The process of evaluating media proposals presents unique challenges.
Since few foundations have media programs, it is rare for a foundation
to have internal guidelines for assessing media proposals.
This checklist identifies ten frequently asked questions about media
proposals. It also offers assessment guidelines. You might use the
list internally with colleagues or you may distribute it to grantseekers.
Feel free to copy this list as-is, or alter it to suit the particular
needs of your foundation.
This is the question first and foremost on the mind of any program
officer. If the subject matter, the target audience and the intended
impact of the project all match your foundation goals, it is a
proposal worth reviewing. If it is not a match for your program
specifically, perhaps it is of interest to a colleague within
The producer needs to have researched whether or not there are
similar or related productions already in existence. If the topic
has been covered before in significant ways, how will this production
differ? A complete proposal should include a short section describing
the producer's research into existing media.
Often proposals are general when it comes to audience using phrases
like “the audience for this film is PBS viewers.” The
producer needs to be specific about the demographics of the target
audience in terms of such items as:
- economic background
- size of potential audience
A strong proposal will include quotes or letters of support stating
the need for the program from individuals and from organizations
that serve the target audience. If the proposal does not include
this information, program officers can contact grantees directly
to see if the project is of interest to them and their constituents.
Again, proposals are often too general on the subject of distribution.
In some ways this is understandable because producers cannot get
commitments from end-users until they have seen the finished work.
However, proposals can and should be specific about distribution
and discuss options. For a documentary intended for broadcast,
the producer should address cable outlets and international sales-not
just PBS. If the program is meant for educational distribution,
who are the specific distributors that serve the target audience?
The proposal should include quotes or letters of support from
potential broadcasters and distributors.
Every media production is in competition with a myriad of voices
(in the media, the home and workplace) vying for the audience's
attention. What specific strategies, tools, resources and partnerships
will the producer use to draw people to this production?
For example, if the project includes a Web site, what are the
specific steps the producers will take to promote the site? What
is the plan to secure free advertising, reviews and links? Will
there be any paid advertising? If so, where will that appear?
The resume of a veteran mediamaker speaks for itself. That of
an emerging or younger media maker may not. Previous work samples
are the most important indication of whether the producer can
successfully complete the proposed project. Program officers do
not have to be experts or critics to evaluate work samples. If
you like what you see, that is enough.
Producers often create a sample tape specifically for the proposed
project. This is meant to give potential funders a taste of the
content and style of the production.
Sample tapes can be confusing to program officers as these are
often works in progress. It is rare for producers to have a big
budget for sample tapes. Therefore, the technical quality of the
sample is often not as high as it will be on the final production.
In terms of content, while making that sample tape the producer
often learns valuable lessons that inform the final production.
This gap between what the sample tape looks like and the written
proposal can be perplexing to program officers.
Producers should address this head-on in the proposal. If there
were budget limits that impacted production quality, producers
should say so. If the focus of the program has sharpened, producers
should identify these changes.
If, however, the producer does not address these issues, the program
officer should not hesitate to ask the producer specific questions
about the sample tape.
In the eyes of many foundations, media projects are expensive.
There is a certain amount of “sticker shock” when the
budget for a documentary is as much or more than the annual operating
budget of entire organizations that the foundation supports.
But when evaluating the budget for a media proposal, it is helpful
to look at the budget in comparison to comparable media
projects—not other types of projects or services. For more
details on evaluating budgets, go to How
to Read a Budget.
Not all media projects have an extended time line, but large-scale
projects, like documentaries, usually do.
On average, it takes a filmmaker about three years to raise the
funds for a documentary or film, about a year to produce the film,
and about a year to get the film into distribution. Some projects
take much longer. There can be unforeseen challenges that extend
a time line beyond the producer's initial projection. Producers
need to be realistic in creating production time lines.
It is worth noting that films have a long life span once completed.
After the initial broadcast or launch, a film can have steady
videotape sales and be rebroadcast for many years to come.
There is no easy answer about evaluating the impact of a media
project. Media projects create impressions and stir emotions in
ways that may change lives forever, and there is no way to tally
However, there are methods for doing quantitative and qualitative
evaluations of media projects. A proposal should include realistic
quantitative targets: How many potential viewers will see the
program? How many tapes will likely be sold over a five to ten
year period? How many people will visit the Web site? How long
does the project expect the average visitor to explore the site?
Qualitative evaluation can be done by the creator, a presenter,
or an independent contractor. It usually involves interviews and
surveys with audience members.
It is important for producers to address evaluation in the project
proposal and budget.