Indepth with The Altumate Challenge grant

The key to any successful adventure grant application is to start by understanding what they want. Then you can decide if your idea can be adapted to fit their model, or if you can create an adventure that ticks all their boxes.

I spoke to Altum Consulting Founder and Director David McDowell to find out how they came to found The Altumate Challenge and what they are looking for in their winners. 

The 2017 winners, Sierra 260, have just finished their project running across Sierra Leone - 14 friends, 10 marathons in 10 days - raising £100,000 for Street Child and Mind. 


David McDowell started Altum Consulting in April 2013, to specialise in mid to senior level recruitment in London. The Altumate Challenge (now in it’s third year) came out of a one-off sponsorship of the first expedition in 2015. 

Our non-executive chairman Patrick Glydon knew of these two young men. One of their promised sponsors had pulled out at the last minute. He said to us “look guys, it might be very early in your journey, but would this be of interest to you?”

Ed Nash-Steer, my business partner, and I always wanted to have a foundation or a charitable arm associated with the company. Ed’s niece Hannah was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and he has now raised thousands of pounds for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. I've raised money for the NSPCC. This was an opportunity that presented itself at just the right time. 

We became the main finance sponsor for Garth and Joe on their The Pan-Andean Challenge. They organised the branding and it was very much Altum Consulting. They raised around £25,000 for two charities that were close to their heart. 

That's where the idea was born. “Let's do this every year, let's run a competition.” We called it The Altumate Challenge as a play on words. 

Gareth Davies and Joe Barrs on the Pan-Andean Challenge. They travelled 2,500 miles in 56 days, from Ushuaia to Santiago, using 'Whikes', a recumbent tricycle with a removable sail. They were fundraising for The Ann Dodgson Foundation and The Foundation for Prader-Willi Research.

Gareth Davies and Joe Barrs on the Pan-Andean Challenge. They travelled 2,500 miles in 56 days, from Ushuaia to Santiago, using 'Whikes', a recumbent tricycle with a removable sail. They were fundraising for The Ann Dodgson Foundation and The Foundation for Prader-Willi Research.

In 2016 The Altumate Challenge was won by South African Tegan Phillips [read our profile of her here]. She did the equivalent of 10 Ironmans around New Zealand South Island - 40km swim, 1800km bike, 422km run.

In 2017 it was won by the Sierra 260 team - 14 British men running across Sierra Leone, the equivalent of 10 marathons in 10 days.

How many applications did Altum get in 2017?

We got about 25-30 applications, which was a lot more than the year before. It's definitely gaining traction. This year we had people applying saying "look, I'm not actually applying this year but I will apply next year. What you're doing is great and I just want to be on your radar." I found that interesting. 

Hopeful adventurers enter by uploading "a 2min video about your idea for The Altumate Challenge". So what are Altum looking for when they review all those applications?

Is it physically challenging, with an element of 'epic'?

It's got to have a real physical demanding component to it. The person's got to dig deep. We had somebody apply who wanted to do the most magic tricks underwater for two minutes. Which is different, but it's not for us. 

The word Altum is Latin for the highest and the deepest, so you can align that to mountains, or to oceans. We've got to have that sort of epic-ness. 

does it seem like a project that will actually happen?

You get lots of weird and wonderful applications, you really do. There was one application where they were doing three legs - cycling across Europe, running the Marathon De Sables and rowing the Atlantic. That’s incredible. They’d already completed two thirds of the journey. They needed £300,000 to finish, but they had only raised £60,00. We want to associate ourselves with a challenge that is going to have a success. 

You have to think carefully about the application. What are the chances of them being able complete it? Is the money they are looking to raise a realistic and achievable number? 

Does the applicant have a track record of success?

Obviously there is always risk, anything can happen, they might have to pull out. 

There was an applicant who was going to row around Great Britain. I think two days in he had to pull out because of something that went wrong. He had also pulled out of a previous challenge.

Tegan [the 2016 winner] is incredibly innovative with the cartoon element to her adventures. She is really driven, with a good personality, and she had done some impressive challenges previously. I thought she was very marketable as an individual, and raising money for a fantastic charity. 

Will the Altum money make a real difference?

Would it go ahead if they don’t win our grant? If the £5,000 we put forward makes a big difference, then that's great. We give them £5,000 and then we put £1,000 towards their charity fundraising. 

How much time will it take to complete the challenge?

It needs to be done in a relatively short period of time. Applications have included rowing the Nile, and trekking the whole of the Congo. That could go on for a year or more. Whereas we want it to be done within a defined period. 

What charity are they supporting?

The charity is important. What's the link between the charity and the individual? Is it a recognised charity? Is there a tangible outcome? Tegan’s choice, World Bike Relief, gives out bikes [to people in rural regions of developing countries]. It’s very tangible for the person donating the money. I thought that was fantastic. 

For us, the raising of money for charity is a significant thing, and people will give money because it is such an epic adventure.

Why are they supporting that charity?

It's not so much about the amount, but it's the fact that it’s at the forefront of the individual's mind. For me, the fact Tegan raised £13,000 is great. This year the guys are looking to raise £100,000, but because there’s 14 of them, that number becomes more realistic. 

I'm interested in why have they picked that charity? What does that charity mean to them? The more it means to them, the more likely they are not to give up.

Is the project different from what has won before?

We have applications coming from all over the world. What I don't want to have a stereotype of the same age range guy doing a trip. I love the fact that we have diversity. We want to keep the net wide on the types of applications. 

I love the fact that we've had one event in South America, one event in New Zealand and now we’ve got an event in Africa. Three events are in three different continents, a team of two, a team of one and a team of 14. They are all very different. 

Hopefully people look at it and go "well I will enter, I've got as much chance as anybody because it's quite varied". 

Does their passion show through in their application?

There was a group that applied from New Zealand who wanted to kayak down some really dangerous white rapids. In terms of an event it looked pretty epic. But the person that was talking on the video, they had no oomph, they were incredibly dry. It was such a shame. They just didn't speak with passion and energy and enthusiasm. 

You’ve got to think about the PR presentation, not just of the event, but of the people that are doing it. We're looking for that inspirational individual. 

Have they personalised their video application for Altum?

We’ve had a few applications that were almost like a promo video, as if it’s been sent to 20 other competitions. I do like the ones that are personalised, they've taken the time, it means a lot to them.


More than just money - contacts & exposure

Altum’s investment is more than just the money, and the winners gain more than just the adventure experience. Altum have an external marketing company doing the social media. And they try to get the Challenge winners involved in other events, like doing a a breakfast networking event for their clients a few days before the 2017 team headed out to Sierra Leone. 

When they come back, they're probably going to do a black tie event or a quiz or something. We will try and bring our clients and candidates to that event. There is lots we try and do through our networks. Give these guys a bit of a boost. 

Recruitment doesn't have the greatest of reputations. The reputation is take, take, take. It's nice having our brand associated with something that's got some good attached to it. Being aligned to something where people think 'wow, I wish I could do that' or 'that looks amazing'. 

Garth and Joe did a talk at my daughter’s school when they got back. Isn't it great that they can be inspiring future generations that think 'wow, I'd love to do that’!

What is coming next? 

Next year we’d love to keep this going. We are thinking of adding an Altumate Experience, which is open to our staff, again to raise money for charity.

The Altum Challenge started off very much as an external thing. We would still keep that going, but do something internal as well. 


Tegan Phillips.jpg

How Tegan Phillips approached her Altum application

If you want to win something, you have to try to figure what it is they want and then offer it to them. You can have the best idea ever, but they’re not offering to sponsor people’s ideas because they’re being nice. They have their own motivations.

Altum put a little trailer of the guys who won the year before. They said they wanted something epic, with charity fund raising. I tried to meet every single one of their requirements in my entry. I think that a lot of better ideas maybe weren’t selected because the idea wasn’t presented in the right way.  

I think the reason that I ended up getting it was because the passion I showed was very genuine. Probably the most important thing when dealing with sponsors to be really, really genuine and really, really honest. I said ‘I really want to do this, you don’t have to choose me, but if you do choose me, I’d be so happy’.

They are a recruitment agency, they have about thirty people in their team, and every single one of them was following. I met them all, they would send me encouraging emails, they did personal donations to the fundraising. There was a huge human element in it which was really nice.