Grant Sources for Religious/Non-Secular Teams

Hey CD,

Recently, our team has directed attention to fundraising money through grants and award applications offered for STEM education. Since our team is based out of Servite High School which is a Catholic institution, some companies prefer not to direct funds in our direction due to their own stipulations and such regarding religion.

Since we most likely aren’t the only non-secular FRC team in FIRST history, I was wondering if anyone would have advice regarding how to raise money from grants as a religious-based team.


I know for a fact that 3847 is a team out of two religious-schools, though how they operate specifically isn’t known to me. Also Team 107 if I’m not mistaken is based out of a catholic school.

Unfortunately, many grants have restrictions on “restricting access based on religion”, which being from a non-secular school might be portrayed as. Your best bet may be some sort of booster organization that’s not directly affiliated with your school, or finding a way to directly send funds to your US FIRST account.

Best of luck!

If I’m not mistaken, is a booster club an on-paper legal entity with a 501(c)3 ID?

The Killer Bees are based out of a private Catholic school. No state of Michigan grant money for us and we occasionally run into a sponsor / donor policy conflict. Grants are very difficult too, as most grantees are looking for particular demographics, such as free/reduced lunch.

It’s not impossible to raise money each year - just a lot of work!


We also operate under a private Catholic school much like the Killer Bees. So far, state money has not been a thought on our radar. We are extremely fortunate enough to have the archdiocese provide a significant amount of money for us for registration but everything else is up to us.

There haven’t been any downfalls for us as we go through our rebuilding period because of the external support we get from various corporations where I and other mentors work.

I’m certain there are some grants out there that do not restrict to non-religious organizations. I will connect with our high school mentor representative once he returns next week to see what other info we can provide.

Has your team looked at how recent rulings from the Supreme Court may affect that? Just on Monday they ruled on Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, and said “In this case, there is no dispute that Trinity Lutheran is put to the choice between being a church and receiving a government benefit” - it sounds like the same “choice” is being applied to you (and other religious based teams that would otherwise be eligible for state grant money). They opened the door for religious organizations to receive state funds from programs that are designed generically (In this case, playground upkeep, but I think FIRST applies as well).

My team is from a private catholic school. We haven’t run into anyone that wouldn’t fund us because of the religious affiliation, but we have run into a bunch of companies that are looking to fund underprivileged schools, which shuts us out. What really hurts is when your team goes to the effort of bringing in a new sponsor to donate to multiple teams in the area and the local regional, and then gets shut out the following year as their funds get redirected to other, less privileged schools.

This sounds unbelievably entitled.

It’s entitled to expect that putting in work over 6 months to bring a new sponsor into FIRST should only benefit other teams and not your own?

Edit: To be clear, the team applied for a grant from said company (that did not previously sponsor FIRST) for the benefit of FIRST, targeting funds for ourselves and others in the area. Spent 6-ish months developing contacts and presenting to various people at the company. They ended up sponsoring 5 teams with $5K each, and have continued to for the past several years, plus donations to the regionals. But they don’t sponsor the team that put in all that effort to get them involved with the program in the first place.

Yeah I’d be mad about that too.

What about receiving funding from your FIRST region? Do any teams do that anymore?

That’s the most common model I’m aware of - the Slidell Tiger Robotics Booster Club is a 501(c)3. The key item of a booster club is that it exists to support (boost) a team or activity (e.g. band or cheerleaders) as an entity which is not directly associated with that team or activity’s sponsoring organization. This dis-association allows the booster club to fund activities which may not be legal or ethical for public funding (e.g. certain travel expenses, or purchases which we need in two days but which would require a 3-bid process through the school). In some cases it may also allow the team to **receive **funding from which the official team sponsor may not accept donations. (e.g. from a shooting range in the case of a public school, or a government agency or contractor for a team chartered by a church school). As far as I am aware, the great majority of booster clubs in the U.S.A. are set up as 501(c)3 corporations to maximize the opportunities to receive funding.

When setting up your Booster Club, CYTP (Consult Your Tax Professional). You may be able (perhaps through personal contacts) to find one willing to assist pro bono; if this happens, it is prudent to list them as a sponsor appropriate to the value of the services donated.

Addition: While I don’t know if it will help, I’d like to suggest that you specifically target sponsorships from businesses which clearly identify themselves as Christian organizations. Hobby Lobby springs instantly to mind, as well as a number of local businesses in our area. (E.g. the F.O.M. Bakery, where F.O.M. stands for Fishers Of Men).

Addition2: While this is not likely to land you the major sponsors, though you never know… To all teams: DO SPONSOR RALLY DAYS! There are probably plenty of recipes that work, but here’s what we did this week: Put one mentor and 3-5 student team members and several dozen sponsorship flyers in each car, taking care to distribute your minority team members across the groups. Divide your city/school district up geographically into as many areas as you have cars, and send a car into each area to walk into businesses and ask for sponsorships or donations. Yesterday (Wednesday), we came up with a $1000 sponsorship (half paid on Wednesday, remainder prominsed by October), four more $100+ sponsorships (paid on Wednesday or Thursday), several smaller donations, a sponsor willing to do our chassis this year on their MASSIVE CNC router they use for making parts for large boats, and a whole lot of leads on more stuff. We sent three more cars today (Thursday), and didn’t yield another $100 in cash, though we sent a lot of flyers off to business owners, and a number of managers expected to be able to give us gift cards and in-kind donations for tools, automotive electrical components, fasteners, and other stuff that we would have purchased anyway. These two sessions were only three hours long each, with three cars each day!

Another option not mentioned - FIRST is a 501.c.3 and can receive funds in the name of the team. They will apply the funds to your registration fee and any balance will be filtered back to the team. Contact your regional head to discuss how to make this happen. I know of two teams in MAR that have made use of this for the exact circumstances you mentioned - they are based at religious schools.

Good Luck