What's a Fiscal Sponsor and Does Your Film Need One?
Are you planning to finance your next film through grants and donations instead of investors? If you are, it may be worth your time to look into getting a fiscal sponsor.
What is a Fiscal Sponsor?
Having umbrella non-profit status doesn't mean your film has non-profit status. It just means that since your fiscal sponsor is accepting donations on your behalf, those donations receive the tax-deductible treatment of a donation to a 501(c)(3). Today, many major granting organizations that dole out funds for films, like the NEH or Cinereach, require that the project have a fiscal sponsor. So if you're looking to score a grant from an entity like this, a fiscal sponsor is a must.
If you want to look into the finer details of a fiscal sponsor, here are some great free resources to get started:
- Fiscal Sponsorship Is Maturing as a Field from Grantmakers in the Arts
- Facts & Stats from the Fiscal Sponsor Directory
- 10 Questions Potential Projects Should Ask a Fiscal Sponsor from the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors
How Do I Choose a Fiscal Sponsor?
Once you've decided that you will be needing a fiscal sponsor, the next step will be deciding which one is the best fit for you. There are three main reasons you generally decide on a particular fiscal sponsor. The first is by a geographic location relevant to you or your film (e.g. the Austin Film Society might be a great fit if you or your film has a tie to the region/is shooting there.) The second is by an organization whose mission statement is in line with your film (e.g. a non-profit who raises awareness about endangered species, and your film is about the reintroduction of the Mexican Grey Wolf.) The third and most common means of choosing your fiscal sponsor is by its reputation within the film world (e.g. the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), known for Film Week and Filmmaker Labs, might be a good fit if you're looking to develop a relationship with this independent film organization.)
The Fiscal Sponsor Directory is an extremely useful database of information on every fiscal sponsor in the country, including what they charge and what their rules are. You should exercise caution with who you choose, because, ultimately, they will be handling your $$$! Some important points to research about a prospective fiscal sponsor:
- How much do they charge, and how/when is it taken out? (The average fiscal sponsor fee is 10%.)
- Any red flags, like do they retain any creative control of your project or what you spend $ on?
- Do they offer any other services as a fiscal sponsor?
What Other Filmmakers Have to Say
To round off this round-up of information, here's some first hand experiences from a handful of fellow filmmakers kind enough to share feedback with No Film School about their fiscal sponsors (and why they chose them.)
"SFFS was a perfect fiscal sponsor for I BELIEVE IN UNICORNS since we filmed in the Bay Area and they were able to give practical production advice in addition to financial assistance"
"IFP provided a support system that BRAVE NEW WILD lacked before finding a fiscal sponsor. I can't say enough about the staff and how they were a phone call away from any questions we had. IFP simply cares about independent film."
From feature documentary director Laura Checkoway about Women Make Movies:
"Women Make Movies was a great match for LUCKY because the film follows one young woman's life and the circle of women who help her get by. We attended some illuminating informational sessions at WMM. It means a lot that they see the strength in this story and have been our fiscal sponsor since the beginning."
There are many, many more fiscal sponsors. For a great list, check out the PBS Fiscal Sponsor resource, or search for specific criteria using the Fiscal Sponsor Directory. For starters, here is a VERY short list of some reputable fiscal sponsors specific to independent film, with a link to their FSD page:
Have you had a positive (or negative) experience with a fiscal sponsor?