We’ve started a new team (a “new veteran” team as opposed to a “rookie” team, though - we have several students and mentors with prior FRC experience). On the former team, we were not allowed to do any fundraising – only grant-writing and, with permission, asking sponsors – due to school rules prohibiting fundraising events.
The new team has a lot more leeway with this, but no experience. We are decent at writing grant applications, but not much else.
What are some of most effective fundraising strategies that you have used? We are aware of the FIRST Fundraising Toolkit but I’d like to hear some other things as well that have worked for teams in both the areas of particular fundraisers that could hit up a broad audience or approaching possible sponsors in the community (for instance, we have a nice list of major employers in our city, but I’m not sure if those are who we should approach first or if smaller businesses might be better)
Grants are typically one of the more effective methods for fundraising, as you can churn out quite a few with the right team and approach. On top of that, both of my former teams (299 and 4159) have found quite a bit of success with youth robotics camps.
4159 started a partnership with Uber several years ago, leading a LEGO Mindstorms program for children of Uber’s employees over the course of the week in exchange for the company’s sponsorship. 299 has put on a series of their own (Valkyrie Advance) that teaches a range of VEX IQ, micro:bit, and other educational robotics tools for youth around ages 10-13. Both have been excellent tools in their fundraising approach.
Think of “fundraising activities” in terms of the grants and sponsorships that they give you access to.
We consider the students fundraising activities to be more of a leadership/outreach activity and proof to sponsors and mentors that our students are committed to the program. We’ve run snack stores, made merchandise, all kinds of small time things… It’s never made more than a couple grand, in a big year.
But what it does do is it gets our students together and out into their community, Show other students it’s cool to be interested in STEM, it’s cool to hustle, we find our student leaders, we represent our sponsors… And then we reconnect to those sponsors, write a grant and get a five figure check. IMO a lot of similarity to running a camp for a sponsor and getting paid.
Both of those are not unlike what we’ve done in the past – first, robotics camps, but for the public for a fee, not for a company for a sponsorship, were the one fundraiser we were able to get away with. I’d like to hear more about how that worked (who do you approach to make such a connection if you don’t have an existing “in” at the company?)
On the second one, we’ve had a lot of success getting some of our major companies to send sponsors to FIRST events or to mentor teams (and sending our team to events they would like us to help with, like a “family day” for their company), but these are usually associated with sponsorships in the $2K-$3K range. 5-figure sponsorships seem to be out of reach. I’m not sure where to even start with something like that.
Great, you’re on the right track. Sponsorships in the 4 figures pay the bills and run the program. We’ve built the relationship up over twenty years to where we can ask for five figures now, tied in to appearances for outreach at multiple public events - it didn’t start out that way!
(1) non-teacher mentors frequently have employers who will contribute dollars for places where their employees donate their time
(2) parents often work for companies that will do matching donations
(3) selling gift cards. Some restaurants will sell gift cards to nonprofits as fundraisers for a fraction of their face value – the nonprofit sells them for less than face value, but more than their purchase price. (a couple of years ago, we sold, in one go, $2000 worth of gift cards to a PTA at a different school for teacher gifts, and made $600 off that sale.) We do this year-round and it brings in a few thousand dollars, $3 at a time.
(4) Sign up for amazon smile (Not huge, but buys a few pizzas every year)
(5) don’t forget your sales tax exemption
5 figure sponsorships (other than from a school district) are pretty rare, but you can get to $5,000 pretty readily by reaching out to key local companies. There a fair number of grants in that range as well (e.g., check with your local WalMart and Monsanto/Bayer.)
Our 2019 Entrepreneurship Award submission has a description of our fundraising strategy. (I’m looking for link.)
A couple years ago we asked nearly every team at one of our regionals a handful of business/outreach/etc type questions, and one of them was “What does your team do for fundraising?” A couple teams had cool fundraiser ideas, but the vast, vast majority said “we don’t do ANY fundraising, just grants and sponsorships because grants/sponsorships have a DRAMATICALLY higher $:time&effort ratio”. Some even said they used to do fundraisers, but have given up on it in favor of putting all that energy into more grants.
A couple students who have never written a grant application before, but have decent writing skills and know stuff about the team, can write a pretty good one in 2-3 hours, and then a mentor usually spends an hour or so reviewing & giving feedback, and the kids spend maybe another hour polishing it up (on our team at least). So in 9 person-hours, you can win several thousand for your team. Maybe your $:hours will be lower if you apply to a lot of grants you end up not getting, but since it sounds like you’ve been funding yourselves entirely on grant money for several years, you probably have a good idea of which ones to focus on. In contrast, I remember doing lots of fundraisers for other clubs in high school where many students spent hours planning, hours executing, hours cleaning up, and netted around $200.
The one type of fundraiser we’ve found worthwhile is directly asking for donations. Last fall we had team members send out emails asking family & family friends for donations. Time commitment per student was probably about an hour; only a handful of students actually did it (corralling kids virtually is hard) but we still brought in about $1k. In other years we raised about $1k by creating a fundraiser on our Facebook page for Giving Tuesday, which was then matched by Facebook. We’ve talked about doing some more traditional fundraisers in the future, but more because we want our students to feel some ownership & responsibility for the budget than because we expect it to actually bring in much money.
We started a new fundraiser this year and raised over $1200.
Our team is fortunate enough to have a CNC laser in our lab. So we had a design contest with our students to come up with ornament designs that we could then make on our laser cutter. We had designs for all the holidays students celebrated as well as ornaments with the school logo on them.
We sold them for $10 and 3 packs for $25. We also allowed customization of a name for an extra $5. The fundraiser was very successful in our first year. I think we could have raised more money if we had gotten the word out sooner… our flyer was late to go out after thanksgiving. This year we plan to get a start at the beginning of November.
Once you get your templates programmed the cutting process is super fast with the laser. We only did etching no rasterizing to keep cut times down. I believe each ornament was under 1 min to cut and our only costs were sheets of baltic birch. Out students hand delivered the ornaments around town and we also offered flat rate shipping via USPS. If you have access to a CNC laser I think this is one of the easiest and creative fundraisers your team can do. People love ornaments around the holiday.
Another design choice we made was to make sure we included a year on every ornament. That way we could get repeat customers
That’s a nice use of student effort for something that raises a decent amount of money. Along with running camps, creating things with the laser or CNC mill (once we get them - which may be a while since we are starting from a $0 budget) was in our initial business plan for fundraisers that students could really “own.” We had only just started that with the last team, and a few hours of student effort netted $1000 profit. That being said, my employer has a publicly-available makerspace that we could probably use for that, and our workshop space sponsor has a small bed laser cutter they’ve said we can use.
An exciting aspect of our new team is that we’ll be located in a place that gets over half a million STEM-oriented visitors each year, and there may be a substantial opportunity for selling manufactured items or even t-shirts as long as our workshop sponsor agrees. The issue is they have a shop to sell things as well, so our likely place is that ecosystem is to manufacture things they they sell and we split the profit.
That was our finding as well, based on the very few fundraising activities we were allowed to do with our former team (and basically why I titled this thread as I did).
I’m not a huge fan of asking friends/family for donations, myself, but I know that can be effective if you have the right relatives who are feeling generous.
Starting fresh with this new team, our plan was basically:
apply for grants we know support FIRST teams (our standard DODSTEM, Boeing, etc)
apply for grants from community foundations (local)
have a team of students approach potential sponsors directly – e.g. local companies that don’t have an official corporate giving method in place but who might be a good fit
raise money through running robotics camps
raise money through manufacturing
raise money through efficient methods that we’ve not tried yet and/or don’t know about
So, we’ve been working hard on #1 and #2. #3 is something we’d like advice on. #4 has been an interesting read in this thread because apparently we’ve been doing it inefficiently (which is good to know) although we’ll still offer public (paid and free) camps even if we tie some camps to grants as suggested above. #5 we hope to do when we have the capability. #6 we’d also like to hear more success stories about.
The other aspect of this is that some funds can only be spent on certain things (e.g. FIRST-specific grants often are for entry fees, but not travel or robot parts). Most companies don’t like to pay for travel, in my experience, and so some of the camps/manufacturing/other efforts might need to support that and also provide the kids some motivation to participate (that is, if you don’t help fundraise, you don’t go on the trip).
Our prior team was affiliated with a private school and we just charged everyone what it cost to travel - it was paid by parents, for the most part (with a travel scholarship granted to a students when needed). But this new team has quite a few students who would not be able to ask their parents for the money to attend.
It’s been a real adventure trying to piece everything together starting from scratch. Challenging and fun, as well, but at this point we’d just like to have a few dollars to buy parts and tools so we can build more than the kitbot drivetrain – so we are trying to get everything rolling in the next couple of weeks.
We quit staging fundraising events quite a while ago because the effort was better spent preparing grant applications and contacting potential larger sponsors. That said, the Clovis teams jointly host a dinner event that raises tens of thousands of dollars. If you have an event, think big. Something that raises a few hundred dollars isn’t worth it.
A team that has done an outstanding job of raising large amount of funds broadly across the community is 359 Hawaiian Kids. They were the inspiration for our focus starting about a decade ago. Dig into what they’ve done. (You may get lots of inquiries, Glenn.)
How many camps do you run each year? And how many students come through them?
We have a big opportunity in this area and I think we could generate a substantial income from it (our new team is in a science museum that hosts 600K visitors annually). I think we also have an opportunity to generate revenue by partnering with their gift shop but we need to work through some things.
You are in a target rich environment! We run 6 weeks during the summer with 24 students each session. When we were face to face, we sold out in a week. We’ve added some special sessions as well. We were so popular that we largely sold out our virtual camps the last 2 summers too. We charge based on the going rate in town for other camps. Team member students staff the camp. We’re looking to lend them out to other teams in the area to run their own camps.