June 28, 2012

How much should I ask for?

Every once in a while we'll be highlighting one of the good questions we get here in the fiscal sponsorship department that we think might be useful for our project directors. If you've got one you would like to see addressed in a future newsletter, let us know.

Recently, one filmmaker asked: How do I know how much to ask for when applying for a grant?

Our standard advice on all things grant related is to go right to the source whenever possible. The person in charge of answering questions and managing submissions for grants at a foundation will usually have a title like "program officer" or "program associate". While program officers rarely make final funding decisions, they are usually the people in charge of translating the foundation's grant making goals to the public and shepherding projects through the review process. Program associates and officers may not have the final say on who gets funding, but they often write up first round notes on submissions, sit in on grant review panels, summarize reviewer comments and in some cases can be powerful advocates for a project they happen to connect with. As long as you are polite and respectful of their time, there is rarely a downside to getting your project on their radar. If possible, call well in advance of any grant deadlines.  

There is no one size fits all answer to this question. Here are a few things you'll want to consider:

  1. What has the foundation granted in the past? If a specific grant size is not stated, do some research on what grants the foundation has given in previous funding cycles. Unless you hear otherwise from a program officer, you'll generally want your ask to be within the range of grants they have offered in the past.
  2. Think about how this grant would fit into your strategic plan for fundraising. If you need $200,000 to finish your film and are asking a foundation for $50,000, your fundraising strategy should show a realistic and detailed plan for raising the remaining $150,000. While there are some notable exceptions, most foundations are not interested in funding your entire budget.
  3. Think about what you are asking them to fund. Some foundations are happy to be early funders, while others are very risk averse and only want to come in later. You'll also want to know if the foundation is okay with grant funds reimbursing previous expenditures or if they will only cover expenses moving forward. Does the foundation require you to find matching donations? Are they interested in funding a specific phase of production? All of these considerations should be factored into deciding what to ask for.
  4. Don't worry about looking greedy! Most experts seem to agree that there is very little downside to asking for the maximum if a range is stated. Unless you really don't need the top amount, you should almost always ask for it.