Proposal: FIRST Relief Fund

To whom it may concern,

I’ve been a FIRSTer for a large portion of my life, and the teams I’ve been a part of have been in a state where we’ve been able to finance ourselves, even if our students come from all walks of life. However, I’ve been speaking with more and more teams and I’ve heard the same complaint.

I’ve spoken to many a team that suffers immensely because they either lack school support or funding. I’ve even run into students who speak of the (awful and uncomfortable situation) where a school takes funding a team itself has earned.

In Districts, when we were unable to pay for a sudden event we qualified for, our district offered us an emergency grant to cover our costs. Though this is only an example of an “emergency grant”, and the NASA Sustaining Grant does exist, I feel more could be done through the goodwill of the entire community that is FRC.For this reason, I propose FIRST as a nonprofit to start the “FIRST Relief Fund”. To potentially help teams who can’t get the district funding because they’re not in a district, or are in a geographical area where financing a team is otherwise nearly impossible.

How it would work in my eyes would be like this. Teams register, and have the option to pay extra or donate a portion of their registration to the pool. Teams that require funding could apply and be approved on a need basis (like a rookie grant I suppose), to cover their baseline. Registration, basic extension of the KoP or tools they need. Part of the criteria would likely be a plan to explain what you intend to you use the money for, as well as a “grant application.” The funding wouldn’t be exclusively for rookie teams, but rather teams that need it.

I know that asking for anything from a national organization is a lot, but I feel this would help the causes. I’ve watched on Chief here as posts of teams who face fire, flood, and famine as the community bands together, but it’s seemingly fallen almost unnoticed from headquarters. To recognize this problem would forward their mission of “to shatter a thousand and glass ceilings, a rope to pull a generation up and out of poverty.” To offer a way to try and change the culture of a geographical area starting with a team and spreading out is a very real thing we can do as a community. To take GP out of FIRST and place it neatly into places that so desperately need it, is a real possibility.

I’ve done some digging and keep finding teams who “pimple”, who exist for two years and die out, exactly the amount of time the rookie grants are good for. (attrition) Sustainability is the hardest part of any team, and having this would not only help teams continue to exist, but aid themselves in getting off of it. In a successful system, the Fund would always be in surplus, but the world is a much harsher outside the walls of competition, something I want to so desperately fix.

Sincerely,

A robot fanatic who wants to keep inspiring for as long as possible.

PS: I encourage discussion on this idea, and am well aware it’d have a wealth of potential problems. However, the benefit to me vastly outweighs the risks if it accomplishes even a portion of the goal I’ve laid out.

I personally am in support of this endeavor, having witnessed teams phase in and out of existence during my limited time as a student.

A potential problem that relates to this (and other forms of relief) is that some may be inclined to believe this will prevent teams from actively fundraising and using the relief fund as a crutch. A method of preventing this from occurring would be relatively simple:

Teams should apply for the FIRST Relief Fund, and in doing so, provide an overview of how they would utilize the fund to support their team for the season, and submit a plan on how they would sustain their team financially in the long run. In this sense, this will help students on these teams plan for the future as well as kick start fundraising efforts to search for sponsors or apply for grants. An application process (perhaps with feedback of some kind as well) will help these teams practice their grant writing skills so that they will be better prepared to support their team without the Fund later.

Assuming this fund happens in some form or fashion:
FIRST should keep track of teams that repeatedly apply fora grant. My reasoning for this is that FIRST would be able to ask a struggling team if they would accept advice and/or help in regards to sponsors from a well established team.
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

This already exists to an extent through NASA, who offer Sustaining Grants for Veteran teams who have lost a significant sponsor:
https://frc-grants.arc.nasa.gov/rcs/directions.php (scroll down to the Sustaining Grants topic)
FIRST also offered this themselves already with Hardship Grants for teams facing a major drop in funding until at least 2015, though I didn’t realize that the program has been discontinued until I searched now. Both programs have a requirement of showing how the team will try to become self-sustaining going forward, similar to the proposal in SPang’s post.

The major difference I see is that your proposal sounds like it would also be to cover additional event costs that come up (DCMPs for example). While I want to see all the teams who qualify for DCMPs or CMPs attend, I don’t think it is prudent for FIRST to help teams with attending these events if they can’t keep the Hardship Grant program going. Sustaining existing teams who are near dissolution (and have the drive to rebuild) is a better use of their funds than helping a team who has already competed (and done well) to attend another event. I have no problem with communities/sponsors helping that team get to their second event, I just think it’s a bad look for FIRST to offer that assistance if it comes at the cost of losing another team who is only dropping out due to financial reasons.

I definitely could have worded my post better, my intention wasn’t to say to help teams qualify for CMP or DCMP, but that was an example of an “emergency grant” I know existed. My intention is to keep teams alive, who need that first hand in the door to staying alive. I momentarily lapsed on the thought of the NASA grants, and was never award of the Harship Grant program. I’ll update my original post to reflect this better.