How do you find an adventure open to you and worthy of funding and sharing?
You need to think about three key questions.
- What do you want to do?
- Who do you want to reach?
- What sort of funding do you want to raise?
One of the joys of adventure is that it doesn’t come with all the rules of regulated, competitive sport. But that also means it’s a concept that is hard to pin down.
"I've always been struggling to understand at which point something can be called an adventure and when such an adventure becomes interesting enough for others to hear." - a question emailed to me by Castor
An adventure is an exciting or unusual experience. It may also be a bold, usually risky undertaking, with an uncertain outcome. - Wikipedia
The Wikipedia definition tells us it can mean two distinct things. The exciting or unusual experience covers taking your kid camping in the garden, going bungee-jumping, buying a place on a commercial Everest base camp trek. None of those meet the second definition - bold, risky, uncertain outcome.
If you can pay your own way and have no desire to share, you can do what you want and call it whatever you like. But then you wouldn’t be reading this. So you want to share and/or you hope to raise/make money. What sort of ‘adventure’ makes the cut?
There is still no clear answer. Almost anything that you can call an adventure will probably impress someone, even if only your mum (and she will leave embarrassing comments on your blog). The most record-breaking attention-getting adventure in the world will have some critics. Someone will say it was all better in the 1980s, or the 1880s, or back when homo sapiens first walked out of Africa. As soon as you start to share your activities, you will attract both admirers and detractors. You have to find your own balance between the two.
Different kinds of adventure will impress different audiences. They will interest different sponsors. They will appeal to different kinds of media. You need to find your sweet spot amidst a bewildering array of options. It helps if you can be clear about what your primary motivation is and which outcomes matter to you most. Assuming you aren't one of the favoured few with the talents required for The 3 Shortcuts to Adventure Fame & Fortune, then you need to think through the questions below.
The answers are not mutually exclusive, think of it as a scale from 1 to 10. How much does each possibility matter to you? (And sadly, you can’t have everything. Very few adventures manage to tick all the boxes.)
1. What do you want to do?
Do a specific adventure
- A commercial adventure - you do the physical challenge, someone else manages logistics and safety. This can range from adventure challenges like the Marathon de Sables to climbing Everest with a commercial operator.
- A self-organised adventure - you (or a team of you) do the planning, logistics and execution yourselves (although you may employ a ground-operator to get you into position to start).
Raise money for a charity through adventure
Certain kinds of adventure do much better than others to achieve this goal, so if your rationale is charity-driven, design your adventure for maximum impact.
Set an adventure record
- Natural records. Such as 1st person / gender / nationality / other characteristic to do X. 'First' records stay with you for the rest of your career, whereas 'youngest/oldest' or 'fastest' are likely to be temporary.
- Human-defined records. As in an authority declares it a record - in adventure mostly likely a Guinness World Record.
If you are in pursuit of the former, you need to take care that your claim is true. Plenty of things have already been done by people who didn't make a fuss about it and/or done before it all lived on thanks to the Internet. There is no central repository or international arbiter of adventure records. You have the do the research.
If you are after the latter, you must be sure to fulfil the requirements for proof laid out by Guinness. Otherwise you can do the work and still not be granted the record.
Raise your profile as an adventurer
Who is your target? Different audiences are reached in different ways.
- Your peers in your adventure niche
- A social media following
- General public
Do something that will attract money - adventure grant or sponsorship
Adventure grants and corporate sponsorship are receptive to different kinds of adventure. It's important to be clear about the different criteria.
Do something worth a book / speech afterwards
The adventure that generates a book that will sell in modest numbers in your adventure niche, or a speech that works well for adventure events, is different from the adventure that will break into mainstream media and get you the major publishing contract and the corporate speaking engagements.
Tricky truth - the adventure that goes spectacularly wrong, yet you manage to succeed or just survive, makes for the best book / speech. That is not something you can plan in advance.
Do something that will earn the respect of your peers
What impresses peers and experts in your niche may be very different from what has impact with the public and in general media.
Only the first three reasons are the sort of motivations adventurers admit to in public. However, if you are trying to build an adventure career, or simply find the money, you need to be practical, if only in private.
2. Who do you want to reach?
Adventure sport peers, niche sport publications, premier niche brands
You want to win a Piolet d’Or or the American Alpine Club Cutting Edge Award, get on the cover of the Outside Magazine, become a North Face or Red Bull athlete. You want your book to win the Banff Mountain Book Award. You want the respect of the experts in your niche.
Social media general public
You want to reach the sort of people who build your social media numbers, buy self-published books, get you in with brands who care about social influence.
The wider general public
This means getting the interest of traditional media. You want to catch the eye of national newspapers, national and international TV, general interest magazines. You want to sell books via a traditional publisher with international distribution. You want corporates who book speakers to ask for you and speaker bureaus to come to you. If you are British, you want a MBE. If you are American, you want to be interviewed by Stephen Colbert.
none of the above
You think of yourself as an ordinary person rather than an athlete, you hate options 2 and 3 above because they are selling out the soul of adventure, but you still want someone to publish your book and more someones to buy it, and to acknowledge your achievement while respecting the fact you refused to sell out to The Man. This is tricky, but some adventurers have pulled it off, like Julian Sayarer with his round-the-world bike record.
What sort of funding do you want to raise?
An adventure grant or an outdoor brand sponsorship
- Traditional adventure grant, with a focus on exploration or unclimbed mountains
- Social media driven, human-powered adventure type of grant
Both kinds of grants generally explicitly exclude any type of commercial adventure. You must be organising it yourself. Generally the former do not care about your ability to drive social media coverage, they value the genuinely exploratory nature of the project. The later are often open to more personal, crazy adventure challenges but specify that you must share the adventure on social as part of the conditions of the grant.
- Smaller, local sponsorships - just enough to provide an modest adventure budget.
- 5 or 6 figures adventure budget, needing national / international corporate sponsorship.
You can raise these kind of sponsorship for commercial adventures, as long as you are seen to be doing something innovative within the market your sponsor cares about. The project generally needs to be wrapped up in a one-line pitch that is easy for both sponsors and media to grasp. Which is why so many involve some kind of record.
Generally crowdfunding works to fund a book or film about the adventure, not the adventure itself. People are pre-buying something for themselves (the book, the film) rather than just contributing to your adventure holiday. But there are exceptions, if you can put urgency and a good cause behind your pitch.
Either way, you need to either already have an audience who follows you, or you need to get traditional media coverage. The crowdfunding platform exists to handle the donations, not to find donors for you.
- Just tapping into friends and family, any money is good
- Hoping to raise in five figures
For doing the former, here is some useful advice and encouragement from Bex Band @Bex_Band.
If you want to do the latter, certain adventures do much better than others in this regard. As a generalisation, people do better in their own country, with a project done over time, where they move around, supporters can join in, they can talk to local media as they travel, their coverage and the donations can build momentum.
Post adventure revenue: book sales / paid speeches
- Outdoor festival speeches / self-published books that need a social media audience
- Traditional publishers / corporate speeches which generally need traditional media
To try and make sense of what these different combinations of grants / sponsors / records / donations / media coverage can look like, I dug into some adventure achievements coming out of the UK in the last year in the mountain genre - given that Everest remains something of a icon of 'adventure', both for those who aspire to it and for those who mock the idea.
For in-depth information on each of these many options, follow along on the website in the coming months, or take the easy route and have it delivered to you each Monday by signing up below for the newsletter.