Funding your next expedition

We’ve all been there. You come up with a great idea for an adventure and start doing a bit of preliminary research. After an hour or two of googling, you find out how ridiculously expensive it’s going to be. That’s not even taking into account the fact that the actual cost is likely going to be triple what you first thought. The reality is, the cost of an expedition can kill your dream before it even begins.

Unless you’ve got a shit load of expendable cash, most people have to get creative when it comes to paying for their adventure. The answer is usually in the form of sponsorship. This is where you persuade companies to give you money for your trip in exchange for promoting their brand on the back of the media publicity you’ll get. This is a very simplified explanation, but you get the idea. I’ve been lucky enough to have had most of my adventures fully payed for through sponsorship. Saying that, I’m also a big fan of finding an adventure that gives you a lot of bang for your buck so you can pay your own way.

Remember, the cost of your adventure isn’t a measure of it’s awesomeness.

A trip that costs $100 can sometimes be just as epic as one that costs $100,000. At the end of the day though, there will inevitably be costs involved (big or small). Here’s some tips to overcome those financial roadblocks.


Self Funding

Sometimes it’s much faster to simply get a job and save the money yourself, rather than spending potentially even more time writing sponsorship proposals all for the sake of a few pairs of socks and a free tent. Obviously some expeditions are far more expensive and would take you fifty years to save up enough money to do, but there are times when self funding makes more sense than sponsorship. Aside from not having to waste time writing proposals, you’ll also be able to do the trip on your own terms without having to worry about sponsors. If times are tough and sponsorship is hard to get, try reassessing your adventure and opt for a cheaper alternative instead.


Do something less expensive

Look locally. The grass isn’t always greener overseas. Travel costs are a big chunk of adventure budgets, so if you can find a way to have an adventure close to home, you’ll instantly have a more achievable budget. This doesn’t mean you need to do a smaller, less awesome adventure though. Often we ignore all the great adventure ideas close to home because local can sometimes have the stigma of being boring. I live in Australia and for a long time I was looking overseas for places to go. Once I started looking within Australia, I hit a goldmine of amazing adventure ideas that are all relatively cheap, yet still ambitious. Look around your own country - I bet you’ll find somewhere amazing to go.


Beg, borrow and steal

This is the “just fucking do it” approach. Buy second hand gear and skip the fancy gadgets that you don’t really need. Make a list of all your possible expenses, then pull out the red pen and scratch off anything in the “would be good to have, but not necessary” category. If it’s a choice between going on the adventure without all the bells and whistles, or spending years waiting for that magic sponsor to fund the full blown fancy gadgets expedition, I know which one I’d pick. Just don’t skimp on the safety stuff.

There are several ways your can significantly reduce the cost of your adventure.

  1. Minimize electronics. Don’t bother with live updates, blogs, filming or anything. You could always take a $500 waterproof/adventure proof point and shoot camera if needed.
  2. Borrow gear from friends. Use the old gear that’s already warn and battle tested. Trust me, a week into your adventure and your brand new boots will look like 20 year old work boots. Just be mindful of things that are maybe a little too warn in, it still needs to survive the duration of your adventure after all. For example: first aid meds, batteries and food should be fresh, not a decade old.
  3. Rent your gear. Sat phones, life rafts and EPIRB’s are far more cost effective if rented. Just get good insurance!
  4. Focus on the necessities, not the “nice to have’s”. It’s not the gear that makes a trip. Spend money, but only where needed.
  5. Do the modifications yourself. You can save a lot by buying a standard piece of equipment and modifying it yourself. This can work out to be far cheaper than buying super specialized gear. Keep in mind that sometimes there’s no shortcut and you simply have to spend the cash to get the right gear for the job.


Grants

Grants are similar to sponsorship (you get cash or equipment for your adventure) but they usually have less strings attached. There are loads of grants available for outdoor activities if you look hard enough. A good place to start are outdoor clubs at Universities, Geographic Societies (such as National Geographic, Australian Geographic and Canadian Geographic) and outdoor equipment companies.
Grants seem to come and go, but here are a few that are, or were recently available. If you know of any other grants, I’d love to hear about them.

Outside Online

The North Face

National Geographic

Australian Geographic Society

Gore-Tex

Royal Geographic Society


Sponsorship

If you’ve got your mind stuck on a certain adventure that is simply too expensive to self fund (such as many polar expeditions), sponsorship is a good option. Asking companies for money is a difficult route to go down and you will need to prepare for many setbacks. Saying that, there are plenty of people that succeed in raising enough money for their expedition.

It’s a tough game, but if you follow these few steps, you’ll have a much better chance at raising that sought after cash.

  1. Enthusiasm is contagious. Marketing managers are people too, and you need to get them personally excited about you and your trip. If they genuinely like the idea, and the team, then they're more likely to back you.

  2. Do the work for them. Marketing managers are very busy people and if you hand them a proposal with ideas to leverage your expedition within the company, do it. The less work they have to do the better. Come up with interesting ways their company can benefit from sponsoring your expedition. This could be anything from having their logos on your equipment, to giving a motivational presentation to their staff, giveaways for their clients or competitions they can run. The more stuff you can come up with (and implement for them) the better. Do the work for them. Who wouldn’t love that?

  3. Customize each proposal to each company. Don’t just send out a generic sponsorship proposal. Make each company feel like you’ve thought long and hard about why you want to partner with them specifically. Choose which companies align perfectly with you and your adventure. Why would they be a good fit with your brand, and vice versa? Put together some mockups of what your clothing or equipment will look like with their logo. Make them see that you’ve put in real effort to pitch to THEIR company. Make them feel special and that you’re willing to put in the effort. For example, instead of writing “Here’s what we can do for you”, write “Here’s what we can do for [company name]”.

  4. Remember, it’s a business partnership, not a donation. You need to be clear about what you need from each company, and what you’re willing to give to them in return. Most companies write sponsorship off as a marketing expense, so make a clear argument as to why it’s better for this company to spend x amount of money on you, rather than traditional marketing. Try quantifying numbers like how much media exposure you’ve already received, or expect to get and how much it would cost to pay for traditional marketing for the same amount coverage.

  5. Call the potential sponsor company and ask to speak with whoever is in charge of sponsorships (usually the marketing manager). Have a quick pitch ready and mention that you can send through a sponsorship proposal via email, or in the post if they prefer. Don’t forget to get their name and email address! Have the proposal ready to send as soon as you get off the phone. Follow up with an email or phone call a week later to see if they received the proposal and if they have any questions you can answer. This is a good opportunity to offer to meet up for a cup of coffee and chat about the expedition. By now, you would have spoken to them over the phone and emailed a couple of times so you’re already a step ahead of most other adventure sponsorship proposals.

  6. Get a few adventures up your sleeve first. This not only helps prove that you’re capable of doing this adventure, but it also gives you opportunities to take photographs and potential media coverage to use in your sponsorship proposal. It’s very hard to persuade someone how trustworthy you are without a proven track record. The good news is that you don’t need to go on major adventures to do this. Lots of little trips will work equally well.

  7. Don’t make your proposal too long. Marketing managers are busy people. You need to make it quick and easy to read. Write short paragraphs and nothing too lengthy. Dot points, photos and uncluttered pages are the key. If someone has a stack of sponsorship proposals on their desk, they will be tempted to read yours over one that has a page filled with end to end words.

  8. Be ready to provide more information if needed. Just because you have a short and sharp proposal, doesn’t mean you’re not organized. Mention somewhere in your proposal that if they want any more information about the adventure (planning, risk management, media coverage etc.) then you’d be happy to send through more details.

  9. Try to meet in person. If you can get them enthused enough over the phone and by email to agree to meet you in person, you’re in a good position to seal the deal. Enthusiasm is contagious, and meeting someone face to face gives you the perfect opportunity to express your enthusiasm and competence.

  10. Clearly layout your proposal. Don’t try to pad it out. Just make it clear, simple and easy to understand.

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