Film Commission Format – Private Not-For-Profit

The second most popular structure for a film commission office is to be within an independent not-for-profit entity. Exactly what type of not-for-profit will depend on what part of the world the organization is in and how it was formed. Some film commission offices are in existing not-for-profit entities such as a Chamber of Commerce, a Travel and Tourism organization or an economic development group. However, a number of film commission offices are “stand alone” entities and serve a jurisdiction that may include one municipality or a number of municipalities.

Regardless, all film commissions must be sanctioned and formally recognized by the jurisdiction’s governing body – whether that is at the town or city level, the state or provincial level, or the national or sovereign nation level.

The not-for-profit film offices are usually governed by a board and while the majority of their funding may still come from government sources, they operate separately and have separate reporting structures. Some not-for-profits are formed by interested parties in the film industry and/or local government entities. Their boards may be elected from members of the local film community, appointed by the governing body that sanctions the office or chosen by the Executive Director of the Film Office.

Other commissions are formed with boards that are completely separate from the film industry. These boards provide neutral governance for the organization and the expertise lies with the film offices’ staff. These types of boards may have ex-officio members who represent local government or industry.

Having an industry driven board can be very beneficial as it allows the commission to build strong relationships with people in the industry and to have guidance around industry issues. However, this scenario can become very difficult if board members cannot leave their own agendas at the door and focus on the needs of the film commission and the “greater good.”

A board that is made up of neutral entities brings a unique set of benefits. A board that is made up of community members can often connect the film office to the community and business leaders, identify other sources of funding and provide an outside perspective. This can be very helpful in governing the organization while leaving the staff to do the actual work.

Being a private not-for-profit also has its benefits and its challenges.


1. More freedom to operate: Most not-for-profit entities will not be subject to wide sweeping restrictions like government entities. Depending on funding, the not for profit may be subject to some of the restrictions and rules that government entities are, but generally, the organization has more flexibility. For instance…
o Not subject to the strict and lengthy procurement regulations and procedures.
o Travel may be easier as there may not be as many steps for getting approval or as many rules for spending the funds.
o A not-for-profit executive may be able to buy a client dinner and a glass of wine,
o They generally don’t have to use a government contracted companies for printing etc, which is usually far more expensive than getting quotes.
o Generally, not-for-profits have a bit more freedom in their decision-making process.

2. Setting their Own Strategic Direction: Not-for-profits have the ability to determine their own mandate or mission, update their strategies as needed and develop new initiatives as they see fit.
o However, if the not-for-profit represents a smaller region within a larger film commission region in the state, provincial, national/federal arena, policies, and financial incentives are generally developed and administered at that larger governmental level. A successful not-for-profit works in conjunction with and in-sync with the larger film commission. (Note: filmmakers are averse to working in a region where internal fighting between entities is present. A “united front” is essential for the overall success of the entire region and sub-regions.)

3. Flexibility in Funding: Not-for-profits fit the criteria for project grant funding which many times rules out government entities from applying.

4. Not-for-profit staff, under a strong and understanding board, may be more sheltered from political turmoil than their counterparts.


1. Financial: The financial structure of a not for profit can be very challenging. A not-for-profit may have to apply for funding from their local municipalities on a yearly basis and pray that they will continue to be funded. It is possible to not know how much, if any, the municipality is going to give until well into a fiscal year. This makes planning for the next year very difficult.

2. Not-for-profit employees may not be paid as well. They may not receive benefits or pensions that are often available to government employees. But there are some not-for-profit film commissions where the Executive Director (but less so for staff) are paid exceedingly well, that is to say, far more than government employees.

3. When applying for money, film commissions may be competing for funds with “heart strings charities” that may be more attractive for the funder. It can be very difficult to make a pitch immediately following the local children’s charity or the search and rescue organization’s annual fund drive.

Within each of these not-for-profit structures, the majority of the funding comes from a government source, whether directly through the government processes or indirectly through government grants. In some cases, the lines have been blurred even further and the structure is a combination of private entity and government agency. These are usually semi-governmental agencies or public/private partnerships where the governance includes some kind of formal responsibility to the local government entity or group of entities.

Governing Structure

While film commission offices within government entities have a strongly defined reporting and governing structure which is defined by where they are placed in the organization, not-for-profits independent and have a separate type of governing structure. Most not-for-profit entities are formed under some kind of governing documents. These may be called by-laws, rules, articles or something else depending on the part of the world where they are organized; however, these documents do many of the same things.

Not-for-profit governing documents usually address the following things:

• Size of the board and how it will function
• Roles and duties of directors and officers
• Rules and procedures for holding meetings, electing directors, and appointing officers
• Conflict of interest policies and procedures
• How grant monies will be distributed
• Other essential corporate governance matters

If you start or work for a not-for-profit film commission office, you will need to be very familiar with the governing documents and the direction they provide to the organization. To be recognized as a not for profit in many regions, the organization will have to provide these documents to their local or national jurisdiction.

Questions to Ask
1. What are the rules for establishing a not-for-profit entity in my area?
2. What governing documents do I need to have?
3. What do my governing documents say and is my organization operating in compliance with these documents?
4. Is my not-for-profit board familiar with the governing documents?
5. What deliverables or filings are mandated by federal and/or state law on an annual basis?