Volunteering for a big project that is going to take years to plan can result in a single-minded and selfish time in your life, and unless you have no family and friends, you are signing up more people than yourself to the forthcoming project. If you don’t have the absolute support of your family and close friends, then it will be a difficult time for you, and it may be too demanding to overcome the stresses and strains placed upon you. I have always thought that when you are single it’s much easier because you can be relatively selfish and use your free time to totally immerse yourself in the planning process, but the understanding and support of those close to you can help you achieve so much more. The time required for planning a big project should not be underestimated.
Family and friends should be informed and encouraged to get involved. Organise team meets aimed at gathering families and friends so that they become involved in at least the social network associated with the expedition. They can put names to faces and get to know the people with whom you are working so closely and in whom you are investing your trust for extreme undertakings. This widens the expedition family-and-friends network. Some family and friends can also help organise social and fund-raising events, relieving pressure from the leaders in delivering these important activities. The information you give your family and friends about the expedition should be thought out carefully. Too much detail, particularly if they are not experienced or knowledgeable about the activity, could make them unnecessarily worried.
The importance of a quality core team and support from your family and close friends cannot be underestimated, but the power of influential supporters who are well positioned to gain sponsorship or cut through red tape is also crucial. Expedition patrons have long offered support and guidance for bigger expeditions, and their contacts and knowhow can prove crucial if finances are not going as planned or an in-country embassy is being difficult. It is, however, a balancing act because you require people who are powerful and carry influence but at the same time are not so busy that they can’t offer you their time.
Retired members of the House of Lords or retired mountaineers are often signed up to these roles, and from my experience, they are worth their weight in gold. In addition, a guiding and advisory committee can be invaluable when developing big projects.
I have been involved in a number of expeditions where gaining sponsorship was critical to getting sufficient finances and logistical support to make the project happen. To gain support, you need to consider what companies and organisations are looking for. Here are a few ideas.
Achieving a First Being able to suggest that your project is a first and also is high risk is very attractive to companies. Many British companies still have great pride in supporting exciting ventures that may see their flag planted alongside the Union Flag in some untrodden ground, thus producing media attention. In addition, there is a big adrenaline junkie culture that captures the eye of the media, so if you can suggest that the risks are high and the chances of success are slim but you have the right team to do it, often you can gain support. Aiming to succeed in the face of adversity will also gain media attention.
Development Undertaking a high-level, high-risk venture requires top performers who know what they are doing and are able to deal with the difficulties that will be faced. Always opting for a team of out-and-out gladiators is not a good idea, however. Taking along some relative novices and intermediates will also attract support, and it will help develop the next generation of high-performance mountaineers. Given enough time to train and prepare, people with the right attitude will soon pick up the skills. I have seen many people quickly advance to the required level when they have the right physical attributes, mindset, and guidance.
Inclusivity Similar to encouraging an ethos of development, it is also important to step back and look at the combination of people in your team. Diverse teams are much more attractive to sponsors and supporters because they generate more interest from outside parties and give the project more angles and stories to tell. Young and old, male and female, novice and advanced—all have their benefits when selling your vision. However, as a leader it is important to maintain the balance between inclusivity and the values, beliefs, and attitudes of the team as a whole.
Whomever you get on board, the important thing is that you don’t just want a sponsor; you want an expedition partner. This means a much bigger buy-in, including attendance at training meets and social events. If you have pulled together a good team, the partners will become so engrossed in the project that they will end up supporting you above and beyond what you ever thought possible.