Written by Collin Fultz, FIRST Robotics Competition Sr. Program Manager
As we move closer to event registration and the payment deadline, I wanted to remind teams of changes to the FIRST ® payment terms for the 2022-2023 season. These changes impact how team grant funds are used within the FIRST registration system. Team grant funds are funds that come from a sponsor (either via grant directly from that sponsor or pooled sponsor funding like the FIRST ® Robotics Competition New Team Grant) to a FIRST team via the FIRST Dashboard.
(Also, a reminder that now is a great time to be engaging with current and potential team sponsors. The Fundraising Toolkit has great suggestions and examples.)
Simplification of Grant Types
In the past, there were several ways a sponsor could restrict grant funds made available to teams. This created a confusing system for sponsors and teams as the sponsor had to try to put the funds in the correct restriction to be most effectively used by the team. For FIRST Robotics Competition teams, the most commonly used restrictions were registration (i.e. initial team registration fee only), any registration, Championship registration, registration for a specific Regional event, and unrestricted. Unrestricted funds are grant funds that can be used for any registration fees or regranted to the team once initial registration is paid.
For the 2022-2023 season, we’ve simplified down to two grant types: restricted and unrestricted. Restricted funds can be used for any registration fees a FIRST Robotics Competition team may need to pay (initial registration, additional event(s), District Championship, FIRST Championship). Unrestricted funds can also be used for those registration fees or regranted to the team.
Payments Lock at Time of Order
This year, the method of payment used when teams “check out” on the payments page of the FIRST Dashboard will be the final payment method used. In the past, if a team paid via credit card, then later received a grant for registration, the grant could be applied to registration and the credit card payment refunded. That is no longer an option for 2023. This means that if your team is waiting for a grant for 2023, you should wait to complete your registration payment until you’ve received that grant. (Though please do still pay attention to the FIRST Robotics Competition initial payment deadline of November 14, 2022.)
The FIRST Stewardship and Development teams have been working with team grant sponsors to get 2023 team grant allocations in ahead of the payment deadline.
Regrants only for US-based FIRST Robotics Competition Teams
For FIRST Robotics Competition teams, this change was actually implemented last season. For the 2021-2022 season, only US-based FIRST teams could receive regrants (i.e. checks) of unused unrestricted grant funds. For this season, FIRST ® LEGO® League and FIRST ® Tech Challenge teams can only receive Restricted grant funds, and thus no funds are available for regrants.
Thanks for the ping Jared. I put out a sustainability report for FRC teams in California through the Orange County Robotics Alliance (OCRA) last year, which looks at where teams are and aren’t as well as what causes teams to go defunct. I interviewed 3 mentors who lead teams that went defunct prior to the pandemic to understand what happened to them. Didn’t expect it, but what I heard from the individuals all had to do with management of finances through the lens of a 501c3 nonprofit. Some of the things they talked about included:
They didn’t have a 501c3 or other umbrella organization, which made it difficult for them to get sponsorships.
Their umbrella organization and meeting place was organized by the city, so the team didn’t own their assets. The city decided to re-allocate the space one day, so they lost a few years of work and couldn’t reclaim any assets for a future 501c3 they could put together.
They operated at a school, but accessing funds required a lengthy process so the teachers ended up putting everything on their credit cards. They ended up maxing out their credit cards, which ended up putting stress on them in their family lives and made it not worth it to continue the team.
On a separate note, I currently just did the paper work to file a 501c3 for Team 581. It was a lengthy process, where I’ve spent >$500 on just filing paper work and we still won’t have a 501c3 number or bank account for a few months. For us it was worth all this effort, but I can’t imagine what it must be like for a new team that is trying to focus on helping students seeing this mountain of work in front of them. Having organizations provide fiscal sponsorship to help teams focus on getting their footing instead of figuring out where to send funds/what 501c3 number to associate/who owns their items would be a step in the right direction for the program.
The biggest difference between the 1023 and 1023EZ is that to file the 1023EZ, your organization must be projected to bring in less than $50,000 a year for the next 3 years. Our goal over that period of time is to bring in more than that, which would disqualify us from using that form.
Another option for teams expecting to bring in less than $50,000 is to look into being a 4-H club. (You can still be a 4-H club, but at least in New Hampshire, you’ll have to file your own 1023.) 1729 is the oldest 4-H FIRST robotics club in New Hampshire. We received advice from Exploding Bacon way back when we were just starting up. And Stryke Force was an excellent team to get some great organizational ideas from.
There’s a number of great things about being a 4-H club. You get access to all the 4-H activities in your county, state or region. You’re associated with your state university and probably have activities at the university, making a pathway for students to become accustomed to attending events, thinking about it as “their place”, etc. At least in New Hampshire, there’s a lot of training for leaders available that, if you’re not in a school system that provides it, is valuable.
Like anything, there’s downsides too. There’s annual reporting. There’s an annual plan (at least in NH) too. Students will need to be signed up for both 4-H and FIRST. We’re required to buy supplemental insurance in addition to the insurance that 4-H has. It’s pretty minimal in cost but it’s more paperwork. There are 4-H rules to abide by. We have rules based on transportation, for instance. And while we do have an EIN, we are a subordinate organization so that can cause some issues with other organizations. (PayPal Giving Fund was the most recent one. It took a bit of working out but it’s all cleared up now.)
Overall, we’ve been a 4-H club (two FTC teams and one FRC team at the moment) for more than a decade and it’s been a positive experience. If anyone is interested in knowing more, please ask!
We just created a 501c3 for FRC 620 in Vienna, VA. Like others, the two main drivers were challenges utilizing the high school financial system to procure stuff and the inability to raise funds via sponsorships without the non-profit status.
I did research and chose to use parentbooster.org and have been very happy thus far. They are an umbrella organization for school boosters and provide the creation of a 501c3 as a service. I believe ~60 FIRST teams use this service. We had to recruit officers, create bylaws, solicit support from the school, etc. I’m happy to share more in-depth lessons learned as desired.