Before I went on my first adventure, I would have thought that sponsorship was something reserved for impressive bearded men and big names in the adventure world. It is just not the case though. When I came up with the idea of scooting 240km on the London Loop, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it happen without help getting the equipment I needed. With nothing to lose, I started contacting companies. To my surprise, I got a great response and was able to secure scooters, helmets and waterproof panniers as adventure sponsorship. Scoot the Loop was a success all thanks to these partnerships and I was able to raise thousands of pounds for charity in the process.
Getting financial sponsorship is a very difficult thing and is usually reserved for the epic adventures. The types that are world firsts, breaking records or for well established, connected individuals. However, in-kind sponsorship is accessible and flexible. For a company that is already offering a product or service, providing it for free has very little impact.
Usually for an adventure, there are a number of different types of equipment needed meaning you will need to juggle multiple relationships and responsibilities. For this reason, it might be better to try for scholarships and awards first so that you can purchase everything you need from one source. These bursaries are few and far between and competitive though, so think about what you need and what approach is best for you and your adventure.
If you haven’t already, start by reading my guide: How to fund your adventure
If you want to pursue adventure sponsorship, here’s my advice:
Adventure sponsorship: Your approach
Before you start asking for sponsorship, you need to think about the approach you are going to take.
Be original, be different, stand out
Your adventure has to be something different that will engage people and make you stand out from all the others who are asking for sponsorship as well. There are thousands of people signing up to the well known challenges – cycling John O Grats to Lands End, Hiking Machu Pichu, climbing Kilimanjaro. Companies want to be associated with people who are thinking outside the box and doing things that will get them noticed.
When I came up with the idea for Scoot the Loop, it was a lot of things:
– It was unique and had never been done before.
– It was interesting and unusual. The novelty factor of doing it on scooters meant that people wanted to hear more and made it a talking point. It doesn’t mean that every adventure has to be on some strange mode of transport. It could mean following an interesting route (a route of historical significance or something that connects your start and end point, etc). Doing something usual along the way (meeting groups, taking pictures of one particular thing). Or having some meaning or significance (an interesting personal story, or as a result or something that happened)
– It was self-organised and personal. I was doing the challenge just me and my husband and we had organised everything ourselves. There were no organisers or companies involved.
– It was simple. The concept and purpose were very clear to me before I set out. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go ahead with an expedition plan if it is a complicated one, but it is worth bearing in mind that it is a lot easier to get help if there is less needed along the way and a lot easier to keep people engaged if you can explain it in one sentence.
Another huge advantage of doing something different is that most likely the type of help you will need will be different. Lots of people take on cycling challenges meaning that bike companies get hundreds of sponsorship requests. How many people do adventures on scooters though? A hell of a lot less!
Do it for a good deed
I’m a big believer that everyone should try and do their bit for charity and doing an adventure is an ideal opportunity to fundraise and make a difference in the world. Even just asking your friends for sponsorship counts, although there are loads of other ways to raise your target. (The website The Free Wealth is a great resource for charity fundraising)
As well as doing good, supporting a charity will make your adventure have a bit more meaning and should help encourage companies to support you. Think about it, if you saw a hungry looking runner who told you there were on an adventure, would you be more likely to buy them a sandwich if they were doing it for themselves or if they said they were raising thousands of pounds for charity. People like to help people who are helping others.
I want to make a point on the importance of separating charity and your adventure. If you are fundraising and are using the money to cover the costs of your adventure (a practice I don’t support), you need to be very clear about this.
Adventure sponsorship: Compile a list
Before starting to actually approach companies, do your research. Get a list together of all the suitable places that you can contact to ask for help. Put them in order of preference, based on your needs but also the ethos of the company and the ones that you think is most suitable to your challenge. Keep the following in mind when you are putting a list together:
• Personal contacts are best. If you know someone, or know someone who knows someone – great! Your chances of success with a connection are going to be considerably higher
• Think local. Businesses like supporting their community so look for companies in your area that might be suitable.
• Small and new companies. Big companies do have larger budgets for adventure sponsorship but also get asked daily so finding smaller ones is a better approach as the competition will be less. If a company is launching a new product, it could be a good time to start a relationship.
• Manufacturers and retailers. From my experience, suppliers are more likely to support sponsorship, mostly because the value of the product is less for them. Although you should defiantly include retailers as well to give yourself the best possible chance of success.
Adventure sponsorship: Start asking
Once you have a list, in order, you are ready to actually start asking.
Use your list systematically and keep a good record of who you have contacted and the responses you get. It will be embarrassing and look very unprofessional if you contact a company twice! You also need to approach the companies one at a time if you are asking for the same equipment. If you send our bulk emails or letters and get 2 positive responses, you are going to be in a tricky situation having to turn one down.
What can you offer them?
Adventure sponsorship is effectively a relationship meaning that it is a 2 way thing. Companies will rightfully expect something in return. Before approaching anyone, be clear on what you are able to offer them in return for their product or services. Here are some ideas:
• Have a blog? You could provide exposure to your readers
• Large social media presence? You could provide regular social media updates advertising their service or product
• Good writer? You could offer your services to write follow up articles or blogs for their website/newsletter
• Take good pictures? You could take ‘in action’ photos for the company to use
• Good videographer? You could put together some action promo films for them to use
• A regular adventurer? You could offer to be an ambassador for the brand, regularly using them for adventuring
• Doing it for charity? Emphasise the fact that they will be helping you do a good deed
Sell yourself and your skills, but be brutally honest.
To write or to call?
In my opinion, both approaches work well, so use what is best for you. I like to send out an email and then follow it up 2 or 3 days later with a call if I haven’t heard anything back.
Another good approach is to call first and ask for the name of the manager or the correct person to address your ask to. Receiving an email with a name is considerably more personal and shows that you have put some thought into contacting them.
If you send an email, you will need to draft a letter saying:
• Who you are
• What you are doing and why (keep it very brief)
• What you are asking for and why them specifically
• In return, what can you offer them
• Provide links and information to any blogs or media presences
• Finish by saying you will be happy to arrange a call or meet face to face to discuss further
Don’t make your letter too long – people are busy. Depending on the company or who you are contacting you might want to adapt the tone. A local small business will probably respond better to a chatty letter rather than an overly formal one.
A big part of adventure sponsorship is actually making the person like you enough that they want to support you personally so think about the impression you give. If you send them to sleep with a dull pitch, they won’t want to do you any favours.
Borrowing or cost price could be a better option
To better your chances of sponsorship, an approach you can take is to ask for things at cost price. Alternatively, you can ask if you can borrow items. Most suppliers have spares of their products lying around so might be happy to lend you what you need. When I contacted Gravity Scooters asking for help doing Scoot the Loop, I was actually just asking if they had 2 that we could borrow. They decided they would prefer sending us new ones as they wanted good photos of them being used on an adventure.
Equally, asking for a product at cost price completely takes the risk out of the equation for the company. They do not lose money. I have used this approach many times to great success and have been able to secure equipment I need for just a fraction of the retail price. Usually with this approach the company will expect less in return as well which can ease some of your responsibilities.
What to do when you reach success
It’s a great feeling when you get an email or call saying you have been sponsored. Take a moment to enjoy the moment!
Usually, they will state what they want you to do in return. Send a reply thanking them and confirming you understand and are happy with the terms. Say that you are especially excited to be working with their brand. Don’t say thank you too many times – they have picked you because they like what you are doing or value the services that you can provide.
If you have been offered equipment, it will then just usually be a case of providing an address for them to send it to. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can have it sent out before the adventure so you have time to test it during training.
Be persistent, be professional, be kind
If you get a positive response on your first email out, you are one lucky person! Most likely though, it will take a lot of time and effort going back and forth between different companies before you find one that likes you and what you are doing enough to support you. So, be persistent. I’m always told I’m lucky. It’s not the case though (at least not in the way that people mean when they say it!). I’m just unbelievably persistent and stubborn with everything I do (ss my husband will gladly confirm).
Having said that, persistence can also have a negative effect. It can make you too pushy and demanding. So tread carefully. With every email or call you make, be professional. Even if you don’t get the answer you want, respect their decision and thank them kindly for their time and consideration. They don’t owe you anything so be grateful that they even took the time to respond.
Making enemies is never a good idea. Maybe a certain company won’t help you now because your adventure isn’t right but down the line you don’t know what will happen or what opportunities will arise. Stay on good terms with everyone.
Exceed expectations with sponsors (even if you are cold, tired and hungry)
Once you’ve got sponsorship, make sure you deliver or, even better, go beyond their expectations. Doing a good job for a brand will solidify your relationship. I have been able to build good ties with my sponsors meaning that when I returned for a second adventure, they were happy to support me again.
It’s a good idea as well to send an occasional friendly update to your sponsor in the build up to the adventure. Keep them posted and let them know if you are training with the equipment and how it is going. Equally, following the adventure, send a final thank you for their support and say that you look forward to hopefully working with them again in the future.
Adventure sponsorship: Believe in yourself
A big part of asking for adventure sponsorship is having self belief.
I am not a big adventurer, I don’t have a massive website with hundreds of thousands of followers (yet!). I don’t know anyone big or important. Really, I am just a ordinary girl! I had put off doing an adventure for years before deciding to make Scoot the Loop work. Despite having no idea what I was doing and zero experience, I secured equipment and won funding from the Next Adventure Grant. It really was as simple as putting myself out there and asking.
Your idea might be small and you might feel small, but your adventure is no less or more adventurous than the next one. A regular Joe taking on an adventure is far more adventurous than someone who does it all the time. Have a bit of self belief and make it happen. The worst that can happen is you get a no!
Got any questions about adventure sponsorship? Ask in the comments box below.