Looking In: An Update from ITVS Production

Posted on November 23, 2011

The ITVS Production team is currently partnering with independent filmmakers from across the country and around the world, with more than 150 programs in production slated for public media distribution. In our continued effort to provide production tips and trends to the independent filmmaker. ITVS Senior Production Manager Jorge Trelles, offers a guide to the world of fiscal sponsorship.

Filmmaking is no cheap endeavor, and very few people have the personal means to fund their own projects. Not surprisingly, fundraising has always been closely tied to the filmmaking process. However, navigating through the large number of public and private foundations that fund media production can be as complicated and daunting as making the film itself. Funders often have very specific requirements dictating how and why they decide to fund a particular project. A film may have to meet a funder’s mission, geographical location, cultural background, and subject matter before even being considered for funding.

Another requirement could be that the applicant must have not-for-profit 501(c)(3) status to receive funding. However, not-for-profit status is not an easy thing to obtain, especially if a filmmaker is only producing a single film. This is where fiscal sponsorship comes in. By the time ITVS gets involved in the production of a film, filmmakers may already have fiscal sponsorship in place, or they may be in the process of securing funds through a fiscal sponsor. We get a lot of questions on this topic. ITVS doesn’t require producers to handle ITVS funds through fiscal sponsorship, but we often engage directly with fiscal sponsors as part of the co-production relationship with our filmmakers. 

Here’s how it works: A fiscal sponsorship is a formal arrangement in which a 501(c)(3) public charity agrees to sponsor your project because it fits their mission. This partnership allows you to seek grants and solicit tax-deductible donations for your film from funders that otherwise (without your association with the not-for-profit) could not give to your project. In addition, you have the support and endorsement of an experienced organization. 

Fiscal sponsors usually charge a fee based on a percentage of the funding they are helping the filmmaker secure (fees usually range between 5 percent and 7 percent of said funds, but make sure to ask the fiscal sponsor about its fee structure.) This fee can include significant services, such as bookkeeping, budget tracking, generating 1099 forms, and more. These fees and services vary from organization to organization, so make sure you do your research. 


  • If you decide to go with a fiscal sponsor, select an organization that has a solid track record of experience and expertise. Find out from the sponsor which films have been supported by them in the past, and contact those filmmaking teams for references. A good relationship with a fiscal sponsor can help you further develop the reach and impact of your film. 
  • A fiscal sponsor can provide a direct line of contact to the communities touched by your subject matter. They can offer promotional advice, or even put you in contact with seasoned professionals in the field. 
  • Agreements between producers and fiscal sponsors should clearly spell out the arrangements and responsibilities of each party. These agreements must allow the producer to retain copyright and editorial and financial control of the project at all times, so make sure you engage with your legal team whenever discussing these rights. 
  • Carefully weigh whether or not to engage with a fiscal sponsor. Some producers feel that the fees are too high for the benefits offered by the sponsor. Others welcome the idea of having an organization support them during their process and feel they have a mutually beneficial arrangement.  

Whatever the case may be for your project, make sure you read and compare the pros and cons of every potential sponsor and make the decision that best suits you. 

Here are some of the organizations that ITVS producers have worked with in the past: 

Arts Engine 

Center for Independent Documentary 

Women Make Movies 

Documentary Educational Resources 

San Francisco Film Society 

International Documentary Association

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