Expeditions – The Proposal

| May 12, 2009

A written proposal acts as the statement-of-intent for an expedition and a formal starting point. I got into writing proposals after filling out a few grant applications, and whether I won the grant or not, I liked the way that it forced me to think way ahead of time in terms of trip logistics, dates, costs, partners and the goals of the trip. Since then, I write proposals for almost any large trip I go on for three main reasons; to organize the trip, to help attract partners and to help attract sponsorship.

Front page of a 2008 trip proposal covering "What, Why & Who"

Having been on a few grant review committees, I’ve found the two key features of a good proposal are clarity and brevity. I recently read a 50 page proposal and at the end still had no idea what the trip was all about. The great explorer H.W. Tilman once said “Any worthwhile expedition can be planned on the back of an envelope.” The modern-day equivalent of an envelope is a two page (max) pdf file which covers the five basics of reporting (who, what, why, when & where), plus how much.

I look at trip proposals as living documents which are subject to change. The dates, costs and even partners can be approximate. If somebody has expressed remote interest in the trip, I’ll put their name down on the proposal with the understanding that it isn’t binding. The dates are the same idea – take your best guess, then as the trip starts to come together, they can be adjusted for peoples schedule.

The second page covers "when, where, how much."

The beauty of a two-page pdf file is that it can be easily e-mailed around, or printed off on the front & back of a single sheet of paper. Limiting each category to only 2-3 sentences also forces you to define exactly what the point of the trip is. Trips seldom go as planned, but a concise statement-of-purpose can help keep them on track when options A, B & C don’t work out and you start getting down to options R, S & T.

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Category: Expeditions

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (5)

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  1. Patrick says:

    Do you have any advice for those of us who seek grants and sponsorship but can’t list an impressive bevy of sponsors or first descents in alaska? To whom should we be looking for sponsorship? What do sponsors want from ‘sponsorees’ that they’re willing to dole out money to them? How did you begin?

  2. Andrew says:

    Hi Patrick – I’d start out with grants like the Hans Saari Fund, Polartec or one of the others. I think the process teaches you a lot about organizing your thoughts, and thus your trips. As far as gear goes, a well written proposal will almost certainly get you a pro deal or better from most gear manufacturers, and with time, if you follow up on those deals by sending photos, trip reports, etc., then that might lead to eventual sponsorship. There is a quote along the lines of “Boldness has genius – begin it now.” which is appropriate as you really just have to start going on trips to get experience. In the beginning, the actual objective doesn’t matter that much (well, it should be a legit ski expedition, not heli skiing in Valdez and staying in a hotel…).

    More than anything, sponsors want you to a)come back alive, b) provide photos and/or trip reports and c)be successful. They are generally very realistic about expeditions. If you succeed with coming back alive, you’d be amazed at how many people forego sending in photos or trip reports. More than anything, if you are serious about sponsorship, this is essential. If you ask for and receive a pair of sunglasses, follow up on it – don’t blow people off!

    As far as soliciting for money, grants will be your best bet. Aside from that, I always try to go on cheap trips. Cheap is relative, but something like $2,500 for a three week Alaska trip is considered cheap. The longer you go, the cheaper it gets.

  3. Thanks for the series of Expedition Planning threads. Keep ’em coming.

  4. Greg Mionske says:


    My climbing partners and I have plans to apply for the Mountain Fellowship Grant (which is a very basic grant form to fill out) from the AAC this coming fall, but we also want to approach different companies to try to fill out our other gear needs. Should I write a letter or email to these companies? How would you suggest formatting my letters/emails/resumes? I am also a photographer and was wondering how to go about mentioning that I would be interested in exchanging pictures for gear? How many pages?

    Thanks for the help,


  5. Andrew says:

    Hi Greg – I would definitely send a letter/proposal to the companies you are interested in. The worst that can happen is they will say no (or more likely… say nothing) and if you put together a nice proposal, it is very likely that you will at least get a one-time wholesale offer.

    I’d keep the details as short & sweet as possible where the entire trip can be easily understood with a quick glance.

    On the photos, it helps to have an on-line webgallery (maybe you do already?) just so they can see the quality/style of your shooting. Trading photos for gear is fairly common, but the companies will want to know that they stand a good chance of actually getting something, which means not only good photography, but good skiing, nice views, cropped appropriately, etc.. A lot of companies nowadays are focusing on getting content for their websites, so a trip report (1,000 words & ten photos) might be of interest.

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