James borrell is a conservation scientist and science communicator, with a particular interest in how species adapt to changing climate.

Why We Decided To Crowdfund Our Expedition

There’s something very uncomfortable about asking for money. I don’t enjoy it and so very rarely dabble in it.

That being said; this post is, ultimately, about persuading you that our Expedition Angano crowdfunding campaign is a wonderfully worthwhile cause. If I do that well, it might encourage you to click on the link to find out more, and yes, chip in.

But with every post about crowdfunding comes the risk of overdoing it. Putting people off and boring them in an effort to attract publicity and supporters and to reach goals. It takes a long time to build up the readership of a blog, and fleeting moments to blow it.

So I thought it might make a useful post to explain why I think this case is different, why we hope that this project has real potential and all of the questions you need to ask yourself before taking the plunge.

As a concept, it stands to turn conservation funding upside down. There are already dozens of successful projects and even newly emerging dedicated science platforms. If you’re planning a crowdfunded project, post it in the comments below.

The Problems With Asking For Money


  • Expeditions are (mostly) fun – Most people go on expeditions because they are fun, so why should anyone pay for other people to go and have fun?
  • There’s so many good causes, how do you choose one, how does yours stand out.
  • The human side of charity always seems more important than the environment (even though the environment underpins human well-being.)
  • Asking for money sometimes seems greedy, especially if you do it too frequently. You can quickly use up your quota of goodwill.

Overall though, there’s just something that doesn’t sit right. So what makes a cause worthwhile?


What Makes A Worthwhile Expedition?

For me there’s a few criteria that make an expedition worthwhile, and it has to meet all of these before I would consider asking others to support it. Of course, this is just me, and I don’t suppose that my perspective is final in deciding whom or what is worthwhile!

1. There is a cause or a purpose greater than personal enjoyment.

Sure, I’m a scientist, so I always call this purpose science, or citizen science. I’m often suspicious of adventure dressed up as charity. But it’s definitely true that committing epic feats of endurance to inspire others or highlight a cause are just as worthwhile. More on this in another post.

In the case of Expedition Angano, we’re trying to unravel a process that happens when we cut down rainforest. The patches that are left often have hotter and drier conditions, so how does this affect the surviving wildlife. Do some survive, and some disappear? Which ones disappear and how fast? Is there anywhere they don’t disappear, and why? What, ultimately, can we do to conserve them? This, in simple terms, is the purpose of our expedition.

2. We invest in and support the idea ourselves.

For me that very simply means that if you want others (e.g. charities, foundations, grant bodies, funders or people like you), to support your project, then you damned well ought to be putting in a sizable chunk of time and money yourself.

For Expedition Angano, this was essential right from the start. Every member of the team knew that by joining the team they would have to contribute around £1000 and a lot of time, effort and expertise for free. It’s a credit to the passion and commitment of my colleagues in conservation that all agreed without a second thought.

3. Expeditions that leave a lasting legacy.

In conservation, expeditions often do great things in the field, but working out how to make a positive impact last can be difficult. In the aftermath teams disperse, attention wanes and all too often unsustainable business as usual resumes.

It’s excellent, then, that many professional funding bodies now place so much weight on legacy. For Expedition Angano we’re collaborating closely with researchers from two Malagasy Universities and covering the costs for several local students to join us in the field for the duration of the expedition. These students will complete Masters projects on topics related to our work, and hopefully go on to become some of Madagascar’s foremost conservationists.

This way, together with our research, our findings and our shared experiences, the legacy of the expedition should last far beyond the plane journey home.


Crowdfunding Is Not A Quick Fix

Finally, we feel confident in our campaign because we’ve been researching and building this expedition for over a year. Crowdfunding was not an idea dream up one night in a pub (even if the expedition originally was!)

We’ve taken lots of ideas and thinned them down to the best and most achievable. We’ve poured over maps and rummaged through our extended networks of friends and colleagues to find anyone (anyone!) that knows about terrain here or a road there, or someone who is an expert on this or that obscure little detail.

And Here’s The Crucial Thing

With a year of work already under our belt, we’ve won support from some highly respected funders. The Royal Geographical Society, the Scientific Exploration Society and the Zoological Society of London have all awarded grants, turning the project from a concept to a reality – and we are hugely grateful to them.

This means that many of the unavoidable logistics and permitting costs are covered, we have funds for food and equipment and enough to support our Malagasy colleagues too – but we want to do more.

So for us, crowdfunding is the icing on the cake. We want to use the money we raise to buy extra personal equipment for our local students to make their experience more memorable and their fieldwork more effective. This equipment looks like head torches, better tents, sleeping mats and bags and personal research kit like calipers and scales, and we will be able to leave it all with them for continued use after we leave.

Sounds Interesting?

If I’ve tempted you to find out more, then click here, or watch the video below! – Expedition Angano: Supporting Madagascan Conservation Students to help protect the rainforest

*Big thanks to @Mark Scherz, for the cover photo.