Recently, my spouse and I embarked on a leisurely bike ride that unexpectedly transformed into a thrilling battle against a deluge of hail and rain. This incident evoked memories of a time when I cycled through northern Spain, traversing the renowned Camino de Santiago.
During my 8th-grade year, I enrolled in a voluntary program exploring pilgrim paths across Europe. It swiftly became apparent that merely sitting in a classroom would not grant us the genuine experience of embarking on a pilgrimage. While our group was largely devoid of religious fervor, we all shared a common desire: a thirst for adventure. What teenager doesn’t want to prove that they are invincible?
Swiftly devising a plan, we not only aimed to persuade our teacher to support our idea but also sought the endorsement of the headmaster, who we hoped would grant us an additional two weeks of spring vacation. This extension would enable us to embark on a transformative journey, immersing ourselves in a genuine exploration of the pilgrim ways of Europe.
At least, that was our pitch. What we imagined was two weeks less of school and an adventure of our lifetime.
Fortunately, convincing our teacher proved to be a straightforward endeavor. He wouldn't thwart our aspirations. Instead, he facilitated a meeting with the headmaster, which we approached with unwavering confidence. And our confidence was well-placed, as we succeeded in our endeavor.
You see, there are two factors at play here. Firstly, teenagers rarely accept a "no" as a final answer. They possess an innate ability to perceive a "no" as an opportunity to craft a fresh proposal. They don’t perceive a no as a personal critique. Therefore, don’t get discouraged by it. While it's true that occasionally, some teachers turn classrooms into oppressive spaces, being 14 signifies pushing the boundaries to infinite horizons. And push we did. At that stage in our lives, we had already mastered teenage expert negotiation tactics combined with the rare extortion and blackmailing skills that would usually move the needle. If you don’t believe me, try to explain to a teenager why going to a Taylor Swift concert is a bad idea or why the new pair of Air Jordans is out of the question.
The yes came with the caveat of us having to find sponsors, which did not include our parents or immediate family. Looking back, I must admit that we were lucky to have teachers who didn’t allow us to do it the easy way and instead turned all of this into an adventure.
Convincing our teacher was an easy task. Now, we needed to persuade strangers and people at companies we didn’t know. But our plan was solid, and we were convincing when it came to the academic growth we would gain from it.
But, why would someone sponsor 20 teenagers going on a 16-day vacation through northern Spain? Simple – we were the best billboard you could imagine. Not only would the sponsor support the next generation, but we would also showcase their brand on multiple occasions while training for our vacation and throughout the entire trip. Simple but straight to the point. And who else would be better than a company that was bringing people to their vacation spots (by the way, I now know that embarking on a pilgrimage in April and having to bike for 15 days through the mountains is everything but a vacation).
But here is the thing, teenagers don’t think too far into the future, which prevents them from developing anxious thoughts and worries. We were present in every moment of creating this journey.
We had a shortlist of potential sponsors for our project and were confident in our ability to persuade them, so we didn't want to waste time researching more. We needed 50,000 DM (Deutsch Mark) to fund a bus, trailer, accommodation, and food. Our first course of action was to send letters to the potential sponsors and call them 6 days later to ensure they received it. Thank them if they did and let them know we would call again, giving them time to look through it and ask questions.
Getting our main sponsor, Lufthansa on board didn't take long. They gave us a whopping 40.000 DM. We were invincible (and maybe a little bit lucky). Lufthansa not only backed our project financially but also instilled in us the belief that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. I don’t even think that it was the money that mattered at that moment, it was the support of teenagers that would a.) Be future customers (and boy, do I love flying with them), and b.) Help create the next leaders by building their confidence.
Looking back, this group of teenagers knew more about fundraising and negotiating than many of us today. Let me summarize what worked:
- Be passionate about what you want
- Keep it simple
- Have a clear ask and plan
- Understand that a “no” is not personal
- To increase the likelihood of sponsorship, find companies that share your values
- Team up with the right people
- Know what you are offering in exchange
- Don’t give up
- Have fun!
The rest is history. It didn’t take much to get a bike shop to support us with parts and training on how to fix our bikes, as well as additional sponsors. Once a more prominent sponsor is on board, it becomes pretty easy to get the rest. If you are ever in the position to get the ball rolling, it’s worth seeing what comes out. Here I am, almost 20 years later, talking about it. What better marketing than this?
Our pilgrimage was an adventure of our lifetime. It wasn’t the vacation we were hoping for. Northern Spain gets brutally cold in April, and biking close to 900km through rain and snow isn’t so much fun after all.
The challenges we often face make our journeys more meaningful and memorable. But just like any adventure, it is about the journey to reaching the destination and overcoming obstacles. Because what would life be without obstacles? How would you measure your invincibility?