How to ask for Sponsorships In-Person? Walk-ins

My rookie team is going to start soliciting sponsorships in-person. How should we go about doing this? We have reached out to many companies via email and phone but have not received many responses. Is there a way we should set up/schedule some sort of meeting, or is it okay to just walk in and ask (in-person equivalent of cold-calling)? I was going to send out people in pairs, is this appropriate? Thanks so much!

Edit: We have cold-called/emailed 50 companies so far (from the VA Fantast 50 list), mostly without promising results. Have also tried seeing where students’ parents worked.

Cold calls and random walk-ins would not be my suggested route for fundraising. I would focus instead on two groups - companies with STEM/community outreach grant programs, and companies that your team has a connection to.

Look for companies in your area (and sometimes beyond) that offer grants to community organizations and/or schools, and particularly those with STEM-oriented grants. These grant opportunities may have annual deadlines that you may have to schedule around, but they’re a great avenue for both funding and corporate outreach.

Beyond that, you often need an “in” with a company to get your foot in the door and ask for sponsorship. Start with companies that team parents and/or mentors work for. Many companies have fundraising matching programs, or employee volunteerism rewards that can be tapped into. Exiting employees of companies can also help route your requests to the right individuals or departments within the company, including the possibility of setting up in-person demos to help sell your cause.

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Cold calling can work and we’ve gained many small sponsorships this way which adds up quickly, but be prepared for many rejections or dead end conversations. It is a good way to network, even if to find out if any employees have kids who might be interested. If you need $10K+ in funding, you should focus more on larger grants and typically parents and immediate connections are you best route. Walk-ins are typically our secondary/third form of raising money. Start with larger, more established businesses, STEM focused is a plus but not required, and don’t overlook insurance, Doctors, & Dental offices. $100-$500 from smaller places isn’t much but helps.

Bring information on your team like a pamphlet describing who you are and what FIRST is. Reach out to the Senior Mentor in your area, they might have some FIRST brochures or know how to get some. Still make one for your team. Have a document you can leave that describes what sponsoring means, how they can donate to your team, or reach out for more information. In addition to our pamphlet, we make business cards with our contact information.

Walk-in conversation have a great chance at success if its a place that can provide you with other donations: tools, material, assistance machining, or a discount if you buy material from them. Ask about education discounts too. Many local businesses offer discounts if they know you are a part of a local school. If they do manufacturing or similar technical work, find out more about what they do and see if they may be interested in providing your team with a tour to learn more about what they do and the type of work they do. We’ve turned a few companies into sponsors after doing a full team visit/tour to learn more.

Groups of 2-3 work great for conversations and it can help if you represent different aspects of the team: technical & non-technical. Remember that the first person you talk to when you walk through the door isn’t the one who can cut you a check. Ask some information about who would know more about community engagement.

Try to get some pieces of information from them before you leave. Getting a business card before you leave can provide a PoC to reach back to in the future to follow up and let you track who your team has engaged with.

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e-mail and phone solicitations generally have a 1 to 2 percent response rate, and a fraction of that as a success rate.

Every team parent works somewhere. Do their employers have any community relations people who might consider supporting the team? Can’t know until they ask.

At the same time, research (here, on CD) white papers on fundraising. This wheel has been invented before, no need to do it over again.

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Another item of note when asking for sponsorships: know what the money is for and know what your non-profit status/affiliation is for tax purposes for the donor.

Are you raising money for a trip? Did you just qualify for a Championship event? New tools? Funds to build your robot?

Know what you are fundraising for so you can communicate why your team needs money and for how much. You will have a better story to engage someone with besides “We need money” and in some rare cases, someone may be willing to donate more if they know what its going for and what your ceiling is.

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Any kind of cold-contact ask is going to give limited results. Think of it this way - if some random kid showed up on your doorstep asking for money, are you likely to just fork it over?

STEM-based grants are a great way to go to get money. Those offering the grants have already decided to give that money, so you’ve crossed the biggest hurdle. All that’s left is convincing them that you’re the right one to get it. Additionally, grant writing is a great skill for students to learn!

Personal connections and established relationships also are a great way. Using my previous example, you may not be willing to get money to that random kid, but if it’s your grandma asking for some money, you’re much more likely to give her some. To use those relationships, ask your student’s parents and your mentors to look into their workplaces. Some businesses offer matching funds for personal donations or time donations (volunteer X hours, get $Y donated), and that can be a great way to start getting some money - and once you start, it gives you an opportunity to develop your relationship further. Arrange to demo your robot there after that first season as a “thank you” - it lets you show off to the company and employees, and has a good potential to solidify or even expand that funding stream. Plus, it serves the outreach goal many teams have!

Find a way to get to the decision makers who have the authority to spend the money to sponsor community outreach. Sometimes, this may be easier with small to medium sized companies where the decision makers are “in the same building” and there are fewer layers of red tape and gate keepers.

The company I currently work for, like many others, has many branches all over the world. Many of them are operation bases where they have no financial decision making ability even though they are “the biggest company in the area” in some small towns. It would be best to ask who has that decision making ability before making your pitch.

The position of the person you have contact with in a company (a large multinational) also makes a difference. At my last employer, I was told to speak with a particular person in HR about sponsorships but kept getting ignored. In St. Louis, I saw a team with sponsorship from that same company so I asked them how they got it. One of the mentors worked for a branch of that company and gave me the contact person he used at the American head office (where I worked). It turned out to be the same person I was corresponding with, unsuccessfully. The difference may be that he had “VP” after his name and I was a staff engineer.

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I recommend looking for companies that already sponsor teams in your area. Check out local teams’ websites, find the sponsor section, and note down companies that sponsor multiple teams. Reach out to those companies; you’ll likely get the response “we accept applications during [certain part of the year], please check back then”. Your local Senior Mentor or Regional Director could also direct you to good grants to apply for.

You’ve gotten a lot of great responses here, and there’s a lot of ideas to work with. One more I’ll throw out to think about.

In 6328’s rookie year, we placed A LOT of emphasis on community outreach (granted this was pre-COVID times, but hopefully by this summer outdoor community events might be happening again). We had a table and demo bot at every library event, fundraising walk, town fair, bazaar, beach night, park & rec event, etc we could get to. That got our name and mission out in the community so that later, when we approached local businesses about sponsorships, they already know something about the team and how we are supporting STEM education. Focusing on outreach may feel counter-intuitive but it really sets a foundation and makes the process so much easier.

Talk to everyone you can when you’re at those events. It was at a local country fair that we made the connection that led to our current workspace and you never know who may work at a company that can donate money or equipment or supplies, or even a nice raffle prize you can use for fundraising.

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Contact the First team mentor or equivalent in your area. They often have suggestions or contacts.

Many companies have outreach based on having employees associated with the team. As Don said, canvas your parents. Many companies also have employee match programs.

Try presenting to local professional groups. Rotary clubs. WIT (Women in Technology) if you have substantial female presence on your team. Many others.x

When doing your presentation, your story should be about what great things you are doing. I.E. Outreach, preparing youth for Stem, ETC. not just asking for money.

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^^ This.
Also, if you get a “no” that sounds like they were really had to think about it and the company business intersects stuff the team does, suggest in-kind sponsorship.
Also also, especially if the company is STEM related, you should ask if they think any of their employees might be interested in mentoring.

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