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How to fund a row across the Atlantic Ocean (or other big expedition)

The difficulty that confronts most men who wish to undertake exploration work is that of finance, and in this respect I was rather more than ordinarily handicapped. The equipment and despatch of an Antarctic expedition means the expenditure of very many thousands of pounds, without the prospect of any speedy return, and with a reasonable probability of no return at all. “The Heart of the Antarctic” – Ernest Shackleton

I've been sent so many emails about how to fundraise for the row that I thought it would be easiest to explain how we managed it here and hope this helps others who are now in the same position that we were once in.

For most people getting to the start line is actually the hardest part - not only due to months of training and admin, but raising the money to undertake the row itself. Rowing the Atlantic Ocean typically costs in the region of £100k which can make it prohibitive. Unless you are sitting on a trust fund, get a good bonus from your job, or have a lucrative existing brand or sponsorship deal, it can be difficult to find the spare cash to pay for this, or indeed any other large expedition. Drawing up a budget at the start will help guide how much you need to raise i.e. are you chartering the boat or buying one, do you need to buy kit new or can you borrow / get some second hand?

Raising the money is time consuming as well as demoralising at times, with a number of rejections and set backs along the way. However I believe it is do-able with a lot of hard work and determination. We managed to raise over £65k in cash from sponsors for our ocean row and a substantial amount of kit in-kind through the following methods, the rest being made up by our personal contributions. Post the expedition, we were then able to recoup some money through the sale of kit and the return of the deposit on the boat (if you manage to buy your boat then the sale of this can be included too!).

1. BRAND YOURSELF

Firstly work out why are you doing this expedition and what your / your team’s unique selling point (USP) is. Has anyone done what you are attempting before and if so what makes you different? Is there an individual back-story you can share? People love to hear about someone who is overcoming a personal challenge that they can identify with. For us on the row we were aiming for two world records and were an all-female crew. Even if we didn’t get the record the fact we were aiming for it got interest from sponsors and media so it’s worth taking a shot at!

We then came up with a logo and team name that would set us apart from other crews and help brand us. In fact, a local company designed our logo for free but there are websites online that offer a similar service if there is a lack of artistic talent in the team! We printed our logo on polo shirts and jackets, which made the team look more professional at events and sponsor meetings. Our team polo shirts came from an embroidering company who provided them for free in return for advertising so worth asking around to save money.

There are a number of website providers out there in order to build your own or alternatively outsource to a third provider. We used WIX, which was an easy way to blog and upload photos as the campaign progressed (even our Mums could update it during the row!). A domain name costs less than £50/year on a premium subscription.

Never underestimate the importance of social media . We set up instagram, twitter, facebook page, youtube, and linkedin accounts filled with regular images of us during the campaign (more on that later). Sponsors often noted how many followers we had in order to get outreach for their brand or product in return. Some sponsors even asked us to be "brand ambassadors" in return for specific content such as driving a car or eating their food! It was also interesting how many people wanted to follow us to see what we ate in order to bulk up, or our top training tips.

Do you know someone who is a professional (if not budding) photographer? One friend was able to take photos of us as a team at a boatyard in our kit, using some rowing oars as props. Most boatyards and rowing clubs we asked were open to us using their locations for a photo shoot. If you know someone with a video camera / drone even better in order to help you put together a short promotional video on the expedition.

We also put together a marketing pack outlining the expedition, who we were, our support crew, supporters (e.g. celebrity tweets) and any existing press, as well as the sponsorship packages available. Ours is available to download in pdf here. This was sent out with all our sponsorship emails and enquiries.

Finally we drafted a press release along with some team photos and social media links and sent them to all our local newspapers. 100% of the ones we approached locally ran the story of the row. National newspapers and magazines are tougher to crack but depending on your angle / USP they may pick it up. We were lucky enough to get on the radio, in Marie Claire, and on London Live TV! Make sure the news clips / links are uploaded to your website and posted on social media to get maximum exposure.

2. EVENTS

Events can be a fantastic way to raise some cash as well as public exposure for your expedition. You can be as imaginative as you like! In total we raised over £20k in profit from events for the ocean row through the following methods. Note most bars/ event spaces were willing to waive charges earlier in the week for guaranteed numbers.

  • An adventure talk: we asked four people we knew to come and talk about their past adventures at a yacht club and sold tickets via Eventbrite to attend (£2k)

  • A Christmas raffle and auction: items were donated by local shops, family, and friends and auctioned online at 32auctions. A raffle was also held on the closing night on a barge on the Thames (£3.5k)

  • A black tie ball: held at the Royal Garden Hotel in London, also with a live auction on the night, band, and drinks bar (£15k)

  • Rows: at Henley Royal Regatta (as part of a competition) and in a shopping centre in London (with us raising money for charity). Both used rowing machines kindly loaned for free i.e. you could try asking gyms or rowing outlets (£1k)

3. CORPORATE SPONSORSHIP

Think of it as a business transaction. Very few companies will just give you anything for free. Think about what you can offer in return for sponsorship money. Could it be a post on social media, a link on your website, a talk on your return, or branding on your kit or equipment? We came up with various ‘packages’ for rowing sponsors, starting with £250 and up to £20,000 each with a definitive list of what a sponsor would get in return. Sometimes there would be negotiations on these depending on the company, and we even had to pitch at times so be prepared! For the larger sponsors we ensured a legal contract was in place setting out the obligations of both parties including what would happen if the row didn’t go ahead under various circumstances and timelines (lawyer friends are very useful for this!).

It’s all about who you know. We spent almost a year sending 700 or so cold emails / calls and making very little traction. I wonder how many some marketing managers get a day?! None of us felt we were particularly “well connected” so this method felt the most difficult, although we did receive a number of kind donations from family and friends as the campaign progressed - of around £8k in total by the time we departed. Company donations were all connected to us in some way, however tenuous. The companies that we worked for made donations of around £500 each and we made a lot of headway through the “£250 club” – targeted at businesses that were local to where we lived or were from (13 in total) and "Bronze sponsors" of £500-£1000 (6 in total). We sent emails to them attaching the local newspaper articles, or went into shops in person to tell them about the expedition. Our two silver sponsors were personal connections who were senior in their companies and therefore had some influence. Our key (gold) sponsor came from linkedin – where I trawled hundreds of profiles connected to us (from schools to colleges and clubs), sending emails for introductions to large companies - and finally one came through from a university connection.

Kit is typically easier to get than cash. Providing some equipment or clothing (especially if its end of stock / discontinued items!) in return for some content for brand advertising or social media is relatively easy for most marketing managers to justify as a business case. A captive audience of ocean rowing enthusiasts on your twitter/instagram for a expedition food brand, sailing clothing company, or floatable sunglasses manufacturer etc is perfect for them to tap into. Emails to contact them can usually be found on most product or company websites (make sure you also send them the sponsorship pack and links to your social media!).

Providing a charity angle doesn’t necessarily work for businesses. We actually found mentioning our charity a hindrance a lot of time in terms of sponsorship as companies would either want to donate directly to the charity itself or it clashed with their own “charity of the year” / existing affiliations. It’s best to stick to the business angle as per above if raising money specifically for the expedition pot than lead with your charity.

How do sponsors pay me? Gofundme is one good website which can be used for personal donations although be aware of any fees on the amount you raise . We ended up using a PayPal account for personal donations, and set up a business bank account with Natwest (setting ourselves up as an unincorporated association) for the corporate sponsorship. For charity fundraising we had a separate justgiving page and made sure people were aware of when they were donating to charity and when to our expedition costs in order to be fair and transparent.

Our total fundraising breakdown for the row is below (£90k):

4. GRANTS

For some expeditions, you may be eligible for a grant. These are typically only available for non-commercial, self planned trips, often a “first” so we didn't use them for the row (although thought I'd include here for completeness). Ensure you follow the application guidelines closely including eligibility, terms and conditions and closing dates! Similar to corporate sponsorship, you will likely have obligations such as writing an article or doing a speech on your return.

The RGS website has a list of independent travel grants supporting challenging and inspiring geographical journeys and expeditions all over the world - see here. A full directory of grant giving organisations for expeditions and field research is available on the RGS website here.

Dave Cornthwaite’s Yestribe and Berghaus are offering a £500 adventure grant.

Anna McNuff is offering a £1000 (+ £1000 of arc’teryx kit) Adventure Queens grant.

The Mount Everest Foundation provides grants for mountain expedition funding, currently paying out over £40,000 per year - more details here.

There is also a lot more information and tips on fundraising at Cathy O’Dowd’s website Business of Adventure.

GOOD LUCK!

Exploring the corners of the world - from sea to summits

A keen traveller, explorer and mountaineer, I've undertaken expeditions to some of the world's toughest and remote environments including rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. Follow me on my next Endeavour!

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© 2016 by Kate Hallam

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