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Funding The Mongolian Experiment

Submitted by on August 4, 2010 – 8:00 am3 Comments

Organizing the funding for The Mongolian Experiment is one of the most important and most complicated aspects of the project.  It is going to be an expensive project, but not as expensive as one might think, thanks to the low cost of traveling in Mongolia.  I have been thinking about the fund raising aspects of this project for months, but I still somewhat lack a solid, laid-out plan for fund raising.

There are two aspects of funding for TME, in my mind:  raising funds and reducing the budget.  Here are a few of the methods for both fund raising and budget reduction that I have thought about:

A few ideas:

1.  Once I have a more solid gear list, I will be asking my readers if they have any of the gear that I need and if they would be willing to lend it to me for the duration of the project. Many travelers purchase specialized equipment that they only use a few times a year, and to go along with the crowdsourcing theme of TME, I would like to try and take advantage of that.  Much of the equipment and gear that I need for TME is not something I need to purchase permanently, and having gear loaned to me can potentially put quite a dent in the cost of the expedition.

2.  I will be contacting companies who produce equipment I need to seek out sponsorship. I will be contacting companies like Canon, Toughbook, and Garmin for technological needs, as well as companies like REI, Patagonia, and Outdoor Research for clothing and gear needs.  These companies produce equipment that I need that is often quite expensive, and getting gear sponsorship from them would have a huge effect on the overall cost of the project.

3.  In keeping with the theme of piecemeal planning and crowdsourcing, I will be setting up a system in which people can fund a given day (or days) of the in-country costs of the project. These costs will include horse purchase, guide fees, food and water, etc and should come to somewhere around $30 per day when spread across the duration of the project.  Patrons of the project can purchase a single day or as many days as they desire, and may specify the date, which will be marked on a calendar on the site.  On the date which they have purchased, an advertisement for their site or a site of their choosing will be displayed prominently on the front page of TME with something along the lines of “This day made possible by:  So-and-So”.  Purchasing a day of the project not only provides a feeling of giving something more tangible (they can see exactly where their money went) but also gives a reward in the form of advertising.

For awhile I toyed with the idea of offering people the option of paying for the “full expenses” of a given day of the project, including gear purchase, plane tickets, etc.  This would probably be closer to $100.  I am skeptical about this because I think that given the choice between a higher and a lower donation level, most would choose the lower.  I am still open to this idea, though I think I may just have something which suggests that folks wanting to make a larger donation should consider purchasing multiple days.

4. My final section is much more amorphous.  I want there to be a way for people and organizations to make more substantial donations (hundreds or thousands of dollars), but am unsure how to reward that, other than having a patron’s section of the site and mentioning them as patrons of the TME, and I’m unsure as to how to arrange it as well. I would assume that people and organizations wishing to make large donations will want to get in contact with me personally to learn more about the project, and as such I was going to have a section on the fund raising page that simply said “For larger donations, please contact me.”.  However, in retrospect, they may actually want an easier way to do so and may not want to bother with contacting me.  This is the part I’m most conflicted with.

5.  I am looking into grants, but this is an area I am completely unfamiliar with. I know they’re out there, though.  I would love to hear from folks who have dealt with grants in the past.

What about Kickstarter or other alternatives?

From the very beginning, I have been somewhat against the idea of using Kickstarter to fund the project, though I don’t want to rule it out.  I really want to develop my own model for funding the project, and a lot of my ideas (such as purchasing a day, trading donations for advertising, getting gear loaned, etc) seem somewhat incompatible with Kickstarter’s model.  Kickstarter is based on having a very concrete budget, whereas mine is very mutable depending on what outside sponsorship I can get, what gear is loaned to me, etc.  My worry about Kickstarter is that if I use them and assume no outside assistance and then set the budget too high, it will not be met, but if I assume outside assistance from the get-go but don’t get any, my Kickstarter budget would be too low.  I would really love to hear from folks who have more experience with them.

I am somewhat more a fan of some of the other alternatives out there for crowdsourcing your funding, and may actually include some of them in my fund raising efforts.  Here are a few of the ones that have piqued my interest:

I may use one of those, none of those, or a combination of a few of them, depending on what advice I get from folks.  If you have any other suggestions of fund raising sites to look at, please let me know.

How you can help:

If you have any experience in fund raising, using any of the crowdsourced funding sites I mentioned, or anything else that is related, I would love some advice.  Also – if you have any ideas that I have not mentioned already as to how I could either raise funds or reduce spending, I would love to hear them.

[Photos by Tracy O, Marya]