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

“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

About the author

Have a project you want someone to manage? Have a job that needs to be done professionally, on time, and under budget? That is what I do. I am “The Super Producer.” I take ideas and make them real. My services support fundraising, films, events, publications, and organizations. I assess the situation, prepare the plan, design the fundraising, hire the team, administer the budget, manage the timeline, and guide the project to successful completion. Put me in charge of your project. – See more at: http://hollymillion.com

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