Funding the work of a film commission office can look very different depending on the type of organization, the regions, the size of the office, the mission and many other factors. Your office might not look anything like the office in the next region. Because of this, budgets vary a great deal as well.
Here is a point of reference for the funding levels of film commissions: Offices/Commissions may range from an annual budget of $50K or less with one part-time employee; to over $2 million dollars with eight to ten employees. The size of the organization will depend greatly on the area served, the level of support for the film industry in the region and the support of the local industry. Funding will also depend on where it comes from.
The level of funding for your office will depend on your mission and your goals as well as resources available to you. If you have spent the time determining your mission and creating a plan, you will have some idea of what you will ideally need for funding. Let’s take a look at how both government-based and not-for-profit entities approach funding.
As a film commissioner in a government-funded office, you will probably not have extensive say over the overall budget for your office. Funding will generally be allocated via the government structures that are in place. Depending on where you fit in the government structure, you may have funding directly allocated to your office or it may be routed through a larger agency such as a Travel and Tourism or Economic Development Department. You are likely to be expected to submit potential budget numbers but first, ask yourself these questions:
1. How are funds allocated in your government entity? What is the budgeting process?
2. What expectations does your agency have of you prior to setting funding?
3. What type of reporting and/or statistics are you required to supply in order to determine your success and your office’s needs?
4. Are you operating under a “performance-based” budgeting model? (Ex: the better your stats, the more successful you are; the more successful you are, the more money you receive.)
5. Is there an actual budgeting format or form you are to follow or fill out?
If you do not know the answers to these questions, asking your superiors is a good place to start.
Government funding may be set well in advance. Many government entities are moving to a budgeting process that may set funding levels (dependent on revenues) for eighteen months to two years in advance. This means that you will have to be able to forecast needs well in advance and then be ready to adjust based on changes in revenue. Forecasting this far in advance can be tricky in today’s economy, but it gives you an opportunity to propose new programs that will take longer than a year to bring to fruition.
However, just because budgets are set in advance, does not mean that they won’t change suddenly. Being prepared for these changes will put you well ahead of the game.
As a government employee, you may feel that you do not have a great deal of control over the funding that is allocated to you by the governing body. Dealing with this reality does not mean giving up on other ways to accomplish your mission.
Before dismissing the possibility of other sources of funding, you might want to explore creating an “enterprise fund.” There are many terms for this but it basically refers to the lawfully sanctioned ability for your office to take funds from other sources such as:
* Selling t-shirts, mugs, other paraphernalia with your office or regions logo on it.
* Selling advertising on your website
* Charging for businesses and services to be listed in your online or printed Production Guide (but be aware, film offices often offer this free of charge)
* Putting on an event that requires tickets and a piece of the ticket price goes towards supporting your office.
Having the ability to create such a fund can involve a legislative action so find out what is required before taking any steps in this direction.
While not-for-profit entities do not have the same restrictions that come with direct government funding, the majority not for profit entities are funded through grants and contracts with local and regional government entities. Governments provide funding to these organizations to assure that the roles of a film commission are being fulfilled in their region without having it be directly attached to any one entity.
The government grants allow for a fairly consistent source of income for most not-for-profits, however, this funding also comes with significant risks. First, if a government entity has to cut back, grants and contracts are frequently the first things to go. This can cause uncertainty in funding for film offices that depend on the funds in this format. Additionally, the funds usually have to be reapplied for on a regular basis or at least renegotiated with the sponsoring agencies. This might happen annually or it might happen every few years, but it takes time and the funding is never certain.
Additionally, because government entities may not run on the same fiscal cycle as the not for profit, decisions on funding may not come until well into the not-for-profit organization’s fiscal year. Thus, the organization may have to create budgets that make funding assumptions that may or may not ever materialize. This leads to the need to be ready to adjust, just as government based entities do.
Unlike government-based film commissions, the not-for-profit offices have the possibility of applying for grants from non-government sources. These types of funds can come from a variety of entities and can usually be found with a little bit of research and some time spent on applications. While most of these types of grants can’t be used for general operations, there are a variety of funds available for special projects such as technology upgrades or staff training.
• Make a list of projects in your office that could potentially be funded through private grant dollars.
• Where could you look to find potential non-governmental funders?
Grant writing can be intimidating, but if you are willing to put in the time and effort, they can pay off well and provide additional resources for fulfilling the mission.
A few tips for writing grants:
1. Do your research. The more information you have about who the funder is, what they are looking for and what they generally fund, the better prepared you are to help them see why you are a good fit for their organizations and dollars.
o Look at annual reports of the funder or of organizations they may have funded. Get a sense of their level of giving and what they are interested in.
o Talk to other people who have asked for money.
2. If you very obviously don’t fit into the mission of a funding organization or group, don’t waste your time. However, don’t ignore groups whose focus is vague or who you aren’t sure about. Sometimes vague funding priorities allow groups to really dig into applications of all types and fund those that are making an impact.
3. Follow instructions! If they say that they want an interest letter first before an application. Send an interest letter. If there are specifications on the number of pages or font size, follow the specifications. If it says no attachments, don’t send attachments. Funders of all kinds (private, family, government) have to find ways to weed out applications quickly. Not following the guidelines is a very easy way to weed out applications.
4. Try to make contact, if they say you can. Some funders do not like to meet with potential grantees ahead of time, as they would spend all of their time meeting with people who may never get money. However, if you have the opportunity to talk with a funder and tell your story in person, it can be very helpful in the process. It is always easier to give to someone they know and feel like they can trust.
5. Get very good at telling your story. Sharing successes (remember that the film industry is very “sexy” and people like to feel like they are involved) in a way that makes people feel like they are contributing to a larger good and then using data to back up the stories is important. The story you tell should include both components: a way for them to fill connected and then the data to back it up.
o Have numbers that show the financial impact of your successes on the local economy.
o Show how you are helping improve the workforce
o Economic development helps raise all boats, so if you can help them see how you are contributing to the community as a whole, you are much more likely to get funded.
6. Proofread. Find someone else to read through your proposals and information and assure that the writing is appropriate and that spelling and grammar are correct. You only have one chance to make a first impression.
7. Leverage your funds. People like to be attached to success. If you have been successful in raising some funds (whether from a local government entity, the local industry or from other private funders) use this success to show other potential funders how you already have buy-in and commitment. Help them understand how their funds can help build on this success.
o Funders might also be interested in matching funds. Let them know that you will be approaching other local funders (government or otherwise) for funds and that you would like to see if they will match any dollars you bring in.
8. Do not forget to report on the use of the dollars. Most funders require some kind of report on how their dollars were used. While it can be very easy to forget this piece, it is probably the most critical if you hope to return to the funder in the future.