From Outsider to Insider


You probably already know this, but I need to say it. It is one of the most important things you can hear about the film fundraising process you will engage in. The rich get richer, and the poor stay poor. Ouch!

You’re probably saying, “Oh, come on, Holly, you’re always so blunt and over the top.” Well, there is a reason for that. I’ve been alive for what seems like a very long time, and I’ve gotten a good look at how things work. Knowing how things work is the secret password, the “Shazam!,” the “Abracadabra!,” the “Ala Kazam!,” the “Open, Says Me” in the world of film fundraising. Also known as the world.

I am still astonished by how trusting, how like little lambs newbie fundraisers can be. They assume things will be fair and that everybody gets equal consideration. Nope. Nope, nope, nope. Because the funding world is a whole lot like the rest of the planet. There are some people with advantages and some people with disadvantages. There are insiders, and there are outsiders. There are people who will be worshipped and kowtowed to and catered to because of who they are. And there are people who will be ignored because they are “not important.” This state of things pisses me off to no end. Because I believe that every person is important. That every filmmaker has something worthy to say. That the busboys and waitresses and bartenders at a gala dinner are just as important as the keynote speaker. And that just because you’re a celebrity does not mean you are contributing one extra iota of anything useful or positive to the Planet Earth.

So I’m about to stir the pot. I’m about to rouse the rabble. Here is my best advice for the key ways of being in this world that will help you improve your chances of fundraising success now and into the future. Come with me while I tell you how to break the code on this horribly mixed-up system so you can break through from outsider to insider.

I’ll be publishing a series of tips over the course of the next few days.So today, I’ll start with this one:

Don’t be shy ever again That’s right. Time to strap some on. You will never, ever, ever again say, “Oh, but I can’t approach Bill Gates at this event we both happen to be at. That would be so rude. I don’t know him.” That’s right, and you need to know him right now! Put that shrimp cocktail down and go right up to him. He’s probably shoveling some shrimp into his mouth right now. So what! Go right up to him and put out your hand. Tell him your name. Tell him what you do. Ask him about his own interests. Treat him like a human being, not a celebrity. Remember that Bill has biological functions just like every other human creature. He does not excrete 100-carat diamonds. He’s real. And so are you. There is nothing on this Earth that prevents you from connecting with him whenever and wherever there may be an opportunity. Okay, maybe you won’t run into Bill Gates, but you will run into somebody “important.” Go introduce yourself.

Doing  this helps you go from outsider to insider status. Being an insider helps you raise money for your film. It helps you get jobs. It helps you get loans, investments, advice, whatever you need. So never be shy again. Next time on FFFFlog!, I’ll post the next tip in this series: “Collect data like a crazed squirrel.”

In fundraising solidarity, Holly Million  

Hella Hot Tips Open Donor Gateway

I’ve been raising money for twenty years. During my career, I have asked people for all kinds of money for all kinds of reasons. However, whether I’m asking for $1,000 or $100,000, I have found that there are some key concepts that rule. These are my Hella Hot Tips for how to ask people for money. The good news is that this isn’t brain surgery. It’s common sense. If you take these key concepts and use them as your guide for individual donor fundraising, you, too, you’ll find that the gateway to individual gifts will open to you.

Hella Hot Tip #1 — Put yourself in your donor’s shoes

You walk into a donor’s home or office because you have something to say to them. What you really need to do is listen to what they are saying. Understand what they are looking for. Understand what is getting in the way of their saying yes. Work with them to remove the obstacles so they can say yes. What do they get out of this?

Hella Hot Tip #2 — ALL fundraising is about relationships

You need to build a relationship with the donor or prospect. It doesn’t begin with your asking for money. It needs to start before that point. And it doesn’t end with their gift. You have plenty of work to do afterwards because you will want to ask them again later. There’s no use in calling up somebody you neglected for five years to ask them for money for your new film. When it comes to your donor prospects, be the constant gardener.

Hella Hot Tip #3 — There is no magical Rolodex

Everywhere I go, people are searching for the magic list – somebody else’s list that they can get a hold of that will give them the names of the people to ask for money. It doesn’t exist. You have to create your own list. It starts with who you know, then goes to who they know. Sit down and start writing out names. Have everybody in your organization do the same. Eureka! You now have a prospect list.

Hella Hot Tip #4 — Focus on six degrees of bringing home the bacon

Kevin Bacon is reputed to have been in so many films that every other actor is connected to him and through him to everybody else. This is called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. It’s based on Six Degrees of Separation. In the 1960s, a social scientist determined that we are ALL connected by no more than six degrees of separation. Anybody you could want to know is already part of your network. You just need to connect the dots.

Hella Hot Tip #5 — Your fundraising is only as good as your ideas

Spend time honing your message. What is your mission? What is your vision? What are your immediate objectives? What major ideas inform your actions? Who are you and why are you here, doing this thing? Now spend time getting good at talking about what you do. Practice. Create stories that show your impact. Who have you helped? What is their story? Put a face on this thing. Inspire me.

Hella Hot Tip #6 — Go out and ask, already!

It seems ridiculous that I have to say this. But you have to ask in order to raise money. Lots of people get stuck in the courtship and can’t seem to get to the consummation. When in doubt about timing, amount, etc. – just ask. The worst thing that can happen is that they will say no. The best thing that could happen is that they will say yes.

Hella Hot Tip #7 — There is no such thing as no

A board member of a nonprofit I used to work for once said of me, “For Holly, all roads lead to yes.” That’s true. I don’t believe in no. If I ask someone for money and they tell me no, I understand that this “no” is not the ending place. I need to find out why they said no. Is it the amount? My timing? Do they have unanswered questions? Do they want to do this a special way, maybe different from the way I’m asking them to do it? My job is to work with them to find a way to get past the no. I have to be patient and realize that it takes two, three, maybe more attempts to get the yes I want. Be persistent. Persistence pays off.

In fundraising solidarity,
Holly Million

(Photo by Peter Kratochvil)

Tonight on The Money Couch: James David

Joining me on my Internet radio show, The Money Couch: Nonprofit Edition, is PR expert James David. We’ll be talking about “How Free Press Makes You a Better Fundraiser.” While this is the nonprofit edition of The Money Couch, the tips James shares will be just as applicable to indie filmmakers. The Money Couch “airs” Monday night at 7:00 PM Pacific Standard Time. Click the link to go to, the site which hosts The Money Couch in both editions.

James David is the communications manager for Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo Counties. James has had a multifaceted, diverse career in public relations through his clients at agencies and through his work in house. His past clients have included mobile startups such as Microsoft spin-off Zumobi, Web sites such as as well as publicly traded consumer technology brands such as Sony Electronics. He has also worked in cause marketing for clients such as the Ford Motor Company and Arianna Huffington’s 2000 Shadow Conventions. In terms of in-house experience, he has previously worked as the public relations manager at a publicly-traded social networking company as well as served a communications consultant for Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams’ Office of Communications, beefing up their existing team in the weeks before Y2K, staying on with the office to work on city’s census awareness campaign.

James is always enthusiastic about public relations and sharing his tips, so I know this will be a great show!

A Helluva Guide to Indie Film Fundraising Is on Its Way!

I’m pleased as punch to announce that I have begun work on a new fundraising book entitled A Helluva Guide to Indie Film Fundraising. In this book, I draw a detailed road map of film-fundraising Hell, noting the hazards and marking escape routes. Traditional fundraising tactics no longer cut it, especially in this hyper-competitive digital age where abundant, cheap technology has made it impossible to swing a dead cat without hitting another new filmmaker. A Helluva Guide to Indie Film Fundraising covers the universe of fundraising sources, from individuals to foundations to corporations to government funders. It also gives an in-depth look at all the tools in a filmmaker’s arsenal, from letters to the Internet to viral marketing to written proposals to kick-ass events. A Helluva Guide is a fun, straightforward, practical, yet radical guide to indie film fundraising geared to both up-and-coming filmmakers as well as veterans who are finding that their old bag of tricks is no longer producing results.

A Helluva Guide features several components that make it user-friendly and engaging. First, A Helluva Guide to Indie Film Fundraising is sprinkled throughout with “Hella Hot Tips,” useful tidbits of information that give advice in tight “sound bites” that readers can put to use immediately. Second, throughout the book are real examples of appeal letters, grant proposals, event fliers, and other useful road-tested tools that give readers a model to follow. Third, each chapter includes one “Baptized by Fire” interview with a successful filmmaker who has proven fundraising advice to share. In other words, A Helluva Guide to Indie Film Fundraising is fully loaded and ready to drive out of the showroom and directly onto the fundraising freeway.

Stay tuned for more information about A Helluva Guide to Indie Film Fundraising. The expected publication date is Fall 2009.