On their journey towards Rio 2016 on their Nacra17 catamaran, without any funding coming from their national federation, Olympians Nikola Girke and Luke Ramsay are on their own. Here's how they are raising $100k+ every year.
You’ve probably guessed it, sailing doesn’t come cheap. Not necessarily because of the fancy blazers and top siders sailors affectionate so much but because of their numerous trips across the globe with a rather large carry-on: a 17 feet catamaran boasting a 30 foot mast.
Getting the boat around to various international events is itself a hassle and represent a large chunk of their expenses. Over $15,000 to be specific. Add two athletes to it and you’re closing in on $100k in expenses to run a typical sailing campaign.
Which begs the question: "How the **** are they finding $100k every year while I can’t even get a tenth of that to fund my season!?"
I was curious, so I reached out to Nikola to gain some insights on how they manage to raise large chunks of dollars every year.
In a nutshell, it comes down to giving the fundraising responsibility to one person who tackles the task by building and nurturing relationships and thinking outside of the box.
Making fundraising a role
"When I was windsurfing it was a one woman show – I did it all. Now that I'm a team with Luke, we divide roles. Of course Luke helps where he can, but my main department is the funding and finding sponsors – and to do the PR stuff, while Luke concentrates more on the technical and logistical side of the boat stuff."
It seems like having one person in charge of fundraising makes it much more efficient and ensures that someone is actually doing the job. For the rest of us who are individual athletes there really are two options: do it yourself or find an agent. (Which in itself deserves a blog post of its own)
Onboarding potential sponsor and donors through email
Fundraising is often trial and error. Therefore, one thing that may work well for one can very well fail for the other. However, there is one tactic that is definitely worth your time: finding sponsors through connections.
Not to be mistaken with ‘being born with a silver spoon and knowing all the rich kids with generous parents’. This is rather the art of taking the opportunity to inspire people when they are genuinely intrigued by your athlete journey. Then, by giving them a way to jump onboard they might eventually play a part in your success.
As Nikola puts it, the typical sponsorship pitch “starts like every normal conversation you'd have with someone”.
"Following up with people interested in your story is bound to keep them interested. I ask them if they'd like to receive the email updates we send out."
Onboarding these people and keeping them in the loop helps you nurture the relationship. It’s a clever way to both organically grow your audience and increase your chance to convert them into donors in the future.
If you are already blogging your journey, it’s worth creating a mailing list to keep your audience informed.
Thinking outside the box because... “every Bits count”
Their idea is simple: many donors + Bitcoin - currency issues = $$$
Back in 2013, Nikola got introduced to Bitcoin through friends who opened the Bitcoiniacs Store in Vancouver. Even with no real experience in the field she thought it could be a great way to collect donations since Bitcoin makes it quick, easy and strikes out all the currency exchange and transfers hiccups they’ve been dealing with while traveling the world. That was long before the Jamaican team did their dogecoin fundraising.
“We are trying to fundraise using Bitcoin because donations are quick, easy (for Bitcoin users) and can be done on the spot in just a few clicks. Without the need for paypal, sending in cheques or forms to us, and no credit cards required, we figured it was a simplified donation process that also requires no minimum donation amount. Our slogan "Every Bit Counts" exemplifies this tactic - as every little bit counts - as we are hoping to appeal to the masses and hope to capitalize on many small donations.”
They even sought to set up a display booth at the North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami and accept Bitcoin donations on their website.
The bold move paid off. It turned out that being early into the game brought opened the doors for sponsorships given that many emerging Bitcoin companies are looking for ways to draw attention and raise awareness to Bitcoin.
For KryptoKit, a 30 foot high wind-powered billboard showcased around the world was an appealing offer and became a $15k sponsorship deal.
Takeaways: Given that Nikola and Luke are securing the majority of their budget through private donors, it's definitely worth exploring a scalable method to collect funds and more importantly building long lasting relationships with fans and keep them in the loop throughout your journey, you never know who will turn into a sponsor!
The first steps to take would be to set up a mailing list and verify if and how you can provide tax receipt to donors. Althought it might be more complex to setup, tax receipts made it so much easier for Nikola and Luke to hit their fundraising target.