asking for tool donations

Does anyone have any tips for asking hardware stores (or any other stores, for that matter) for donations of tools and/or materials?

Is is better to have an adult call them, a kid call them, some of the kids walk in the store and ask to speak to the manager, or something else?

We have some specific needs (band saw, bench grinder, various hand tools). We are not allowed to fundraise (school policy), but we are allowed to accept donations and sponsorships with school approval. The team has had just enough funding in the past years to pay for the basics, but we want to amp it up a few notches over the next couple of year so that we can attend more events, help out more teams, and build a better robot.

Thanks for any suggestions!

I don’t know about tools but we have written a sponsor request letter to our local Home Depot asking for donations of equipment such as gloves, safety glasses, fire extinguishers, and other things like that.

A mentor has handed it to the appropriate person who handles such things as philanthropy and community service.

We had done this a few years, some years we were lucky to receive items, some we weren’t.

It’s a lot cheaper for a store to give you items instead of money, but you need to catch them when they’re in the position to donate. Most companies will only donate so much a year to any non-profit organization.

So to answer your question, a nicely written sponsor request letter with non-profit, tax exempt information is very helpful in these cases. Ask for items you need but let them know you’ll take anything to help your non-profit, very important high school educational STEM organization.

My opinion is it should be hand delivered to the appropriate person with a sales pitch from mentors and/or students. You can even promise a team demonstration of your robot(s) if the donation is worth it to you.


Thanks – this sounds like a really good approach. We are working up a brochure along with a letter.

Have you noticed that there are any better times of the year (end-of-quarter, end-of-year, beginning-of-year) than other times?

For a large chain store, the letter is probably best, though hand delivery may help grease the skids. With a local business or franchise (e.g. hardware store), I would recommend more of a personal presentation. A student team member or two should be the spokesperson, but having a mentor along as backup is a good idea. Talk (briefly) about the mission of FIRST (inspiration, recognition, GP, culture change), the competition (latest game, how big is a robot), your team (history, size), and finally how they can help.

Don’t forget to ask if anyone is willing to mentor!

I am curious about the school policy that prevents you from fundraising, that just seems like a huge obstacle to running a FRC program. Would you be willing to elaborate what the policy is? Some of us on CD might have some ideas that could help you out.

By “fundraise”, I am talking specifically about selling stuff (e.g. the LED lightbulb FIRST fundraiser, etc.) Since it’s a small school (400 kids in 9th-12th) and most kids are involved in multiple clubs/sports, I guess it has gotten a bit excessive in the past with parents/relatives getting hit up multiple times each year for stuff. So, instead, they ask for people to donate to a common fund that then gets distributed out to teams. Of course, robotics was never part of that before, so it was a net loss. Things are changing on that front, as the team has turned a corner in the last year and the school is excited about supporting us.

We are allowed to host summer camps, and that is a big part of our business plan going forward. There is a high demand - and I believe it is just a matter of connecting with the right people. Secondly, we can ask for donations and apply for grants if they do not conflict with the school’s donor efforts (e.g. STEM-specific grants, or asking hardware stores for tools - but we have to get it approved. Happily, they are willing to work with us and possibly even help in some cases). Third, we can charge a team fee, although only for food and maybe uniforms.

Kids have to pay their own travel costs and food if we stay overnight. That will be a big cost this year because we cannot attend the FRC regional that is 2 miles down the street from us and will have to go out of state. Plus, we would like to take a bid to St. Louis if it is offered (we turned one down this year - we have a large number of chances in the wait list lottery as the team has never attended).

So if anyone does have suggestions beyond what we are already doing (and that we are allowed to do), I would definitely love to hear them! Thanks for offering to help. Our project for July-Aug is to work on sponsorships.

You almost described my teams situation almost perfectly. :slight_smile:

3946 formed a “Booster Club” to raise money. While our school didn’t forbid fund raisers or donations, our access to the money we raised was often tangled in red tape (you have to prove that yes, there really is only one source for a second roboRIO). A number of the mentors and parents formed a 501(c)(3) whose purpose was to support the activities of a specific educational function, that is, FRC team 3946. We got the idea from the “band booster” organizations which support the bands. It’s not a trivial task to set this up, but it has proven very useful, especially when we found ourselves needing to raise and spend money quickly to go to CMP. (And yes, while mentors and parents probably get the bulk of the number of dollars that come in (especially through our employers), the student team members present, sell, or otherwise act as “face forward” for most of the booster club’s fund raising activities.) We prefer to accept money through the booster club when we can, but still take in plenty that goes directly to the school board from some of our big national sponsors.

I prefer to have mentors ask in an organized fashion. As long as your efforts are coordinated, it shouldn’t matter who (mentors or students) ask. If finding a local store, ask to speak with the manager and initiate a conversation about the team, your plans, and how to form a partnership.

Find products you want to buy that are made by small and medium sized businesses and email their company. I’ve been successful in this on a few cases.

I format my emails as first a background of who I am on the team, the name of the team, and direct them to our website to learn more about the team and FIRST. I then clearly state that I am asking for sponsorship from them and if they would be willing to donate product x, y, and z. There is no need to make a drawn-out statement about how you help advertise the company, provide a great program for the students, etc. It is just a conversation starter and the more concise it is, the better.

I sent this to the original poster, but we just finished up setting up for our summer camps this year to the tune of 172 students that will be attending and almost gaining six figures in revenue.

If there is any advice we can give to teams that are trying to start up there own camps, feel free to shoot me a PM or email at [email protected]

I don’t know for sure, I guess you would need to ask the store(s) you’re interested in, but my gut feeling is at the beginning of the year, maybe even late December. Each business has their “fiscal year” and expected expenses.

It wouldn’t hurt to ask the company you’re looking into if they have such a schedule and budget for these types of things. Or at least when you request your donations and if they turn you down, you can ask those questions for next time.

Good Luck!

Absolutely. I understand we keep a folder on each business we contact, and make note of their giving cycles so we can ask at the “right time”. Approaching most businesses in December is not such a great idea, as that’s when they’re overwhelmed with temporary employees, logistics issues, and other distractions. The best time to make an initial appeal is sooner rather than later; summer if you can manage it, or after school starts if you won’t have the manpower until then.