Fiscal Sponsorship Guidelines

Docs In Progress, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, administers a Fiscal Sponsorship Program to allow eligible documentary projects to be able to apply for funding to foundations and other grant-making institutions and to accept tax-deductible donations from individual donors. Docs In Progress offers financial oversight by monitoring reports and managing funds to ensure that funder requirements are adhered to by filmmakers. While Docs In Progress is not involved in the editorial content, production, or fundraising for fiscally sponsored projects, the Fiscal Sponsorship is considered an extension of our other professional development programs for documentary filmmakers.

To apply, you must be a member of the Docs Insiders program at the Basic Level or above and must apply at one of three deadlines per year (February 1, June 1, or October 1). Please read the guidelines below before applying.

WHY DO I NEED FISCAL SPONSORSHIP?
Not every documentary film needs to have a fiscal sponsor.  However, if you plan to raise funds for the film from private, family, or corporate foundations, there are very few which will give funding to individual artists.  Most require that funds be given to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  Additionally individual donors in the U.S. who give to a film project through a fiscal sponsor may count that donation as a charitable contribution which is tax-deductible up to the full extent of the law.  As a nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster a supportive community for documentary filmmakers, Docs In Progress has extended its nonprofit status for eligible projects to seek funding. 

CAN I APPLY IF MY FILM IS NOT YET BEGUN?  OR IF IT’S ALREADY BEEN COMPLETED? 
You can apply with a documentary project at any stage of production.  Some filmmakers apply when they are still in pre-production so they can start the fundraising process.  Others apply at later stages of the filmmaking stage (even after the film is done) either because they are changing fiscal sponsors or because they want to fund the outreach component of their film.  Regardless of the stage, what we require is that your film must have a proposal, budget, and fundraising strategy. 

CAN I APPLY WITH A NARRATIVE FICTION PROJECT? 
Not through Docs In Progress.  We only accept applications for documentary film or video projects. 

WHAT ABOUT SERIES? A SHORT? A WEB DOCUMENTARY OR TRANSMEDIA?  
As long as it is a documentary project to be produced on film or video, the length or format does not matter. 

DO I HAVE TO BE BASED IN THE U.S. OR BE A CITIZEN? 
Fiscal sponsorship is generally intended for individuals to be able to apply for funding from U.S.-based foundations and individuals who want a charitable tax deduction from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  However, there may be times where projects with international roots may have justification for being part of a fiscal sponsorship program. Please note our following guidelines with regard to international projects: 

  • We can consider projects from U.S. expatriates working in another country as long as you have a permanent address and bank account based in the U.S. 
  • We can consider projects from foreign nationals working in the U.S. as long as you have a tax identification number from the IRS and a bank account in the U.S. (please note though that some funders will only support projects made by U.S. citizens so you may still want to have a U.S. co-producer). 
  • We can consider projects originating from other countries only if there is a U.S.-based project director (i.e., a co-production) who will be the primary point of contact. There will also need to be a U.S. bank account. 

 I HAVE SOMEONE READY TO GIVE ME MONEY RIGHT NOW.  I HAVE TO MAKE A GRANT DEADLINE THIS WEEK.  CAN YOU SPEED-TRACK ME? 
Docs In Progress approaches Fiscal Sponsorship very seriously.  Extending our nonprofit status to a film project is not something we can take lightly since we are ultimately accountable to the IRS for any funds which are raised under our name.  That is why have a thorough application and review process before we can accept a project into our Fiscal Sponsorship Program.  The quickest turnaround to be expected would be 30 days after one of our three annual deadlines (February 1, June 1, October 1). 

MAY I POST ONLINE OR IN GRANT APPLICATIONS THAT I HAVE APPLIED FOR FISCAL SPONSORSHIP FROM DOCS IN PROGRESS? 
Generally no. Unfortunately some filmmakers have indicated that they have applied or plan to apply for Fiscal Sponsorship from Docs In Progress on their websites or Facebook pages as they start to raise funds through crowd-funding.  This can be seen as false advertising since people coming to the website may presume that their donations are tax-deductible when they are not until the project has been accepted into the program and Docs In Progress and the Project Manager officially sign a letter of agreement.  If you are applying to a funder who requires fiscal sponsorship if and when funding is bestowed and their deadline is prior to notification of acceptance into our program, please contact us to discuss. 

WILL DOCS IN PROGRESS HELP ME WITH FUNDRAISING PROPOSALS? 
The filmmaker is responsible for writing all fundraising proposals. However, Docs In Progress does offer separate fee-based services related to fundraising, including private one-on-one consultations and  fundraising workshops. 

WHAT FEES ARE INVOLVED? 
To apply for Fiscal Sponsorship, you must be a member of the Docs Insiders program at the Basic level or above ($50 per year). You must renew your membership each year you plan to stay in the Fiscal Sponsorship Program. You must also pay a one-time application processing fee ($50).  Once a project is accepted into the Docs In Progress Fiscal Sponsorship Program, Docs In Progress will take a 5% administrative fee from most funds raised (plus any merchant account fees for credit card donations and crowdfunding platforms).  We charge 10% for government grants which require a higher degree of paperwork and reporting. 

IS THERE A DEADLINE TO APPLY? 
Fiscal Sponsorship Applications are accepted year-round, but will only be reviewed during three panel meetings per year.  The deadlines to submit an application for the regular panel meetings are February 1, June 1, and October 1. 

I’M JUST STARTING MY FILM.  WHY DO YOU ASK ME FOR A PROPOSAL AND BUDGET? 
In selecting films to be included in the Fiscal Sponsorship Program, Docs In Progress is looking for projects where the filmmaker(s) are serious about fundraising.  Any application for funding will require a proposal and budget.  There are many great ideas out there, but we need to ensure that the filmmaker has reached a stage where they have thought through what their film is about, how they plan to make it, and how much it will cost to make. 

WHAT SHOULD GO INTO THE PROPOSAL?  HOW LONG SHOULD IT BE? 
While every film is different, there are some basic elements which should be addressed in a proposal.  The proposal should include the following sections: 

I. Cover Letter (1 page max): Includes a brief statement on why you are applying for fiscal sponsorship from Docs In Progress.  

II. Executive Statement (1 page max): Should include your goal in making the documentary, a short synopsis of the film, who the target audience for the film is, who will benefit from the film, why you are the best person/people to make this film, and how much funding you are still seeking to raise.  

III. Program Description (3 pages max): What are the nuts and bolts of the film's background and how it will be developed? What is the topic of the film? Where and when does it take place? Who or what is it about? What do they represent in the story? What is their relationship to others? What is the style of the film? What elements will help structure the film? Is there an issue, problem, conflict, or crisis being portrayed in the film? Does the film have social significance and, if so, how will it make a difference? Even if it doesn't have social significance, why is this project necessary? Even if you have not started or have not completed production, how might the story of your film end?  

IV. Timeline for Completion: List the key dates of what has been accomplished to date and what you have yet to do.  

V. Outreach Plan (1 page): More and more funders are interested in supporting the outreach for the film. This section shows that you understand the audience for your film and how to effectively reach them. You want to address who your target audience is (viewers, other stakeholders), where and how the film will be seen (festivals? community screenings? a particular television program? educational distribution? online?) What partnerships for dissemination already exist? What partnerships do you hope to develop and how will you go about that?  

VI. Team: This section showcases your capacity for seeing this project through to completion. It should include bios of members of the creative team. At a minimum, it should include information on the Producer and Director (if different from the Producer). If you are a first-time filmmaker, make sure your bio addresses your relevant expertise or experience. Where applicable, we strongly recommend you include bios of other key members of the production team (Director of Photography, Editor, Consulting Producers, Humanities Advisors, etc.) 

WHAT SHOULD GO INTO THE BUDGET? 
There are different approaches to budgeting.  The key is that the budget includes realistic numbers which address all phases of production and which correspond to your proposal.  In fact, the budget is really another form of narrative for the film. It needs to be realistic for the type, length, and outreach plan for the film. You should value your own time. We recommend you use our budgeting format

WHAT IF I AM ACCEPTED INTO THE PROGRAM AND MY PROJECT PROPOSAL OR BUDGET CHANGES? 
It is expected that a film project will evolve.  This is one of the reasons that we ask Fiscal Sponsorees to submit regular reports which not only update us on their fundraising efforts, but also on any significant changes to the film or the budget.  As long as the basic concept of the film remains unchanged and Docs In Progress is kept informed of other changes, this is not a major issue. 

CAN I RAISE FUNDS ONLINE THROUGH DOCS IN PROGRESS? 
Docs In Progress will include your project on our website with an option for donors to give online.  We will also share the Embed Code for the Donation Button which you can include on your own website and an HTML link if you wish to do e-mail fundraising or social media. 

WHAT ABOUT CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGNS? 
Docs In Progress has a partnership with Indiegogo which allows sponsorees to accept tax-deductible crowdfunded contributions (since this involves Indiegogo fees, merchant account fees, and Docs In Progress admin fees, this will result in 13% of contributions going towards fees).  Fiscal sponsorees interested in crowdfunding through Kickstarter or other sites may do so, but not through Docs In Progress.  Such fundraising campaigns are NOT tax deductible for funders and may not be presented as such. 

HOW DO I KNOW WHEN I RECEIVE AN INDIVIDUAL DONATION? 
We generally forward e-mail notifications of donations to the fiscal sponsoree within a few days of the donation being received.  This is primarily so you know who has donated to you and can thank them.  Each fiscal sponsoree who has received at least some funds during a quarter will receive a quarterly report which lists all funders and funding amounts for that quarter. 

IF I BECOME A FISCAL SPONSOREE, HOW SOON AFTER FUNDS ARE RECEIVED BY DOCS IN PROGRESS CAN I GET THEM? 
Docs In Progress disburses funds to fiscal sponsorees up to once per quarter.  Most filmmakers opt to get the funds once at the end of a quarter after receiving an updated report from Docs In Progress on donations.  However, you can request funds at any point during the quarter as long as we have received the required reporting for the previous quarter.  Once you request funds, however, you will not be able to request disbursement of more funds until the next quarter. 

I UNDERSTAND I WOULD HAVE TO SIGN AN AGREEMENT IF ACCEPTED INTO THE PROGRAM.  CAN I SEE IT?  CAN MY LAWYER MAKE CHANGES? 
The Agreement language is downloadable here.  It has been worked out through the Docs In Progress lawyer and is required to be signed without amendments if you are accepted into the Program.  Feel free to call us if you have questions. 

HOW DO I KNOW DOCS IN PROGRESS IS THE RIGHT FISCAL SPONSOR FOR ME? 
Docs In Progress may or may not be the best fiscal sponsor for you.  For some filmmakers, it is important to have an organization which understands documentary filmmaking as their fiscal sponsor.  Other considerations which may or may not be important to you are whether the fiscal sponsor is in your home region, whether it is a large, established fiscal sponsor or a small one which can offer individualized attention or other filmmaker services.  Regardless of the reason, we encourage you to research other fiscal sponsors and find the right one for you. Find out more about other fiscal sponsors.

MORE QUESTIONS? 
E-mail us at contactATdocsinprogressDOTorg or call 301-789-2797.