Documentary Australia

Private sector relationships

How to build and maintain effective relationships in the private sector

Individual donors and foundations are often interested in seeking long-term relationships. They want to back people they can trust – people who are making a difference. Because of this, many donors and foundations back the same people many times over. There is an increasing trend for recurrent funding which could potentially fund all stages of a documentary and many films over the course of any year.

Be professional in your approaches and responses. As with traditional film funding there are many more requests than a foundation is able to support, so rejections are common. Don’t take rejections personally. Many submissions fail. Don’t expect an explanation and remain positive and gracious. You may be successful next time. There is a lot of competition in the sector and unlike the public broadcasters and the film financing agencies, there is no quota or obligation for a foundation to donate to documentary.

Donors and grantmakers give to many areas and the competition for funding is intense. Unlike government agencies, this is not taxpayers’ money but an individual’s, or a collection of individuals’ private life savings in many cases, which they choose to give to projects they believe will make a difference. They don’t have to give to documentary.

It is vital to follow up with donors at the completion of the project, or to regularly report to grantmakers in a timely fashion. Stay in touch also beyond the completion of the film. A simple thank you, a copy of the finished project, acknowledgement in the credits, invitation to screenings and regular follow up letters advising of festival screenings and distribution information are basic requirements for building relationships. A foundation may not have a way of tracking the progress of the project once it enters the world and will appreciate being sent updated information on a regular basis. If you don’t do these basic things, you are ruining your chances of receiving funding from the same foundation for your next film.

There is a real opportunity to build sustainable working relationships with individuals and foundations if your work as a filmmaker is dedicated to the same areas in which they work. Often donors and foundations are looking for exciting, fresh projects to support.

The expectations of philanthropists and foundations

Generous donors and large foundations receive many applications for funding from a broad cross-section of charities and individuals working directly and indirectly with communities. It is a competitive field, and to stand out your approach and follow through needs to make an impression, just as your project aims to make an impact.

Keep these points in mind

  • Think through the issues.
  • Do your research.
  • Show drive and initiative.
  • Think outside the square.
  • Be resourceful and make new connections with like-minded people.
  • Have a vision for educational outreach and a solid plan.
  • Collect endorsements for your project.
  • Provide clippings for support of your project to offer a proven record of achievement.
  • Create a professional application.
  • Be modest, you may get more than you ask.
  • Send a thank you note after the meeting.
  • Send another note after you receive the donation.
  • Send invitations to screenings.
  • Send copies of the finished film.
  • Make proper acknowledgement at every stage and confirm if you need logo in publicity, website, credits etc.
  • Write a professional letter to introduce yourself and always personalise it.
  • Reply immediately if contacted.
  • Make hand written responses rather than group emails.

It’s a small world with strong networks and affinity groups. People talk to each other and like backing success. It offers security for several funders to jointly support a project.

If you build relationships of trust and deliver on their expectations, there is a higher likelihood you will be supported in the future. Your attitude, your work ethic and professionalism, delivery of high quality work and reliable communication (even if things are going wrong) are all essential qualities in building long term relationships.