Monday, September 21, 2015

Assembling Your Grant Project Team: Balancing the Strengths and Weaknesses

One of the key points in Warshawski's book is that you need to make sure that you have excellent people in other positions if you have a new or inexperienced person serving as the director or producer of a film. For example, if you have a director who is just out of film school, he thinks it is extremely important to find a producer
who has a track-record of success in funding and managing successful documentary films. This does not mean that new people cannot get a break in the industry. It only means that you need to balance new people with more experienced people to create a credible application.

Oil Portrait of a Female Model 
by John C. Drew 
September 2015
The more inexperienced the director, the more experienced the producer or executive producer needs to be for your project.

Likewise, if you have a new director, then you also need to team him/her up with an experienced videographer so that your get quality shots for your film. However, a team led by an experienced director can get away with using a less experienced crew because the funder assumes the director will make up for their inadequacies.

In the same manner, I like to balance our grant project teams. For example, if I have an extremely experienced and skilled executive director, then I do not mind teaming them up with less experienced staff - especially if this means we can save some money. If the executive director is new, however, then I argue for adding to the grant project staff members with the strongest academic credentials and experience even if they appear over-qualified for their positions.

I think that this common sense approach makes more sense when you are thinking about documentary films because the  roles of the cameraman or the director are so specific and so differentiated. In the typical non-profit it often seems like everybody is doing everybody's job.

Writing with the Needs of the Foundation in Mind: Getting Money Quicker

My Drew & Associates team recently finished up a series of proposals designed to help a young film director, Maj. Lynette Jones win funding for her film called "The Truth Behind the Camouflage." This highly topical documentary film will investigate solutions for ending sexual assault in the Armed Forces.

One of our senior associate grant writers, Pearl Rothman, took on this project because of her own experience as a screenwriter for short films and commercials. I could not be more proud of the work she did on this project.

In the process, I learned a lot about what it takes to get funding for a documentary film based on an excellent book by Morrie Warshawski, "Shaking the Money Tree." Accordingly, I thought it would be fun to share some of the new insights I will be applying to my own grant writing in the years ahead.

Grant writing for a documentary film is kind of tough because so few foundations are sincerely interested in funding documentary films. My research team, for example, found it difficult to search out funders for Maj. Jones' project. As Warshawski writes: "Remember, many foundations are funding the film not because it is a film, but inspite of the fact that it is a film!" Below, I have inserted the trailer for the film, The Truth Behind the Camouflage. 

To address this challenge, Warshawski recommends seeking funders that are interested in the subject matter of the documentary and not for funders that express a specific interest in documentary films. This seems like sage advice to me. In my experience, it is a lot easier to win a grant from a funder that has a strong interest in your topic area. This is why, at times, it seems to me that the good research is more important than good writing when it comes to winning grants.

One of the unending debates in grant writing is whether you would tailor your projects to match the funders' previous project or else stick to your own programs and then work harder to find appropriate matches. In my experience, there are generally only a handful of funders in your region that give money for what you want to do. Accordingly, it looks to me like your best bet is to see what they want to do and to start doing that.