My thoughts on the current state of DXpedition funding……

Posted: December 8, 2013 in Uncategorized


People ask me all the time, why I don’t lead an effort to activate an ultra rare entity such as Bouvet or Crozet. My response is that I don’t believe the current climate within the DX Community will adequately support such an endeavor.
In addition to fund-raising for YI9PSE, ST0R, T6PSE, 6O3A, 3D2R, 3D2C, 7O6T and most recently XZ1J, I’ve also seen well planned DXpeditions to places such as Jarvis Island, South Orkney, Heard Island and Amsterdam struggle financially to meet their goals. Some give up and some press forward against seemingly terrible odds.
There is a lot of discussion about what a OQRS QSL should cost? My thinking is that the QSL is kind of like the gravy that comes with the meat & potatoes. Gravy is nothing without the meat and potatoes. The focus needs to be on getting the meat and potatoes on the plate and the gravy will come. Up until last year, OQRS was extremely beneficial to DXpeditions and pulled many of them out of the red.
 Last year, the IRS started requiring PayPal to report OQRS income to the IRS. This means that groups such as the Intrepid-DX Group which is not a tax exempt non profit, must pay US income taxes on our OQRS income. That makes your $5.00 submission worth about $3.50 to the DXpedition. The cost of your card and the mailing is a dollar, so you’ve now donated $2.50 to the DXpedition. That’s gravy but its certainly not meat & potatoes.
The real challenge is securing the proper levels of funding before the DXpedition begins. Putting the meat and the potatoes on the plate so to say.
Some DXpeditions are able to track their expenses to the degree that they can determine the cost to provide each and every QSO. I once figured out that each contact with YI9PSE cost about $2.50 to provide. At that low cost, we were able to break even when our OQRS proved so successful. A contact with Heard Island might cost $10-$20 or more. Then that is what they should ask for to use the convenience of their OQRS. If guys don’t want to support that, they can send a direct or bureau card or just wait for the LoTW upload. Remember, with OQRS you are paying a premium for the convenience and the fact that you don’t have to pay postage.
Organizations such as the NCDXF and INDEXA provide what I call “cornerstone” funding to get the DXpedition started. They also tend to validate the DXpeditions plans which stimulates other donations. This cornerstone funding can significantly boost the chances of success of the DXpedition. Without this cornerstone funding a DXpedition is likely to be too costly and will not get underway.
Most DXpedition leaders feel that they must know their full budget and funding sources at least 6-8 weeks before the DXpedition. This is when you decide what items you can do without to reduce your costs. When we did 3D2C Conway Reef last year, we decided at the last minute to leave our Inmarsat/Internet terminal out of our plans as the income did not support that desired expense. We also cut our operation short by a day to save the $8000 a day we were spending for our boat to be at anchor awaiting to take us home. If the money is not there, you just cannot continue spending.
One of the aspects of DXpedition fund-raising that I feel must change is that currently, the funding organizations such as NCDXF/INDEXA and others require that a DXpedition must QSL in the same manner in which their QSL cards were received. While OQRS is convenient and beneficial for all, there is still a burden to reply to direct cards and bureau cards. A major DXpedition such as Heard Island could easily incur expenses of $5000 or more just to process and provide bureau cards. These are cards that in no way were tied to any incoming revenue but are purely an expense for the DXpedition. Even more costly is that many of these bureau cards are sent as “insurance” by those that also sent a direct QSL request.
I am trying to communicate that LoTW costs nothing to provide and should ultimately replace the bureau system for DXpeditions. No one is suggesting any changes to sending/receiving direct cards. That is not an area of pain.
There has been a lot of suggestions of having a DXpedition equipment pool that would be loaned to various DXpeditions. This is a solution to a problem that does not need solving. Getting equipment is not our significant challenge. The cost of shipping the equipment by air, boat, FedEx or DHL is one of our many challenges.
Most groups that do DXpeditions have their own pool of equipment and only have to replace consumable items between each trip. Items such as Generators don’t fare well on a DXpedition and are generally unreliable for a second trip. DXpeditions leaders have fundamental differences in the types of antennas or radios that we use. Some use SVDA’s and some use Yagis under the same circumstances.
The bottom line is that no DXpedition leader wants to hinge the success of his DXpedition on how well the equipment was previously used, packed or stored by the previous group. This notion is just not going to work.
Another area that needs to change is that of attitudes. While the guys in W6/W7 always give more than their fare share, that is not so in other places. I was recently fund-raising for the XZ1J DXpedition. One of the major European organizations that often funds DXpeditions denied our request for funding because of our statement that any extra money would go to support the NGO efforts of the Foundation for Global Children in Myanmar. Our DXpedition Leader was the founder of this NGO and it was only through his sustained efforts over a period of years, and the NGO that permission for an operation was given.
What is a more noble cause if there is extra money than to do something for the children of the area? Normally, extra money goes to replace/repair equipment and can be used to supplement the operators costs but in this case the team signed on knowing that any extra money would help the children.
So here you have a major EU based organization that did not give a dime to a DXpedition to the #26 most wanted entity because some of it “might” go to Children. I’ll reserve my opinion on that for now.
I find that I often have to turn down offers of donations to some of the smaller organizations. For their $50 donation, they ask for an article and QSL service to all of their members. That means that you won’t get OQRS or direct cards from their members. Their donation is just not viable and must be rejected.
The bottom line is that many DXers are not hesitant to tell the DXpedition what they need, what they want, when they want it, but when it comes time to financially supporting their wants and needs up front, most hams just don’t do their part.
If you look at the list of regular donors to the NCDXF, INDEXA or read the list of names of individual sponsors for major DXpeditions, you will soon see a pattern emerging. Its the same guys supporting these efforts over and over again.
Its not the masses doing their fair share. Far from it I’m afraid.
Paul N6PSE
  1. ky6r says:

    Awesome post. Just wonderful.

  2. NI0C says:

    Good info here. I agree LoTW should replace bureau cards in most cases. Wasn’t aware of the taxable nature of OQRS.

  3. kf9mg says:

    Paul, thanks for this great post and thank you for the great DXpedition that you and Dave (as well as others) put together in Myanmar. I think there are many DXers out there that have no clue as to what it takes to put their ATNO on the air. I certainly gained some incite myself so I appreciate the education on the matter. Good DXing to you and hope to meet you in the pileups someday.
    Jeremy, KF9MG
    Cheyenne, WY

  4. kf9mg says:

    Reblogged this on Ham Adventures of KF9MG and commented:
    Every DXer needs to read this post by Paul, N6PSE. He gives a good overview of what it takes to put a DXpedition together. A lot can be learned and a lot needs to be changed to help keep these DXpeditions on the air.

  5. EA2RY says:

    100% agree with you and I would like to know someday that European partnership is.

  6. ND2T says:

    The issue of IRS potentially taxing OQRS income leads me to wonder what form of business you have chosen for Intrepid-DX Group. It seems that many business-related expenses, e.g. logistics and shipping, could legitimately offset OQRS income. We can discuss more offline if you wish.

  7. Hans says:

    Hi Paul.
    Yes all you say is correct. Been doing P29-IOTA-expeditions 6 times,and it cost me at least 13.000 US
    dollars from my own pocket each time. Plus beeing qsl-manager for these 45.000 qso we do each time, cost another 2.000 USD or so. YES sure, antennas and generators needs mostly to be
    changed after each expedition.
    HOWEVER, I also think ,its a lot of fun visiting these remote places,and meet all different people,
    as well as enjoying a good pile-up.
    I STILL beleive in qsl-ing the same way I get a card.There is a lot of people that can not pay
    a lot of USD for each qso,and therefore qsl-buro is perfect.Even that I as a manager have a lot of costs for buro qsl-ing.

    BUT most important I guess is,,,,,,,, it is up to each and everyone to decide himself IF HE wants to go on an expedition.
    Going to P29, XZ, YI and places like this, I feel , its up to the Hams themselves, if they like to go or not.
    As it comes to places like FT8, VP8Sandwich aso,,, we have all different organizations that will help.

    So my final world,,,, IF you go on an expedition, do qsl the same way you get your card,
    and its really up to the expediton if they will do LOTW or not.At same time its up to any
    station you work ,if he like to qsl direct or via buro.And if you cant afford to pay your own expenses,
    dont go on any expedition.

    I will continue to donate , any expedition I need on any band modes, and I dont ask anyone¨
    to pay my fun going to any expedition.
    Just my feelings, and I understand and agree anyone with other opinions.
    73 Hans SM6CVX

  8. […] After every DXpedition, we get thousands of bureau cards, which costs the DXpedition thousands of dollars to reply to. I’ve written about this problem on my blog: […]

  9. Danelle says:

    What’s up too every one, because I am really eager off reading this blog’s post to be updated on a regular basis.
    It consists of good data.

  10. Mike says:

    I’ve done a lot of IOTA expeditions to expensive places, I’ve hired bush pilots, chartered vessels and hired local fisherman. Always paid my own way, usually for 3,000 QSO’s plus or minus. My per QSO costs have been very high and I’ve given guys lots of new ones. The choice to go was mine, not those who worked me. They don’t owe me anything but return postage. I run my personal finances the same way as my expedition choices, If I can’t afford to go, I don’t.. I don’t ask for help paying my bills at home, why should I ask someone pay my travel costs on an expedition?

    Now, all this said, I support expeditions to places I need QSO’s from, but its a donation, not an obligation. It continues to surprise me to hear expeditioners criticize the amateur community for not supporting their expeditions. Its a rationalization, at best, to insinuate that others are obligated to pay for your decision. Asking for support is fine, but demanding it and being critical of those who don’t is not in the spirit of Amateur Radio in my opinion.


    Mike AD5A
    Island Radio Expedition Foundation

  11. David says:

    Well done. I’ve added a link to this post on my QRZ page, and created a gif you might enjoy. 🙂

  12. Yes PayPal is required to file a 1099-K for monies sent in excess of a certain floor. But the DXpedition should only have to pay taxes on the PROFIT after all expenses are subtracted. Your calculation of $1.5 in taxes on a $5 donation would mean they are paying 30% in tax, which I think is really high. If the expenses are subtracted, and any excess beyond the expenses are donated to a non-profit, the income tax should be pretty small, no? Also has a DXpedition support plan that allows per-QSL donations to flow to the DXpedition without the DXpedition having to print cards at all. It’s almost pure-profit income to you. Check it out

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