How to Raise Funds for Your Socially Engaged Project, Part 3: Funding from Other Sources

Stephanie Bleyer presenting at the 2013 Creative Capital Grantee Orientation

Stephanie Bleyer presenting “Fundraising 101” at the 2013 Creative Capital Grantee Orientation

In the first post in this series, I shared my tips for finding foundations and philanthropists to support your socially engaged art projects, and in second I offered suggestions for writing and submitting the proposal. This post will cover other ways to source funding for your project.
Individual Giving
I’ve yet to meet an artist who is comfortable asking for money. If it makes your skin crawl, here’s an easy alternative: When you meet a potential donor, ask them to invite some friends over and host a gathering for you at their house or office. You can help them organize a salon discussing the issues in your project, you can show a screening of your film in progress or a preview of your next installation. At the event, you do not have to ask their friends for money. Be prepared to stand up and present your project and, more importantly, the issue you hope to affect. This is called a “friendraiser.” Collect cards and follow up with these new “friends” after the event is over.
If you’re on the festival circuit or you’re touring a show, take advantage of each city you’re visiting and find someone to host a gathering while you’re in town. I prioritize getting my clients into festivals in second-home communities like Palm Springs, Fire Island, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, the Hamptons and the Berkshires. Once we’re in, we work our network to find someone to host an intimate gathering for the filmmaker. If you want to be even more focused, target second-home communities that will be most interested in your issue. For example: if the project is about the Chinese-LGBT community, I’ll try to set up parties in the most popular second-home communities for Chinese-LGBT. This may seem a no-brainer, but over and again folks I work with are missing this opportunity.
Grantmaker Affinity Groups
My latest obsession is with grantmaker affinity groups. Simply, these are groups of funders that have something in common. The Council on Foundations (an association of 1,700 grantmaking organizations) has 38 affinity groups under its wings. I spend a good amount of time pursuing the Directors of these groups because it’s the most efficient way for funders that care about my clients’ issues to learn about our projects. These funders get together in person and on the phone all the time. They share information and promote their projects to each other. As an artist, you have something that they want—a way to bolster the work of their grantees and a way to make their retreats more interesting. Take advantage of this and don’t underestimate your potential worth.
Some quick examples: Next month I have a film about healthcare screening at an annual retreat for healthcare grantmakers (they have a membership of 240 foundations) and at the Council on Foundation’s annual conference (you have to apply to this one, click here); and I have a film about African-American youth screening at a conference for African-American foundation executives. To find an affinity group that aligns with your issues, click here.
Corporate Sponsorship
I’m asked all the time about corporate sponsorship. Aside from low hanging fruit like Cliff Bar, Ben & Jerry’s, Stonyfield Farms and Seventh Generation, I have found that it’s 10 times harder for me to get corporate funding than foundation support. If you think you’re a home-run project for corporations, you need to create a pitch deck where you tell them how a partnership will benefit them—what kind of exposure will they receive? Start your search with the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy’s website. Better yet, if you have a little funding, hire a corporate sponsorship consultant with a good rolodex to do this work for you.
Some of the most innovative work being done right now with social issue film and corporate sponsorship is by my friends at 10×10. Although they are supported by Intel and Google, they’ve conceived of a lot of creative ways to engage corporations aside from asking for a donation. Check out this piece in the New York Times about some of their corporate partnership activities.
Like grantmaker affinity groups, socially minded corporations also work together and retreat together. For example: one of my projects was just invited to screen for 240 CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies and their Corporate Social Responsibility managers. I’m not expecting anyone to write us a check at this gathering. It’s a friendraiser, aka a great opportunity for exposure to a group of very influential people.
Unless you’re a cultural giant like MOMA or you’re creating work for the 1% who support SOB’s (Symphony, Opera and Ballet), I wouldn’t spend a lot of time pursuing corporate funds. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, national sponsors are not giving their money to small independent artists.
Pitching Forums
The jury is still out for me on pitching forums, which are well known in the film world. I’ve had moderate success gaining anything fruitful from them. A pitching forum can come in a couple of different shapes and sizes. The general idea is that you sit at a table and pitch a group of people (funders, distributors, partners) your project while an audience of spectators watches. Most of the time somebody at the table commits to doing something for the project. And even if they don’t, it’s pretty good exposure—in many cases there will be funders in the audience who wouldn’t otherwise know about your project.
A quick success story from a pitching forum that a client participated in last April: We had a program officer from a huge foundation at our table; a few weeks later we had a call with him and within a month we got a meeting. Fast forward nine-months, one giant grant proposal, two revisions, traveling two hours to meet the officer, countless phone calls and email reminders (“Happy July 4th, it’s me again!”…“Hope you enjoyed Labor Day, remember me?”…“How was your Thanksgiving? Any news on our grant?”…“Happy New Year! Just following up on my last email”), I received a verbal commitment for a $250k grant. Now I just have to fill out another 10-hours of paperwork and voila!
So really good things can eventually come from these forums.
Donor Advised Funds & Donor Collaboratives
A donor advised fund is basically an organization that manages charitable giving on behalf of a philanthropist, a family or an organization. They’re gatekeepers, connectors and advisors. Often cities establish local donor advised funds (they’re usually called community foundations). Google your city to find yours. Also try googling “donor advised fund” + “your issue/art discipline.” These organizations are a bit cryptic—it’s never clear how to get in the door, and there’s generally not a straight-forward application process.
A donor collaborative is when a group of funders join forces and put their collective funding behind a project or issue area. You can find these in the same way as donor advised funds. Google “donor collaborative” + “your issue” or “your city” or “your art discipline.”
In my experience, running a crowdfunding campaign can take over your life. There are easier ways to get money for your projects. Don’t like it, not gonna talk about it.
Leveraging Your Assets
Funders beget funders. If someone has put their resources behind your project, they want to see it succeed, which includes helping you find additional funding. Do not hesitate to ask your funders for introductions to other funders. Be specific—come to them with a short list of prime targets and make sure they write the email introduction. You don’t want to be handed a list of email addresses that you could just pull from the foundation’s website.
Like the “Ask” for individuals, ask your funders to host a gathering for other funders.
Go at funders from every angle, which leads me to my last tip: LINKED IN. Why is it the best fundraising tool (next to the Foundation Center’s online directory)? Because when you want to get funds from a foundation or corporation or individual philanthropist, you plug that funder into LinkedIn and you find out that you are two people removed from the president’s assistant, you are three people removed from the program officer’s neighbor, the communications manager graduated from your alma mater the year before you. And before you know it, you have found a personal entry point into the organization and you are ten steps ahead of your competition.
Pride Shmide
The number one thing I want you to take away is persistence. At times you will need to teeter over the fence into what be considered stalking. Just keep going (politely of course) until you get the “No.” Don’t take the lack of response (which will make up 98% of your correspondences) as a “get lost.” This is not dating—you don’t have to worry about seeming desperate, and who cares about your pride? I take the lack of courtesy in stride and follow-up and follow-up and follow-up.
Finding Grantmaker Affinity Groups: Council on Foundations
Finding Corporate Sponsors: Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP)
Finding Foundations: Foundation Center
Connecting with Individuals: LinkedIn
Don’t miss Stephanie’s June 9th webinar, “Producing & Funding Your Community Engagement Campaign“, in which you’ll learn how to produce effective campaigns for artwork with a social justice focus. Click here to register.

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