Documentary Funding Ideas

Documentary Funding Ideas

By Faith Fuller, Publisher

Documentary funding can be one of the most challenging aspects of making a film.

The whole process was so grueling during the making of my first documentary that it became my mission to make sure NO OTHER filmmaker had to suffer the same way.

Below are some of the top funding ideas for documentary filmmakers:

10 Documentary Funding Ideas


Savings, credit cards, personal loans and 401K's. Sometimes, there's just no other way when you've got your documentary idea and you're ready to go!

Friends and Family

This documentary funding idea is a very real option for many first-time filmmakers. Helloooo Uncle Edmond!

E-Mail Campaign

Sending out a mass email to your personal network is a great way to spread the word about your project and get some quick donations. (Make sure you have a paypal account set up to accept online donations).

Typically, you don't want to send just one mass e-mail asking for a one-time donation.

It's a process.

First you want to engage people in the project, keep them updated and then offer incentives and reasons to donate.

There's a lot to this which is outlined in more detail in our Documentary Fundraising 101 Course.

Letter Writing Campaign (Direct Mail)

There's something special about getting a physical letter in the mail.

Creating a fundraising letter with a handwritten note and including a DVD with your trailer (or a URL to your website/trailer) can be a great way to raise some money.

The downside is the expense of printing and postage.

Wealthy Individuals

It's not enough to find someone who has a lot of money and ask them to donate.

The person must have some kind of pre-existing natural connection with either YOU or the subject matter of your film.

Your rich uncle may not care a hoot about environmental protection of seagulls but he believes in YOU so he may donate.

Or perhaps there's a wealthy philanthropist who supports the local Sierra Club.

You know that person is already committed to the cause and now you just need that person to understand how your film will benefit the cause.

Filmmaking Grants

Foundations big and small will fund your project if it’s the right fit.

Be prepared to fill out paperwork and have a proposal and budget ready (your pitch MUST be tight with an accurate budget and a compelling proposal).

Usually grants are reserved for a more experienced team or a promising filmmaker who comes highly recommended from credible sources. But if you’ve done your homework and your pitch is professional and thorough, you’ve got an excellent shot.

A great resource for filmmaking grants is Candid (formerly The Foundation Center).


Highly recommended for documentary filmmakers. This involves pulling together a “crowd” to fund your project or at least some aspect of it.

Crowdfunding is a term that describes an online fundraising campaign to raise a set amount of money in a set amount of time from a large group of supporters.

Three great options include KickStarter, See&Spark and IndieGoGo.

Special Events

You can raise thousands of dollars through events such as concerts and fundraising houseparties.

Beware that events can be very time consuming and you can potentially lose money if you overspend on food, decorations, etc.

So only do this if you can get a sponsor to cover the majority of the expenses.

In-Kind Donations 

Getting donated goods is just as good as cash!

So don't hesitate to approach businesses such as hotels, print shops, rental car agencies and restaurants to let them know about your project and ask for help.

It not only helps you, it's great promotion for them!

Social Media 

Facebook, Twitter and blogs are phenomenal tools to communicate with your community of supporters about your project and to also ask for money when the time is appropriate.

Social media should not be used primarily for fundraising. It's a way to stay in touch with people who are interested in your project so that when you do need funding, you've got a base of support engaged and ready.

Social media plus crowdfunding is a powerful combo!

Remember This: Documentary Funding Ideas

Money is everywhere and there are all kinds of ways to get it.

In general, approaching individuals – people you have a relationship with and who have a natural connection to the project – will be your best source of funding. 

Picking up the phone and making a one-on-one ask for a donation is one of the most powerful and effective ways to get funding.

Never underestimate a personal phone call!!!

Looking for more documentary funding ideas?  

Check out our full collection of Documentary Fundraising Courses, Tutorials and Templates.

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