Fundraising is a very important aspect of maintaining any FIRST Robotics team. Here is a guide to help you raise money.
Raising money through sponsorships and grants can be an easy and reliable way of securing your team’s budget. The most important thing when applying for these grants is to appeal to what the foundation or company wants, and not what you want.
The first step in initiating contact with a potential sponsor is to assess their needs. What are they looking for? How can your team meet these needs? Answering these questions are the key to building and maintaining relationships with corporate sponsors as well as successfully applying for grants.
The following video highlights the basics of fundraising.
The best place to start with sponsorships is in your own community. Most schools have a portion of their annual budget set aside for extra curricular programs. Assuming that you’ve already established the team, or built interest towards creating one, schedule an appointment with the school administration. Prepare a presentation that highlights the advantages of FIRST to both the school and its students. One place to start is the FIRST website and specifically, the page on FIRST’s impact. Building a relationship with your school administration is important. It comes in handy when you need to stay late for build season, leave for competition during a school day, or take a classroom hostage.
Survey team members to discover any parents who work for corporations. Team parents are a great resource to build contacts within the corporate world. Once you find a contact, attempt to set up a face-to-face meeting. This meeting could involve inviting them to your lab or FIRST Competition, visiting their headquarters, or somewhere in between. Face to face meetings are ideal because they are more effective than online correspondence; when a sponsor is being actively engaged in the FIRST experience, it is beneficial for everyone involved. Keep in mind that you have much more to gain than just money from these potential relationships. If a company is unable to donate money, they are often willing to help teams in the form of mentors, volunteers, equipment, or event space. If all else fails, many corporations have programs where they match charitable donations made by their employees.
Local businesses are also a great resource. In most cases there will already be an underlying sense of community; they want to see you succeed. The same premises of building relationships apply to local businesses- get them involved!
One way of adding incentive for possible sponsors is to create sponsorship levels. Sponsors who donate different amounts are recognized in degrees proportional to their donation. An example of sponsorship levels can be found on our site here. Another important aspect of building relationships with sponsors is recognition and giving back. The video below further explains how.
Further Reading: Chief Delphi post on Sponsorship 101
Rookie Grants are awarded to teams who fit the criteria as defined by FIRST.
The largest funder of FIRST rookie teams across is country is NASA. Grant instructions can be found here.
Contact your local FIRST HQ for local grants.
Besides FIRST specific and rookie team grants, there are hundreds of prospective grants to apply for. The best bet is to apply for education grants. Emphasize the hands on education that students receive
Raising money through fundraising drives can be effective if difficult. The key thing to remember is that regardless of what you’re doing, you and your team are investing something, whether it be time, energy, or money, so it’s imperative that you keep these costs down while maximizing your profit.
StuyPulse used to raise over 5,000 dollars a year alone through selling candy in our school until school guidelines shut us down. If there’s one thing that teenagers love it’s candy, so it’s a fairly reliable way to raise lots of money. Our candy selling involved team members carrying boxes of candy around in school and selling during and in between classes to any and all people, every day for weeks at a time.
To run an effective candy sale, a team needs to invest the following things:
People: the more people you can get selling candy, the more you will raise. Team members should be motivated to carry boxes of candy around for weeks at a time. You can make it part of dues or allow them to win a prize or something – any good motivation will do.
Time: your team members need to be regularly selling candy for an extended period of time
Money: try to buy bulk candy at wholesalers like Costco
System of Monitoring Sales: it’s necessary to track the amount of candy you buy and how much your team sells to track your profits. This can be anything from a computerized system to a spreadsheet, but it must be accurate. Other things you may need but aren’t completely necessary
Storage place – it may be difficult to match up when you bring in your candy and when your team members sell it
Publicity – for StuyPulse, word of mouth worked just fine. You may need to make announcements or something similar.
As an example, this is how StuyPulse carried out its candy sales:
People: StuyPulse is a fairly large team, so we have a large base of people to work with. All team members were required to sell at least $200 dollars worth of candy in five months, and any money above that would go to their trip dues.
Time: Team members would carry their candy into all their classes and sell to all 3,500 hungry mouths in our school, from late September all the way to February.
Money: We bought large amounts of candy wholesale from Costco, which came up to about $0.55 per candy. Our system was to sell this candy to our team members at $0.85, who then sold it to our school at $1.00. That way, everyone makes a profit!
System of Monitoring Sales: We had a custom made website with logins for every team member and an online database that we would update with daily candy sales for each member. Every member could track their sales online if they wanted. A spreadsheet on a computer or even pen-and-paper would do the same thing.
Storage: During the year our shipping crate sits in the hallway and is filled to the brim with candy. Afterschool team parents would drive candy in and we would fill it, and every morning team members would go to the crate and buy candy.
Publicity: It was well established that StuyPulse members were the go-to people to go for candy just by word of mouth. We adjusted the candy we bought to reflect popular tastes in our school (Twix and Pop-tarts do very well).
Every year StuyPulse does a Silent Auction, which is basically a fancy way of saying a raffle. It’s a highly profitable event for us, raising 2,500 a year for just one day’s worth of effort, as well as doubling as a social function. The key again, is to keep the costs down and profit high.
Here’s what we invested:
Location – we use our school cafeteria, which is free and large enough. Any large and preferably free place would do just as well. By using school space, or getting an event space donated, you are keeping the overhead cost down. That means more money in the bank at the end of the auction.
Raffle items – instead of buying raffle items, we get team members, parents, sponsors, and businesses in our local community to donate items for our raffle. By getting items donated, it costs you nothing and you are therefore increasing profit. That means very aggressive soliciting of everyone possible to get items. For example, once I went to an Italian restaurant near our school and asked them for a gift card. In exchange, we gave them publicity at our raffle.
People – the key to making money at a raffle is to get many people to buy many tickets. At the same time, people need to believe that they can win – so generally our large team, parents, mentors, and some friends is enough to raise a lot of money without diluting the winning. Lots of small cheap prizes help alleviate this.
Socializing – my team gives speeches, thanks, and mentor gifts at our Silent Auction. This event also doubles as our last “official” get-together for the school year, which increases the motivation for people to go and consequently, buy tickets.
Our school is located in a fairly-high traffic area in NYC, so we hold booksales on the street to help publicize our team and raise money. Typically, we raise around $1,000 dollars at each of our booksales, and we also gain invaluable connections with possible mentors and sponsors in our area.
Here’s how we carry it out:
Location: We set up tables on the corner of two high-traffic streets, opposite a community college that’s near our school.
Entertainment: We demo our robots outside if the weather is good, drawing in many professionals in our community and kids. It’s important to talk to everyone who stops by and engage them, because they just might be your next big sponsor or mentor!
Time: We hold our booksale on the weekend from 8 to around 4 on the weekend, to catch the flow of college students and families that are in our neighborhood. Our second booksale is during the TriBeCa Film Festival where we also go on-stage and present to an audience.
Books: Our team parents and students donate large amounts of books, LPs, and movies that they don’t use anymore. Every year, we gather as much as or even more than we sell.
People: Motivating our members to go to a booksale on the weekend is very difficult, so we make it mandatory. It is also helpful when people on the team are friends and they hang out afterwards.
Not all teams are located in urban areas so a booksale may not be suitable for all. One alternative is holding a carwash close to a highly trafficked street.
One interesting way of raising money easily is through magazine fundraising programs. One such program StuyPulse 694 uses allows team members to advertise an online subscription service for a large variety of discounted magazines and then reap a portion of the profit. All that’s required is for the teams to register its own campaign and for team members/parents/whoever to sign up for it. Once that’s completed, all that’s needed is to advertise a link to subscribe for the magazine subscriptions. It generally takes about a month for the actual magazines to start arriving in the mail, but the cost is incredibly low - you can get a year’s worth of TIME for $14.
Further Reading: Chief Delphi post on Fundraising 101.