Craig Pollard raised £30million from international companies, charitable foundations and philanthropists in his professional role as a partner in the More Partnership, a fundraising consultancy.
But what was relatively simple to do for his clients became much harder when it came to Pollard’s own project.
Pollard and his wife set up a charity, Cycle Africa, that aimed to highlight the plight of street children in Africa. The plan was to raise money and awareness with an unsupported cycle ride from London to Cape Town.
That’s around 10,500 miles and, before a single mile was cycled, the project needed the right financial support and sponsorship.
‘[It’s important to] appreciate how hard fundraising is going to be,’ says Pollard. ‘In my case it became harder because it was now really personal, every rejection was a kick in the teeth.’
Applying his professional experience to his own expedition, Pollard raised the necessary funds and support. He found that it became increasingly important to strategically align his expedition with his fundraising efforts. ‘Our focus was street children so we aimed for 100 articles about the issue in the national presses of the countries we travelled through,’ says Pollard. ‘We also went on a breakfast show in Kenya. It’s important to think about the case for supporting the project. Why should people care about what you’re doing? Make sure you express it in a short, compelling way so you can tell potential sponsors the story.’
Trying to do too much is a mistake, he says. When he approached Richard Branson for support on another project, the verdict was simple. ‘He told us it was a great project, but there were too many bells and whistles,’ says Pollard.
‘You should also develop a list of relevant organisations to approach for funding and always start with people you know,’ he says. ‘Then it’s a question of asking yourself what the sponsors want.’
An important step in preparing for his Cycle Africa project was finding support from tent manufacturer Vaude. ‘We approached Karrimor first, but they said why don’t you try Vaude. It turns out Vaude has a base where I grew up and went to school,’ says Pollard. The local connection helped him secure panniers and tents from the company, which was keen to highlight the local connection for publicity.
‘Every sponsor is different. Write a tailored letter, and not something generic,’ he advises. ‘It’s also important to think about how the sponsor will benefit. Also, never, ever slag off your sponsor.’ Vaude had experienced difficulties in sponsorship deals in the past, which made the company a little wary. ‘Once a relationship is burned with a sponsor it can be burned for other people, too,’ adds Pollard.
A common mistake, often due to over enthusiasm, is to promise a sponsor too much. ‘Do you really want to be writing a blog, putting together a video and doing social media when on an expedition?’ asks Pollard. ‘There have to be lines in the sand. Never apologise for having too much enthusiasm, but be pragmatic.’
Sponsors will only get an expedition so far. ‘Be prepared to fund a big chunk yourself,’ says Pollard. ‘If you don’t put your money where your mouth is, why should anyone else.’ There’s a limit to how much you can raise from sponsors, unless there’s the prospect of very good media coverage, he says.
A relationship with a sponsor doesn’t end after the expedition is over either. ‘When we finished Cycle Africa we put together a report for the sponsors detailing outcomes and total costs,’ says Pollard. ‘It’s all about relationships, sustaining relationships and having conversations with individuals on a day-to-day basis.’ Successful expeditions build networks that last and expand, paving the way for future endeavours.