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#FunderFriday : Cal Humanities

By Lisa Hasko

With the Cal Humanities' California Documentary Project grant deadline fast approaching on October 15, we asked Program Officer John Lightfoot to answer questions from the community to help you better prepare your proposal for submission. As always, he provides clear and helpful answers so you can navigate the application process with greater ease. If you have additional questions, post them in the comments section or send them to Lisa Hasko at Good luck!

The California Documentary Project grant requires that we have humanities advisors. Who can be an advisor and how do we work with them?

Yes, a major requirement of the California Documentary Project is that humanities advisors be enlisted to provide context, depth, and perspective and help inform your approach to the story you’re telling. It’s up to you to choose who you think will most benefit your project and then make a case for why they’re the right group of people. Advisors can be humanities scholars affiliated with colleges and universities; independent advisors who have researched, written, or curated exhibits about your subject; or community advisors who have knowledge and perspective based on lived experience. How you work with them is also really up to you but we like to see that they are genuinely engaged with the project, so any concrete details you can provide on how and when you will communicate with them and what you expect their roles will be is good. I should also add that there’s no requirement that these advisors be in the film—they can be if it fits the type of project you’re producing, but that’s up to you.

How much do you recommend budgeting for Humanities Advisors in both the Development Phase, and in the Production Phase?

Great question. We do like to see humanities advisors compensated for their participation in your projects. Not only does this reward them to a small degree for their time and expertise, but it also makes the relationship official. That said, there’s really not a standard rate that we recommend since each situation may involve a different set of factors. What we typically see however is anywhere between $500 and $1500 budgeted per advisor in either category, with the range depending mostly on what you’re asking of them. In some instances advisors may waive a fee and this is fine. It would be good however to explain if this is the case so it doesn’t look like you’ve neglected to include them in the budget as a cash expense.

Regarding Development Matching Funds:

Do the Matching Funds need to be line item per line item? For example: if I have a private family foundation willing to make a $10k donation for development with no specifications on how it is used, may I call that my matching fund?

Yes, a private family foundation’s donation can definitely be used as a match for Cal Humanities’ grant funds and this would be a great situation to be in. These funds do not have to be allocated to match a specific line item expense, i.e., $2,000 from Cal Humanities budgeted for research can be matched by $2,000 from the family foundation spent on travel, however in total they should add up to at least what you have received from Cal Humanities through the California Documentary Project.

And, can funds that have been donated prior to March 15, 2015 be considered as the Matching Funds?

Donated funds, yes. Spent funds, no. Meaning if these donated funds are still in the bank and you don’t plan to spend them prior to March 15, 2015, then all is good. Otherwise matching funds cannot be made retroactively.

For In-Kind Matches during Development:

If I have a reasonable/industry standard amount budgeted for Project Personnel, say an Associate Producer or an Editor, for 1 week and they agree to work an additional week as an in-kind donation of their time, may I count that toward an In-Kind Match? Likewise, with my own time as Project Director?

Yes. Donated services or time by any project personnel can count as an in-kind match—provided they occur after the start of the grant period, March 15, 2015. You can also count the difference in rates if an editor, videographer, or any other crew member charges you a reduced fee from what they’d normally charge say on a commercial job. Other forms of in-kind includes any contribution of labor, materials, or goods donated to the project; office space; use of equipment for administrative or programmatic purposes; materials donated for publicity, promotion, or evaluation; public program items, including refreshments; and travel, lodging, and meals for project staff or participants.

How "Californian" does my project have to be in order to be eligible for the California Documentary Project?

With the California Documentary Project we look for projects that tell stories about California subjects and issues that are of national relevance. This doesn’t mean that the entire story has to take place in California but there should be a direct connection to a California subject or issue. At the same time, we want to support projects that make a convincing case for being relevant and suitable for national audiences. Obviously there are quite a few ways to approach this, and while applicants are certainly allowed to make a case for how their projects relate to California, we don’t encourage anyone to twist themselves into a pretzel just trying to meet our guidelines. So maybe the best way to understand what we’re looking for and get a good sense of the range of possibility here is to look at what’s been funded in prior years. California Documentary Project films like The Case Against 8, The Return, Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, Wonder Woman: The Untold Story of American Superheroes, Hollywood Chinese, We Were Here: The AIDS Years in San Francisco are all really good examples of what we mean by California subjects of national relevance. If in doubt, read up on these films and then contact me if you’re still unsure. I’m always happy to advise.

About the California Documentary Project

The California Documentary Project is a competitive grants program that supports documentary film, radio, and new media productions that enhance our understanding of California and its cultures, peoples, and histories. Media projects that use the humanities to provide context, depth, and perspective and that are suitable for California and national audiences through broadcast and/or distribution are invited to apply. Eligible applicants can apply for research and development or production funding. Award amounts range from $10,000 up to $50,000.

Since 2003, Cal Humanities has awarded over $4 million to film, radio, and interactive documentaries about California subjects and issues of national relevance. Previously supported projects include The Case Against 8, Seeking Asian Female, We Were Here: The AIDS Years in San Francisco, Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning, Wonder Woman: The Untold Story of American Superheroes, and many more.