Is “crowd funding” a great new way to kick start expeditions?
Or is it just asking other people to pay for your holiday?
Expeditions can be expensive.
Although I personally advocate cheap adventures (like my friends Tom and Al do) and almost always advise people not to bother trying to get that elusive sponsorship deal, the fact remains that some expeditions are prohibitively expensive (e.g. North/South Pole and ocean rowing) and some people just prefer the sponsored approach.
You can get small amounts of money from expedition grants, of which I have been lucky to receive many and plan to offer one myself in the near future.
However, for big ticket expeditions the traditional approach has been trying for corporate sponsorship i.e. finding a big company to give you lots of money in exchange for publicity or similar. I’ve never had a corporate sponsor myself (just free kit). I used to try but no longer bother.
Getting a corporate sponsor is seen as something of a golden ticket. The coffers open and you surf to expedition glory on a wave of big business finance. It’s not, of course, without its downsides.
Some people might object to “pretending” to be an advocate for a sponsor’s brand or prefer to avoid the hassle of having to fulfill promises whilst fulfilling their dream. More importantly, it’s really hard work and almost never gets results. Personally, I’ve not had much luck and now just find it easier to save up and do cheap trips.
However, an alternative to getting money from one big company is to get it from lots of individuals i.e. through crowd funding.
Using websites like Kickstarter, you can tell the world about your expedition plans and invite them to contribute towards its costs. You might offer certain things in return – an exclusive newsletter, donor names on your t-shirt/bike/body or a free copy of your book – but it’s definitely a donation rather than an investment (donors don’t get their money back or make a profit).
In other words, you ask a bunch of other people to pay for you to go on an expedition. Is crowd funding really an acceptable way to do that?
The answer has got to be: yes. It’s a free world and people are free to read your pitch and donate to it or not. There’s no coercion or deception involved.
However, something about it doesn’t sit right with me. I find it hard to justify my objection – as I’ve said, it’s an open and consensual exchange – but I can’t imagine myself ever asking other people to pay for me to go on an expedition (holiday) without a very good reason.
I already feel privileged enough to be able to have done the wonderful adventures I’ve had and sometimes a little embarrassed about the indulgence of them, knowing that others are working and paying their taxes. I’m not sure I would have the nerve to then suggest that other people pay so that I can play.
But then… if people want to pay (and there’s no reason to suggest any other reason for them doing so), then perhaps there’s no harm.
It still just feels indulgent.
Am I alone in this? Am I being typically British or snooty without any good reason? Or, worse, just jealous of those that had the idea first?
The fact is, there are probably some expeditions that I would donate to so I won’t pretend my argument is without hypocrisy.
Would you consider trying to fund an expedition through Kickstarter?
Have you already done so?
Or have you got a good example of one?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I think you make great points, as ever, and I agree with you.
Generally, I think it’s much better just to save up and do precisely the trip that you want to do. In fact, the time and effort spent pursuing sponsorship would probably be more fruitful earning a few pounds an hour!
However, I think there’s two possible exceptions…
Firstly, 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… Incidentally, I think may sponsors look for a personal contribution too.
Secondly, and an area I am interested in, is science and research expeditions. Expeditions with a purpose beyond that of the individual. It’s still fun (some of the time), so I would still expect a decent personal financial contribution. But with very little money available to support really important conservation expeditions, I am encouraged and hopeful that the new growth of crowdfunding might help support more of these endeavors.
I would add, that in these cases the onus is not just on the individual/team to fulfill the expedition, but also to disseminate their findings and have a lasting positive impact. After all, that is largely why you would support a research expedition.
Anyway, good post!
Thanks James. That’s a good point about the need for members to put their own money where their mouths are (i.e. contribute themselves).
And yes, science and research could indeed be better justification where it’s a genuine focus.
I’ve been considering this question for the past few weeks, and I think I’ve come up with an answer.
What is the point of the expedition?
This August, I am off on an ambition adventure that’ll push my personal boundaries. But it is just personal, so there is zero practical reason why people would pay to make it happen, so I wouldn’t dream of asking.
But if an expedition has a larger meaning, say exploring climate change in the Canadian arctic, where government officials have committed to building new roads out of fear that winter ice roads are no longer viable, it may have a greater urgency and connection with an audience. Coupled with some great rewards, I think this is worth crowd sourcing.
If there is an end product, like a movie, a book, or daily updates from the road on anything from a blog to an Instagram feed, I think it might have some some kickstarted worth, simply because the supporters are paying for content. It isn’t much different than paying for a magazine subscription; however, in this case the supporter is paying for editorial it wants.
so my answer, in a shorter version, is it is OK to ask if you can prove there is value to the project’s supporters.
i feel the same as you. I don’t like crowd funding but not quite sure why. Maybe it has something to do with coming up with the idea but then putting the onus on others to make it happen.
There is something else too though. Recently in my area a man known to the community for being a big supporter of cycling was tragically hit by a car while riding his bike. He was not critically injured and is expected to make a full recovery. Almost immediately a crowd funding campaign was set up to replace his bicycle and also buy one for his brother. I was sent the link from people I know and respect so I looked into it and was surprised to see that the amount they were trying to raise was $10000. It sort of makes me feel like a jerk but that’s way more than what’s needed to buy two bikes and safety gear.
There are more instances that grate on my nerves too but I digress. It’s hard to justify feeling this way about people trying to help others.
I think crowd funding – i.e. asking for donations – is exactly the opposite of what some bycicle travellers are looking for. how can you be independent, feel independent if you are dependant on other people’s donations?
I wonder whether that feeling of dependency would be greater or lesser than if you had a more traditional corporate sponsor?
to me, it would be the same. but that’s me, in the end it’s a matter of personal choices and being comfortable with what you do.
I suspect that crowdfunding has been around for long enough to have established its own unwritten code of ethics, and that it’s this which is coming into conflict with some of the varied notions surrounding expedition, adventure and travel.
Ultimately, crowdfunding succeeds when the pitch resonates with the potential backers. And if that’s the case, then isn’t it the honesty and integrity of the pitch that should come under scrutiny, rather than the premise upon which it rests?
In other words, if enough people want to make something happen and donate their money, isn’t whether it happens more important than what that something is?
This question will be answered by the backers. They will either choose to “join in” the project, or they’ll choose not to sponsor someone’s holiday.
Their decision will depend on the expedition proposal and what reward they get in return for their cash.
Tom, Al, thanks for the comments. In other words: “If people are willing to pay for it then it’s OK”?
I can’t fault the logic although you might argue that you’re avoiding a moral position and instead leaving it to the market…
More like – “what does it matter to anyone who chooses not to back it?”
I can’t see how it’s useful to take a moral position on the concept itself, simply because it’s such an open-ended thing. Specific examples are a different matter – the first example here might be a lesson in both how to run a crowdfunding campaign for an expedition and how not to follow it through.
I’m writing from the position of both a backer of campaigns and as having run one (not very well, to be honest).
My view is that if the project offers something wider than an individual travel experience – a well produced movie, scientific research or an outcome that benefits the backers in some fashion – then it is OK to run a crowd funding campaign. The question is, how do you define the benefits?
Using my own cycle ride as an example. I thought it offered few tangible benefits, yet it engaged way more people than my current planned expedition which is far more ambitious, has scientific objectives (including counting polar bears!) and tangible products including films and books*
I suppose the benefits, therefore, are in the eye of the backer. If people are entitled to ask for backing of a travel project, and I believe they are, then people are entitled to donate.
If it feels indulgent then perhaps you do not appreciate the value that people derive from your blogs, videos and books?
*My marketing is rubbish though, I suffer from understatement and fear of rejection
Hi Andy, thanks for the honest comment.
I think you raise an interesting point about the difference between perceived and actual benefits. Books and science may seem like easier sells but perhaps if they’re contrived for that purpose (and I’m not saying yours are!) then people may actually prefer a project without the tangible products, just good old fashioned enthusiasm that shines through in whatever communication you send.
Good luck with the next project, it’s a good one! (Andy’s trying to get to the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility which is explained Has anyone been to the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility?).
I have very recently tried crowd funding with Kickstarter which took days to set up and to activate but to no avail after 30 days running, not even one hit. This was to join Andy and Jim Mcneill for the Quest for the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility early 2016. I have had a massive passion for cold regions for over thirty years and with scientific research taking place I thought this would be a great accomplishment to take part in and aim to reach this unclaimed place.
I certainly agree that everyone has a freedom to donate to a worthwhile cause as people for centries have been backed one way or another in business, exploration etc. I do also agree that many feel they are paying for someones exped or dream but in reality most adventures are of a degree of hardship and discomfort that many would not wan’t to do themselves.
I have recently raced back from the Arctic Circle on my V Max motorcycle to be a part of this incredible Quest for the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility. It got no further, I have limited funds due to losing everything in my entire life near 45 years now, four years ago. This was an adventure you would love – urban search and rescue in New Zealand during the thousands of earthquakes. 7.1 hitting five mins from my front door in the Southern Alps of NZ and around another 2500 before Christchurch got destroyed. I got injured a week after the 6.3 in Feb 2011, separated from my wife of 20 years four days after the 7.1 in September 2010. I was a volunteer with NZRT12 with civil defence.
After a week on a drip I was advised to return to family in UK after ten years in NZ. 12000 miles when you can barely walk and never seeing my wife or life as I knew it again. Losing all my assets, alpacas I raised for eight years, race and rally cars I built and every dollar I had as I was too injured to work for a year and heart broken with the situation I had been placed in by so called vip older friends.
I always had adventures large and small but this last four years has been survival. June 2014 to August 2014 I rode a 1930 bicycle with a Cyclemaster 32cc engine in the rear wheel from Land’s End to John O’groats taking 54 days. Repairs daily, crashes, no money I eventually went to Orkney and on to the Shetlands with free passage.
I needed feeding so my next trip I borrowed a diesel Royal Enfield motorcycle from a museum and got a supply of used fish and chip oil to run it on. I once again slept rough, next to no money and ate fish and chips whist circumnavigating the mainland coast of Great Britain 4500 miles taking 30 days. With eight horse power this was slow but managed to ride back from Edinburgh to Norwich in one hit using my pliers to operate the throttle cable which had snapped.
Next was V Max to the Arctic Circle December 7th 2014 just as the Arctic weather blast was coming in. I arrived Christmas day having hypothermia, frost bite on my nose and frost nip on my left hand on Christmas eve. I stayed stuck with my 160 bhp machine in the snow and ice until I got enough courage to ride out again at minus 55 degree windchill wearing not a lot and an open face helmet. Why you ask, no sponsors, no funds and all my belongings gone. I wanted to see what real adventure and survival was and to see if there is a god that looks over us.
I ran out of money what little I had on every trip, eating off the land, cheap food where I could, hot water to drink mainly and in my sleeping bag most of the while to sleep. Not being self sufficient is the scariest and worst thing for me, just having people who beleive and support in what you are doing is powerful. Sport, football, rugby, boxing and motor racing have millions dedicated to them and yet those bold to push their own boundaries with adventure of their own choice go it alone or with people that beleive in what they are aiming for.
My current trip I have underway is to ride my V Max to Nepal and on to Japan for Unicef. I am one of a small number of urban search and rescue responders who have lived through many earthquakes, got injured and then lost their entirity. I feel even by the ride for charity itself without necessarily being hands on I have alot of valuable skills to offer. All my previous trips were for charity be it the British Red Cross which I have been a member of fire and emergency support for 3.5 years, also the Royal British Legion as I am a former Royal Marine during the 1990’s.
I have others plans for adventure and raising valuable funds for dedicated charities. I feel I am in this life position for a reason and I truely need passion and purpose to continue.
I would like it very much if you were able drop me an email with any support or advice in succeeding against all odds.
email – [email protected]
Sorry it’s long but could have continued for hours.
Hi Richard, that’s quite a story. Sorry to hear your Kickstarter campaign didn’t go well. I’ve just sent you an email.
Thanks for the question Tim. I’ve been thinking about this too. We have a BIG dream to bike around in the world with our two kids on tandems. Largely we want to connect with communities and for them to see that the world is filled with wonderful people. Perhaps we would raise money for some worthy organization along the route. But certainly the question of how to fund ourselves has been a big one. Do we sell the house? Do we get sponsors? Do we figure out a way to have income during the ride? Do we save enough money ourselves?
I feel a bit awkward about the idea of a kickstarter campaign. But I have wondered if there was a video blog, live video chats all within a membership type site — would that work?? How would it be received? Would we actually be able to pull it off in remote locations from a technology perspective? I have seen several sites with buttons to “buy an ice cream cone” or pay for a night in a hotel. And those feel like readers of your journey chipping in something nice for you along the route.
We travel fairly cheaply — camping, warm showers and occasionally a hotel, but with four people — cheaply becomes a lot of money rather quickly.
Thanks for asking the question. There seem to be quite a few of us pondering it.
Hi Donna, I like the idea of the ‘Buy me an ice cream/hotel for the night’. There’s no pretense that it’s an investment, represents value for the money or you get something in return. It’s just, as you say, readers chipping in with something nice.
You asked, perhaps rhetorically, whether having a video blog and live chats might make a Kickstarter campaign more justified which made me think: the specifics probably don’t matter but what does is the fact that you think about those things. Recognising that you need to give something in return and making an effort to do so has got to be the important part.
Of course, you have a wonderful project Donna so please don’t let the idle pontifications of an armchair adventurer influence your decisions. Best of luck raising the necessary funds, whatever method you go for!
This is a really good question and I’m with you Tim. There are lots of reasons why many people never get to having the adventures we’ve had. Funding is just one of the many obstacles and I believe if someone really wants to do something, they need to be committed enough to find a way to fund it. I would think that having funding come from somewhere else changes your motivation and your goal.
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Though kickstarter type projects have their merits, I suspect its better used for the final hurdles of a project like getting a book or film published if thats your thing.
” I want to go on holiday or enjoy my hobby for 6 months who wants to help pay for it…” doesn’t really do it for me, no matter what the story.
But I guess the whole point is people get to vote for a good pitch with their own money. Capitalism and democracy meet in a beautiful social media cocktail, welcome to 2015.
For now I’ll just stick with the work hard, play hard and stay independant approach that has served me well so far :)
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