Going Over Budget (or: On Transparency)

Applying for grants and and sponsorship, and asking individual donors for support all require presenting some kind of budget for the project.

Which is quite sensible, of course, as if we’re doing our jobs, the project already has a budget; we must know how much the project will cost (is costing!), how much we have, and where our points of flexibility and vulnerability lie.

What is confusing about this, however, is that different (potential) funders have different priorities. A huge spectrum of them.

To put it as simply as possible, at one end of the spectrum we see funders/grantmakers/donors who want to see a stripped down, lean budget that reflects our passion, resourcefulness and efficiency.

At the other end of the spectrum are the folks who want to see a budget that fully takes into account all of the financial realities of undertaking a project of this scope. They want to know we have a handle on everything we might bump into, so we don’t get caught out by some unexpected expense. They want to see we aren’t underpaying ourselves or our collaborators, or underestimating the needs and expenses of promoting the film, etc.

Some folks want the budget to reflect just the hard production expenses; some must see that every bit of project preparation, production, promotion, postproduction, outreach/impact strategy and anything else even vaguely related to the project is accounted for.

We end up writing very different-looking budgets for different potential funders. Which felt a bit funny at first, as though it were somehow dishonest.

It is not, however. And we’re going transparent on this point, because we believe it’s something important for everyone involved (mostly ourselves) to understand.

Say we show a project budget of ~$450,000 to one funder, and ~$75,000 to another, to pluck a couple numbers out of the air. What are the implications? Have a look at the sample budget PDFs linked below, if you like:

1) GWBudgetLOWLINE.xls

2) GWBudgetHIGHLINE.xls

Well, first things first. We’re used to doing this work for almost nothing. We’re in this for passion, not for money, and have accustomed ourselves to living pretty humbly. We’re content with that, and it affords us the flexibility to make pretty nice looking little films for not much money.

So if you look at the “Lowline” budget, it reflects us, out there doing this work, being a little bit scrappy, but ultimately getting to make pretty much the film we believe needs to get made.

That said, whenever we look at the highline budget, we get all quivery, thinking of what it would be like to actually get paid to do this work.

From our immediate family perspective, the main difference between the lowline budget and the highline is that the former would enable us to make a film without going into debt. The latter would enable us to work and live (and save a bit!) as though we had a real job, albeit a modest paying one.

And more to the point, we get Super Excited thinking about building a fully up-to-speed social impact/outreach/education/call-to-action campaign around this thing. That costs a LOT of money, but we are coming to believe it is truly the key to making the movie do its job.

We hit upon the idea of laying our fundraising process bare, making it fully (or almost fully) transparent, in the hope that everyone will be richer for it.

We want the high dollar funders (Hello, Sundance? Girlworld on line three) to know that we are going to make this movie, even if it means doing it for table scraps. And we want the more efficiency oriented funders to know that we have really well developed ideas about how to scale our project larger if/as funding permits. That they’ll be in line to be part of something even bigger than they bargained for, in other words.

So over the next few weeks (or longer, likely) we expect to be laying out our fundraising strategy(/ies) in unusual detail. To the degree possible, we will lay out what we’re thinking and doing, including the numbers that are swirling all around us.

We will talk to a handful of individuals and organizations who have given to support Girlworld, and we will ask them to share their reasons. We will ask them what we can do to ensure continued support, and what we might have done differently in approaching them.

And we will ask them to let us share their responses (anonymously if they prefer). With some luck, this thread will become a lively discussion of fundraising strategies, and we will learn something which will help us fulfill the potential of Girlworld.

Keep an eye on this space.

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