Fiscal sponsorship might be the richest thing you can do

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one.

This week we present: money.

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Mason and his crew on location in Georgetown, Guyana. The entire film was shot with locals who’d never acted. (photo courtesy of Jeremy Habig.)

Mason Richards left his homeland of Guyana when he was seven years old.

He grew up in New York, but memories of the Caribbean nation lingered in his mind as an adult. He could taste the abundant and diverse fresh fruit like mangoes and gunips. He could hear the coconut man come down the street with fresh coconuts to sell. He could recall the Sunday lime at the seawall in Georgetown, where he’d people-watch and relax with family and friends as the Atlantic Ocean hummed nearby.

The nostalgia never left him. In 2010, for his Cal Arts thesis, Mason made a nine-minute film that was his tribute to the place he couldn’t forget. The Seawall follows the story of Marjorie and her ten-year-old grandson Malachi, and the emotions they wrestle with as he prepares to move to America.

“There are more Guyanese living outside of the country than in it. I wanted to made a film for them, for all us, who’ve moved,” Mason says. “The film is about immigration, abandonment both personally and nationally, and going home. I hope that at the end of the feature, Guyanese in Toronto, London, and New York are going to feel something about giving back to this place that we all come from.”

The film made it as far as Cannes, but Mason wants to extend The Seawall‘s impact beyond the exclusive film festival. He’s now working on making it into a feature-length to further showcase the beauty of Guyana’s landscape and people, which he ultimately hopes will lead to more development in the country.

“I want to change the world. And I believe I can change the world by connecting to the things that affect me, and finding other people who feel the same way,” he says.

Money, money, money

But as we all know, changing the world takes time, hard work, and money. And for an independent filmmaker, finding funds can pose an extra challenge—some might even say a nightmare.

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The amount of support Mason has received has kept him going. Mason is a Sony Pictures grant recipient and is currently working on a series of public service announcements in Guyana. (photo courtesy Hal Horowitz.)

Fiscal sponsorship—where a nonprofit lends you their tax-exempt status so you can apply for grants and accept donations without hassle—is one way to go. Mason wanted to find a fiscal sponsor whose passions aligned with his, and ideally also use the relationship as a means of connecting with prominent Guyanese both at home and abroad.

He searched the Internet for days until he finally found Friends & RPCVs of Guyana (FROG), a D.C.-based nonprofit founded by former Peace Corps volunteers.

He was swayed by its mission of continuing to support his homeland, and got in touch. Scott Stadum, then president, wrote him back immediately.

“Scott, a non-Guyanese American, really loved the place. It was almost like he loved it more than I did, because I was so disconnected from it. It really inspired me,” Mason says. “FROG is promoting Guyana in a way I respect.”

FROG became Mason’s fiscal sponsor, and together they hosted fundraising events in both N.Y. and D.C. so he could go back to Guyana and shoot the film.

More than that, though, they formed a relationship that has only gotten stronger since they met five years ago. (Scott is now one of the feature film’s producers.)

So fiscal sponsorship can be more than a dry task—it can be a source of new connections and supporters.

Mason’s biggest piece of advice? Make it personal.

There are probably a lot of organizations out there that share your philosophy and whose help you can apply for with the click of a button. But it’s when you connect on a deeper level with its members that you’ll have the most success.

“I think a mistake people make is thinking that you need money right away to make everything happen. I disagree,” Mason says. “I think that if you have a strong alliance of the right people who are passionate about what you’re doing and who believe in your goal, then money will come.”

Have you ever had a fiscal sponsor? How did it go?

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Comments (1)


  1. Cindy writes:
    December 18, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    I am very interested in hearing more about the value added experiences of those who have been fiscal sponsors. Great article.


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