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Programs Wed 4.26.2017

Get The Money: What You Need To Know About Fiscal Sponsorship and How To Use It

How do independent content creators get money to make their projects? Unfortunately there are precious few case studies of filmmakers randomly stumbling upon duffel bags full of loose $100 bills and unexploded dye packs. In the real world, budgets are almost always complicated amalgamations of many different sources: personal and equity investments, individual donations, grants, scouring the beach with a metal detector searching for lost pirate booty—you name it.

Managing the financial side of film production can often become more than a full-time job, and probably not one most right-brained creative types are eager to take on. Luckily, Film Independent now offers a way to for you to access new funding opportunities and provide a financial incentive to potential donors: fiscal sponsorship.


If you don’t know what Fiscal Sponsorship is, don’t worry. We’ll tell you. Fiscal sponsorship is a legal arrangement between a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and an individual or business entity that makes them eligible to apply for charitable funding previously only available to the 501(c)3. In other words, it enables you and your project to apply for fancy-shmancy nonprofit grants, both from the government as well as other granting organizations, like private foundations. It also makes individual donations to your project tax-deductible, giving potential patrons an added incentive to flex their checkbooks.

Newly launched, Film Independent’s Fiscal Sponsorship program seeks to foster long-term relationships with likeminded filmmakers and multi-media projects. We want to make it easier for you (yes—you) to seek and solicit outside funding. We’ll help package and promote your project, providing support and helping to manage your funds through all stages of production.

Here’s how it works:


Protect yourself. While attaching Film Independent as your Fiscal Sponsor enables you to take advantage of certain kinds of funding only available to 501(c)(3) nonprofits, you don’t actually become a nonprofit yourself. So consider setting up a LLC (limited liability company) or S-Corp for your project beforehand to avoid intermingling personal finances with those of your film. It’s always a good idea to talk with your tax or legal advisor when determining which type of business structure is right for you and your project.

Grants. What kinds of funding can you apply for? Lots! The National Endowment for the Humanities, myriad state humanities grants (depending on location), support from special interest foundations (assuming your subject fits that foundation’s mission)—even grants from other 501(c)(3)s, just to name a few. Not sure where to start searching? Then allow us to introduce you to your new best friend, the Foundation Directory Online.

Be simpatico. Fiscal Sponsorship is only available to independent media projects that fit with Film Independent’s stated mission: to promote creative independence in visual storytelling and support a diverse community of artists. There are a lot of ways to interpret that, so be ready to sell us on yours and why it fits before applying. Participating projects must also serve the public good, whether that’s through innovation in the arts, education or engendering greater social understanding. Basically, the overall intent of your project should be to contribute to and deepen our cultural tapestry. Simple enough, right?

Taxes. Even though money you get through fiscal sponsorship is tax-deductible for the donor, it’s still considered taxable income for you, so make sure your financial ducks are in a row and maybe even hire a bookkeeper.  Also, be aware: donors are not the same thing as investors. The tax write-off only applies to patrons giving you money without any expectation of return. Can you work with investors and donors? Of course! You (and more importantly, they) just need a clear understanding of who’s who and what the exact expectations and obligations are for each person. But that’s a conversation for another blog.

Responsibility. When you partner with Film Independent as your fiscal sponsor, you’ll need to provide regular, detailed reporting so we know that your project is moving forward. These reports will include a brief narrative summary about what’s happening with your production, good or bad, and a detailed cost report accounting for all the disbursements made to your project over a calendar year, delivered annually.

Budgeting. Harder than it sounds. (Photo: Stupplepatrol.com)


So now that we’ve talked a little bit about what fiscal sponsorship is, let’s talk about the benefits. First: how easy it is to apply. To do so, you need to be a current Member of Film Independent (which of course also enables you take advantage of everything else Membership offers). From there, you can proceed directly to our applications page to tell us about your project. A non-refundable $45 application fee is required (waived for Filmmaker Pro Members). That’s pretty much it! The review process takes between two-four weeks.

Legitimacy. Not to toot our own horn, but partnering with a well-respected organization like Film Independent is an extremely good look for you and your project. Plus you’ll receive access to a dedicated full-time staff with years and years of collective fiscal sponsorship and independent film production experience. We’ll also work with you during the application process to help get your fundraising proposal package to a place that’s competitive in the granting world—a win for both of us.

Support. In addition to one-on-one consultation with industry professionals, you’ll get sustained support throughout the lifecycle of your project. This includes being featured in our newsletter, blog and on our social media outlets—like when your project makes a splash on the festival circuit, receives an important grant or gets an awesome distribution deal, for example.

Variety. Film Independent Fiscal Sponsorship affords your donors a variety of ways to contribute to your project: check, credit card, online payments, crowdfunding campaign donations, matching gifts from employers and more. We’ll make it simple for you to solicit donated funding via an attractive project donation page that’s easy share with potential funders.

Competitive rates. As with all fiscal sponsors, Film Independent collects a small administrative fee on all donations received through the fiscal sponsor partnership. Our rate is 7%; an extremely competitive number within this particular world. Google it if you want—go ahead, we’ll wait. No one likes administrative fees, but our hope is that net benefit to you and your project of become our fiscal sponsorship partner will be more than worth it. Plus, a 7% fee in exchange for us managing your funds as opposed to you having to build your very own nonprofit from scratch is a pretty sweet price to pay for your sanity!

Let’s make your thing!

So what are you waiting for? Learn more about Fiscal Sponsorship, including its benefits and eligibility requirements by visiting our website. And to learn how to become a Member of Film Independent, just click here. So c’mon, let’s go get some money!

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