Can You Crowdfund An Expedition?

“I was wondering what the general consensus is within the community regarding people using websites such as GoFundMe to make up the costs of a trip, given that an effort has been made to gain sponsorship support and partially self-fund?
And when I say trip, I don't just mean a holiday to Fontainebleau, but more of an expedition style thing which would be a pain in the butt/impossible for a young professional to entirely pay for themselves.”

This is a question that was posted recently on the British climbing forum, The answers were a useful illustration of why this is one of the harder ways to fund a trip. 

  • “Pay for your own vacation.  Just like we all do.”
  • “Fund your own holidays.”
  • “I wouldn't be against the idea per se, but my main concern would be: if the outcome of the expedition isn't notable and/or likely enough for sponsors to want to be involved, why would Joe Public want to be? It certainly would be a hard sell.”
From Indiegogo, found by googling adventure or expedition. 

From Indiegogo, found by googling adventure or expedition. 

1. People actively dislike funding 'holidays'  

The first big problem is that your adventure looks like a holiday to everyone else, and they have a point. Being guided up Everest is not inherently more worthy that going on a Bahamas beach holiday. Your adventure has to have a purpose that resonates with other people. 

    You have to present your project has having a purpose other than your personal enjoyment. You need to overcome what American PR and adventure marketing expert Jeff Blumenfeld calls The So What Rule. He writes that  “Sponsors are called upon to constantly make the distinction between an adventure, an expedition, or simply someone’s fun time in the great outdoors… Without a significant raison d’être, sponsors will most likely bury your request in their “Help Fund My Vacation” file.” You face the same challenge with crowdfunding.

    The post How To Present A Project Pitch can help in creating a business-like explanation of your challenge. 

    2. People Fund People They Know 

    • “I would probably sponsor someone who is either under 21 or leading such a group if I had a personal connection to them, their cause or the group as a whole. When I was 18, sponsorship from a huge number of people and the banks community fund were very helpful for a trip to the Andes, and I don't forget that.”
    • “I've given money to under-25s to support their travel but 1. I personally knew them 2. they were grafters, working hard to make their own way in the world and 3. not just a holiday, also an experience that would help their career. No way in the world would I contribute without all those conditions being true.”

    Crowdfunding does not get you money from strangers (or not much). The crowdfunding platforms offer a mechanism to raise funds from an audience you already have. Family, friends, fans, social media followers.... So if you have a fan-base and a compelling personality and a cool goal, yes, you might be able to crowdfund from your base. But you need to be conservative with numbers. Just because they follow you on social media (or enjoy free content that you produce) does not mean they will pay you money, or pay enough to fund an expensive trip. 

    The crowdfunding platform Chuffed suggests that the core of your campaign rests on your ‘True Believers’ - people you are 90% sure will give. A campaign of £5,000 or less can run off these folk alone. If your target is larger than that, you are going to have to turn to influencers and/or conventional media to amplify your message. And you have to think through why they will agree to spread the word about your challenge. 

    Successful crowdfunders have put a lot of work into preparing their audience before they launch the appeal. A crowdfunder that is going to succeed normally has 30% of the money come in in the first three days. Always have some people primed to donate money in the hours after your launch. Just as diners prefer to try eating at a half-full restaurant rather than an empty one, people are much more likely to donate if they see other people have already stepped up. 

    It is possible to raise $0 of a $200,000 target - and the campaign will then sit on the public web with your name on it for years. 

    It is possible to raise $0 of a $200,000 target - and the campaign will then sit on the public web with your name on it for years. 

    3. People will Fund A Product 

    • “If you are crowd-funding something then unless it is clearly a charitable/altruistic endeavour that others will sympathise with , then you are going to have to promise something in return. Maybe if you were going to make a professional-quality film of an interesting and unusual adventure along the way and then give copies to people who had contributed, that could work. ”

    The expedition and adventure crowdfunders that work are normally ones funding the production of a book or a film about the trip. In that case the expedition funds have probably come from somewhere else - savings, grants or sponsors.

    Again, a lot of work will need to go into priming your audience (and of course afterwards comes the work of creating, producing and shipping the product). 

    From my interview with round-the-world adventurer Sarah Outen about her adventure film crowdfunder:

    How much work did you do planning the Kickstarter before launching?
    It was quite a lot of work, not just in mobilising the base but also in preparing the whole package. Thinking about our rewards, our story, how we are going to present that. Planning and shooting the film. 
    Mobilising the base, that started long ago in just talking about making a film. In the weeks preceding the launch, we were getting in touch with folks, saying we are about to launch this, hopefully we can count on your support.
    There is certainly more this week, because in recognising that peak, plateau, peak pattern, I am lining up various interviews and publicity that are going to go out over the final ten days. 

    4. People will Fund Charitable Projects

    However, this comes with the caveat that they are always suspicious that the person raising the funds may be sucking money away from the charity to pay for the adventure. 

    Jo Moseley raised £10,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support, crowdfunding off the back of her indoor rowing challenge. In her blog post 9 Tips for Effective Charity Fundraising she says: "Many people told me it was the sheer ‘unrelenting boringness’ of my challenge that actually inspired them to donate! They realised that it was something they could do at their gym but simply wouldn’t. They couldn’t see how I would personally benefit from it in any way and thus were drawn to donate generously."

    5. Crowdfunding Creates New Problems 

    Crowdfunding is not simply free cash cascading into your bank account. 

    1. You Get Less Than You Think

    Close to 10% of your raised money may be lost to platform fees, banking fees, VAT and failed card transactions.

    2. You Create More Costs and More Work 

    Many crowdfunders try to encourage donations with promises of expedition-related product. But there are real costs involved in producing and shipping that product, as well as many hours of your time, hours that now cannot be spent on the main project. 

    MeetExplorers wrote in a post titled Crowdfunding your expedition"Be sure you can deliver what you promise. Are you able to send 500 postcards to backers on a 3 week expedition unsupported walk across the Sahara? Certainly not. You won't meet a lot of people and if you do, your trek is not unsupported. And your time is for walking not spending 3 days writing postcards. Your backers are not stupid, they know what's possible or not."

    3. you may have to top Up The Funds

    All-or-nothing crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter can be advantageous because they create a sense of urgency, they have a final deadline. However, unlike open-ended fundraisers, if you don't reach your target, you don't get any of the money. You may need to put in your own money to reach your target and accept that you lost some of that to platform fees, in order to gain the money that has been pledged. 

    If you google crowdfunding expeditions, there are a numbers of posts from 2015/16, when various new platforms were launching, but then it all dies away. Crowdfunding has not proved useful for raising costs for individual expeditions, and even projects with research, charitable or environmental aims has battled to reach their targets. The crowdfunding sites are littered with campaigns that did not reach their goal. 


    6. There Is An Exception to Every Rule 

    In 2017 British climber Ian Toothill reach the top of Everest on a commercial Summit Climbs expedition (cost on website £21,350).

     He had already received national press coverage as “the first cancer patient to climb Everest”. His aim was explicitly to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support but he lost his corporate sponsor early in 2017.  He turned to crowdfunding, launching an appeal on Go Fund Me early in February. It got rapid traction, at one point trending as one of top six Go Fund Me sites in the world. 

    He put £29,100 towards paying for the climb, with the rest of the £35,781 raised going to the charity. On Just Giving he declared a target of £220,000 for the cancer charity - and then raised £10,996.  

    Ian Toothill's GoFundMe campaign for his Everest expedition. 

    Ian Toothill's GoFundMe campaign for his Everest expedition. 

    What made Ian's crowdfunder different?

    1. He already had national press coverage and so could launch his crowdfunder nationally.
    2. Cancer is an emotive topic which has touched thousands of people personally. 
    3. Losing his sponsorship so late put Ian on a tight deadline before the expedition left. That kind of urgency adds drama and galvanises people into taking action. Friends and fans actively spread the story across social media and national and international media picked up the story. 
    From one of his GoFundMe supporters: "Saw you on the TV news tonight . well done on your achievements proud to be a fellow owl. all the best for the future. you are one brave guy.

    It would be very difficult to deliberate recreate the circumstances that made Ian's appeal work. And setting aside the drama of the deadline, he already had a compelling personal story to tell and a powerful personal link to the charity involved. 

    You are likely to need to sew together a patchwork of funding sources to pay for your project. Crowdfunding may well serve to top up funds that come from savings and/or adventure grants, or it may provide the budget for a book and/or film which will help with your sponsorship pitch. 

     A comment from a reader of Tim Moss's post Is Crowd Funding an Acceptable Way to Pay for an Expedition?
    "I would feel more inclined to support a crowd funded expedition, if the individual/team were putting in a sizable chunk of the money themselves. Perhaps the crowd funding is to top it up, or support a certain aspect…"

    Before you can think about crowdfunding you need at least some of these other elements in place:

    • an innovative adventure idea
    • a coherent compelling pitch
    • an engaged audience
    • a well-regarded charity link
    • an extensive PR campaign
    • a lot of research

    What does not work is simply opening up a funding page on GoFundMe or Indiegogo and then waiting for strangers to give you money so you can be the 411th Briton to climb Everest. 

    Related posts: