Fundraising for a British Exploring expedition

"There are so many stand-out moments for me... being woken up at 1am to see the Northern Lights; coming round a meander bend to see an adult male moose drinking at the side of the water; washing in the river, in 40-degree golden sunlight; eating pike for lunch, having seen it be caught an hour earlier, and having gutted it myself; lighting a fire using one strike of a flint and steel." - Tom Seager, writing about his Yukon Expedition with British Exploring

Tom Seager shares the story of his expedition fundraising

The interview answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

I'm Tom Seager. I've just started my first year of a geography degree at the University of Exeter [in the UK].

How did you find out about British Exploring @brit_exploring and their expeditions?

I had a couple of friends who'd been to the Amazon with them. I was looking for things to do once I finished my own A-Level exams and I came across the British Exploring trip to The Yukon in Canada.

I always had a vision in my head of paddling or canoeing down a river in North America, so I immediately knew that I wanted to be on that trip. Within days, I paid the deposit. That was £100.

My mum didn’t think that I’d be able to raise that amount of money

How much more money did you have to raise to  go on the trip?

The total cost, including the deposit, was £3,100 plus another £1,200 for flights. Then I spent about another £300 - £500 on the kit.

The conditions are that you have to raise the money yourself, is that right?

They like it if you're able to raise a lot of money yourself.

Having to raise over £4,000 must have seemed like a lot of money.

Yeah, it did seem daunting. My mum was reluctant to let me sign on, she didn't think that I'd be able to raise that amount of money in the time I had. But it was something I really wanted to do.

How long did you have to do it?

About 14 months. I signed on in March 2016 and then went on the expedition in July 2017.

Rather naively, I thought I’d be saving all the money I was earning

At the beginning, how did you think you would raise that money?

I already had a job, working about 10 hours a week, first as a waiter, later behind a bar. I thought initially that that was going to be enough. Rather naively, I thought I’d be saving all the money, but that wasn't going to happen. I had clothes and things to buy, I was going out, seeing friends. 

Once it became clear that you will going to need money from other sources, what did you do?

I started looking into different charities who offered awards or bursaries for young people to go away on trips. British Exploring provides a fundraising guide, so I had a list of people to consider applying to. I also did a lot research. The RGS has a document with a lot of resources.  I selected ones that are applicable to me.

How many did you apply to?

In total I sent letters or emails to around 20 different groups or charities. There were smaller ones who then turned out to have conditions that weren’t clear on their website, like only covering certain geographical areas, areas that I wasn't a part of. 

How many did you get in the end?

I ended up getting five. 

Useful resource: The Directory of Grant Making Trusts 2018/19 contains key information about 2,000 UK grant-givers. It costs £125 to buy, so look for it in your local library.  @DSC_Charity 

One of the paintings Tom sold to help fund his expedition. 

One of the paintings Tom sold to help fund his expedition. 

You also set up the GoFundMe.

Yes, I did that almost immediately after getting on the expedition.

It looks like your grandparents were fairly generous.

Yeah, they were very helpful. I applied to all of the different charities and then I didn't hear anything for a few months because obviously, they all have dates when they give out the money. But then there were the BE dates, when I had to make my payments. There was a point when I thought I wasn't going to be getting any award money, so I asked my grandparents to give me birthday money early so I could afford to make those payments. Then I started to get the awards afterwards.

So even if you get awards, you still have a cash flow problem. You have to pay deposits before you find out of you’ve won any of the awards.

Yeah, pretty much.

Did you promote the GoFundMe beyond immediate friends and family?

I had a blog  where I was posting. I made posts for Facebook. I did a talk at my school assembly, partly about the GoFundMe, and partly just to raise awareness for BE.

Note about GoFundMe: GoFundMe take a 5% fee from each donation. In addition there is a payment processor fee of 2.9% + $0.30 per donation. In total you pay 7.9% + $0.30 per donation. You can also list your Offline Donations so they will count towards your GoFundMe goal. You won't be charged any fees for those.
Tom raised £215 in GoFundMe donations, and received £194.11. 

And then you sold some of your paintings.

Yes. I'm quite into my art work. I sold through my blog, through Facebook and there was a website I used as well. I didn't sell as many as I was hoping for but I managed to make a bit of money from it.

Did you manage to raise enough money to pay for everything?

Yes, I did. With the last bursary, it came to £4,400. 

Where Tom's £4,400 came from

Make people aware of what you’re doing and just get yourself out there

Was it all worth it?

Definitely! It was so worth it. I had the most incredible experience. I want to go back do the BE Trainee Leader Programme now.

What advice would you give somebody trying to fundraise for an equivalent trip?

I'd say try anything, really. Don't be afraid to do things like bake sales. I didn't do as much as I probably could have. Apply for bursaries and things, just apply to everyone because the worst they can do is say no. Make people aware of what you're doing and get yourself out there.

What are your plans for the next few years?

I started my first year of Uni now so my funds are a little bit restricted but I'm hoping to get away for the summer coming up, I'm planning on walking Hadrian's Wall with my dad. I'm starting to save now and then the year after, in summer of 2019 my plan to do the Trainee Leader Programme with BE.

How much do you need to raise for that?

That's about £5,000. That's quite a lot of money but the university runs a few different schemes so hopefully I'll be able to get some money through that.

Tom wrote about his Yukon experience for British Exploring. 

On the 2017 British Exploring Yukon expedition - photo by  Ed Morgan  @  Edward_Morgan. 

On the 2017 British Exploring Yukon expedition - photo by Ed Morgan @Edward_Morgan. 

Worth knowing!  British Exploring has joined the #iwill campaign - a national campaign that aims to make social action part of life for as many young people as possible by the year 2020. Applicants will be able to reduce the cost of their expeditions by contributing to social action in their local area. Find out more at Explorer Miles Social Action.

Tips for expedition fundraising from UK grant bodies

1. There are many small grant-giving bodies in the UK. Research thoroughly to find all your options. 

2. Reach out to all your personal contacts for connections or contacts to grant-giving bodies - through schools you've attended, your parents, other interested adults, local organisations. 

3. Read ALL the small print before applying. You need to meet their criteria.

  • Are you eligible (age, place of residence, dates, etc)?
  • How do you need to apply?
  • When do applications close?
  • When do they announce the grants?
  • Can you provide references if needed? 

4. Research your local authorities, looking for:

  • regional council grants
  • local education department grants
  • sports awards, from departments of leisure and recreation
  • school councils or community associations

5. Apply well in advance. And have a strategy for managing your cash flow. You may need to make deposits before you find out if you have received a bursary.

6. Tell everyone about what you're doing - via a blog, on social media, and in person.