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Chasing the Money: How to Fund a Documentary Project

by David Walker


©Paul Colangelo
Skeena Mountains, British Columbia. From Paul Colangelo's "Sacred Headwaters" project. 

Documentary projects require money, and sometimes a lot of it. Travel costs can be high. Assistants, drivers, and fixers may be required. When a long-term project interrupts paying work, photographers have to find money to meet day-to-day expenses. And then there's the cost of exhibiting, publishing, or otherwise distributing the project once it is done. 

Publishers used to fund documentary projects. Few do that anymore, so photographers have to find other ways to cover costs. Unless they can pay out of pocket,  they often end up cobbling funds together from grants, fellowships, partnerships and crowd-funding campaigns. Here, we highlight a series of PDN stories that explain how to tap those sources, with examples of projects for which photographers raised money.  

How to Pitch a Crowd for Project Funding

Photographers who have financed their projects through crowd-sourced funding appeals say it takes hard work and a lot of promotional skill. This article discusses Stanley Greenberg's and Rene Clement's campaigns on Kickstarter to raise money to publish books of already completed documentary projects; and Amira Al-Sharif's fundraising campaign (also on Kickstarter) to raise money to continue her project photographing Muslim women.

4 Crowd-Funding Success Stories

Four photographers who met and surpassed their fund-raising goals explain how they reached out to donors, and what they learned in the process. The photographers include Gerd Ludwig, Peter Dench, Joao Pina, and Manjari Sharma.

Department of Health, Education and Welfare

Photographers  Dana Romanoff, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, and Dan Habib explain how they partnered with educational institutions, advocacy groups, healthcare companies and others who recognize the power of photojournalism to disseminate a message. 

Picture Story: Poisoned American Soldiers, Another Legacy of War

Nina Berman discovered that Iraq war veterans were returning with disabling respiratory and auto immune diseases, and she wanted to tell their stories. It was a labor-intensive multimedia project, and she needed funding--which she secured from an interested NGO. 

Picture Story: Showcasing A Remote Wilderness in Order To Save It

Paul Colangelo’s wide-ranging, two-year project on the Sacred Headwaters basin of northern British Columbia showed Canadians what could be lost if the region was opened to oil, gas and mining companies. The article provides insight about how Colangelo raised $30,000 worth of grants from several sources to fund the project.

NGOs Supporting Documentary Photographers

A guide to finding international non-governmental organizations that sponsor or support photojournalists' projects. Includes information about Amnesty International in particular.

How NGOs Work With Photographers: Doctors Without Borders

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides medical assistance to people in need, and one of its strategies is to expose the underlying conditions of a crisis whenever it feels policy makers need prodding. To that end, MSF provides access and support to photographers and other journalists, including local transportation, meals, lodging, and information to photographers who are working on issues or in regions where MSF is also working.

Q&A: Tips for Winning Grants

Competition for grants is fierce and the application process can be daunting. Seasoned grant writer Yukiko Yamagata,  who is associate director of the Open Society Institute's Documentary Photography Project, offers grant writing tips.

Successful Grant Applications: Tips From Grant Judge Toren Beasley

Toren Beasley, past judge of the Alicia Patterson Grant, explains how judges evaluate - and reject - photographers' applications for documentary grants.

Related Article:

Anatomy of a Successful Grant Application: Joseph Rodriguez on the Audience Engagement Grant

(Includes links to previous articles in our "Anatomy of a Successful Grant Application" series.)

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