How to run a fundraiser movie screening

We organised a screening of a documentary called One Day on Earth (a NZ premiere) for 350 Aotearoa in Oct 2012. We sold 91 tickets and raised $1200. It took 3 months to organise (starting from knowing nothing about screenings or events), and we ran ticket sales for 1 month. I'm mentioning this to give an idea of how long organising an event of this size may take. It may take you less time to organise the event with these notes, but we recommend more than 1 month for ticket sales.

Below I've written down some of the questions to consider and my notes based on organising this event.

Purpose

Why are you running the movie screening?

It’s useful to understand what you’re trying to achieve with your screening:

  • to inform
  • to inspire
  • as an attraction to get people in to listen to your message
  • to raise funds

You can aim for more than one of these of course.

Movie

Will you provide the movie or show your own? Do you have the rights to show the movie? Will the cinema be able to use your media?

You can either show a movie provided by the cinema, or your own.

Cinemas are quite flexible. They may be able to get access to the movie you want. They can sometimes show movies at a private function ahead of their scheduled release date.

Normally it’s cheaper to show your own movie.

What to consider when showing your own:

  • Do you have the appropriate rights to show the movie?
  • If it isn’t a documentary, it’ll need to have a rating certificate from the FVLB (http://www.fvlb.org.nz/nz). Documentaries are exempt. If it hasn’t been shown in NZ, it may not have a certificate and you’ll need to apply for it.
  • What format can the cinema handle (film, DVD, Blu-ray, digital file)? DVD isn’t recommended because the quality won’t be very good. Blu-ray definitely looks good on a smaller cinema screen. Getting the movie on film or in a digital format intended for cinemas may be difficult/impossible, depending on the movie.

Test the movie before the screening!

Fundraising

How are you going to raise funds?

There are several avenues for fundraising:

  • ticket sales (make sure your ticket price leaves enough profit after expenses)
  • running a raffle on the day
  • getting sponsors who contribute money or raffle prizes in exchange for being mentioned/seen.

Venue

Is it the right size? If you’d like to provide drinks and/or nibbles, will the venue be able to do some or all of it? Does it allow you to organise your own catering?

Prices for cinema hire in Wellington (in 2012) varied from $5 to $9 per seat.

Cinemas expect you to pay for all seats. It’s worth trying to negotiate to pay for only those people who show up.

Don’t forget to ask for a discount for non-profits.

Audience

How many people can you realistically attract? Can you reach them? Will getting these people to come help you achieve the purpose of the screening?

Publicity

How will people find out about your event?

Plan a campaign in advance. Here are some channels for publicising your event:

  • Online event sites (EventFinder, whatever is appropriate to your city)
  • Creative/non-profit web sites (BigIdea, Intersect)
  • Facebook campaign
  • Email campaign
  • Twitter
  • Announcements through other relevant organisations
  • Newspapers (what’s on section, or perhaps an editorial/interview about the cause)
  • Radio (e.g. an interview on community radio)
  • Meetup.com (you can try suggesting the event to appropriate meetup groups, or use your own group)
  • Posters in workplaces/gathering places
  • Personal networks (emails to friends, relatives, colleagues)

For Facebook and email campaigns, plan several messages. It takes more than one message for people to pay attention and decide to attend. Example schedule: 4 weeks out, 2 weeks out, 3 days out, the day before. Urgency factor works well (“only a few tickets left”, “3 days left to get your ticket”).

Most of our sales happened through our personal networks. We found that often it’s necessary to engage people in person to get them to buy tickets.

Ticket sales

How are you going to sell tickets? How much are they going to be?

Options:

  • Online (we provided Paypal sales via 350.org.nz and a bank transfer option)
  • Offline (in person, through the office)
  • Door sales

Consider whether you need to print tickets. It may be enough to have a list of people’s names to check on the day.

It’s a good idea to make door sales cost more to encourage people to buy earlier. We priced door sales at $25 and regular sales at $20.

Keep in mind that a lot of people will put off buying until the last moment. Some will back out after buying. Some will promise to come and won’t come.

On the day

If running a raffle/prize draw, how? How will people find you? How will you run door sales? If you have a message, what is it, who will deliver it and how? If you have stuff to give out or sell (posters, stickers, brochures, t-shirts etc.), how will it happen? Do you have appropriate signage?

If you still have tickets to sell, ask the cinema if they can list your movie along with their regular screenings.

Put up prominent signage. People don’t really notice things very well.

If you have stuff to give out or sell, specifically mention it and direct people to it. Consider doing as much as you can before the movie. Afterwards, people will just stream out without paying attention. Consider how and where you will set things up.

Make sure you have a microphone unless it's a small venue. Keep the speeches short and to the point.

Take some photos - they might be useful for the Facebook page or something else in the future.