2021 California FRC Team Sustainability Report - Orange County Robotics Alliance

Over the last year, the Orange County Robotics Alliance (OCRA) has been putting together a report on the sustainability of FIRST Robotics Competition teams in California. The report looks at defunct vs alive teams, what socio-economic and geographic groups don’t have access to an FRC program in their area, and explores 3 conversations with defunct teams on what could have been done to help continue run their programs moving forward. The intent of this report was to help steer internal decision making, but I hope that others within the FIRST community can find the information presented interesting and help spark other conversations and ideas. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to respond, message me, or contact OCRA directly.

OCRA is a non-profit centered in Orange County, California, dedicated on supporting robotics-based STEM education programs in Southern California. As a part of this, we help host Beach Blitz, workshops, and other events to help support teams in the area. If you are interested in helping out OCRA, please shoot me a message or contact us through our website!

2021 California FRC Team Sustainablity Report.pdf (1.1 MB)

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Incredibly comprehensive! It feels like a lot of the information is relevant outside of SoCal too and I think this whole document should be an important read for mentor teams looking to start up new, sustainable programs.

A data point I would like to see - comparing the defunct teams, what does a chart of demographic group vs % of group in zip code with defunct teams look like? I would like to see if the percent of a demographic served is more impacted by the teams dropping off due to Covid/unsustainable programs.

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Important stuff. Thanks for the considerable effort that went into it.

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Great read.

As a non-team affiliated lurker member in this community, I’m often looking for the voids we as a community need to fill.

On of my biggest takeaways from this report is the financial management piece. Fiscal sponsorship for 501c3 nonprofits is a real thing, often used by major organizations.

The idea is simple. Understanding that running a nonprofit, keeping the books, is complicated for new or small organizations, an established organization enters the field as a fiscal sponsor. Essentially, the sponsor keeps hold of the funds and does the reporting for the organization, allowing them to maintain tax exempt status, solicit donations more easily, etc. without the challenge of board meetings and 990s.

Relatively small projects like the SoCal Covid Makers Response use(d) a fiscal sponsor to more rapidly get up to scale and not spend valuable working time on paperwork. It’s a long term strategy, too, though.

Gives me some ideas.

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Every year I check the little box on the FIRST site saying that I am willing to offer help to other teams. I have never (to my memory) been contacted by FIRST to help a local team, or by a local team who was sent my way via FIRST. I know Lead Mentors and Regional Directors are busy folks, but perhaps rookie teams can be handed a list of contacts in their area who have offered support? Like, BEFORE they realize they’re in too deep and need to request help?

As someone how has tried to help (in the limited ways that I can) many rookie teams in the Huntington Beach area, I can say that the support from knowledgeable FRC veterans is second to finances, but a pretty darned close second.

I JUST sent an email (like, right before this post) to offer support to a new team starting in my district… for a second time because my first was never responded to. I chalk this up to the “I don’t know what I don’t know yet,” syndrome. Often teams don’t realize they need assistance until week 4 of the build season, and by then the surrounding teams who offered support are super busy and not as available.

My availability to go to another school site to support a team drops dramatically after kickoff. So, two scenarios play out:

  1. I drop by the other school for an hour, at most, on a day when they’re meeting and my team isn’t and offer whatever advice I can.
  2. The mentor, and maybe a student or two, from the other team drop by my site for an hour or so while my team is meeting and scramble to ask me and my students for advice on what they’re doing.

If a team can’t get their RoboRIO to work, or can’t seem to get anything more than a chassis working, an hour of help isn’t going to cut it, and will contribute to the overwhelmed feeling many defunct teams experience.

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Our school-based team is financially under an umbrella 501(c)3 organization. Their charter is to support the school system (not quite a PTO), but also support the robotics program, pretty much as you describe. It works well for us.

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That’s a really great idea, if I get around to putting that together I’ll add it here. Feel free to poke me in a few days about it.

Agreed, I was really surprised when I heard the 3 interviewed defunct teams talk about difficulties with financial management. Grants exist, but they are impossible to get without a 501c3 number. 501c3 creation and management is a daunting amount of work for folk who aren’t familiar with the process. There is such a large body of work that needs to get done to get started - figuring out how to lessen that load would help teams start stronger.

100%. Having a program that automatically matched new teams with alumni/mentors to chat with once or twice a week over Zoom would be so helpful for young teams to figure out exactly what they don’t know.

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Man, this program is too expensive. I hate it here :weary: