"These Hard Times"?

Today members on my team and I called a lot of local companies and corps. asking to talk to their community relations manager or department; however, we were met by an overwhelming “not interested” or “business has been terrible, we can’t donate money at this time”. Are other teams running into similar problems?

Is my approach wrong?

I’m not here to gripe about how expensive FIRST is or anything
I’m just here because Im curious if other teams are experiencing similar roadblocks, and whether they’ve figured out a more effective method to approaching corporations.

You’re feedback and thoughts on this are appreciated.

Our team has a few months to raise 6k because in order to apply for the 2nd year grant from NASA, they need to see you’ve raised 6k from corporate or community grants.( If I am not mistaken…)

Im located in Central NJ, by the way


From what my team has experienced, going to a business and talking face to face with the managers is much more successful than phone conversation. It is more personal, for one thing, but in a face-to-face meeting presentation materials and fundraising packets or contact information can easily be exchanged. Many businesses are simply more obligated to give just based on the human presence- it’s easier to shrug off a voice on a phone, than it is to say no to a real person you are talking to.

Also try to find out if there is a way that you can make these donations tax write-offs. Many businesses will be enticed by this, especially in the “hard times” described.

Keep trying. It may seem hard now, but it will only get easier if the sponsors you find return in years to come (and there is a likelihood that many will).

Good luck!

And it really really helps if you can find someone on your team or a parent or acquaitance, who knows someone at the business. We have pretty much given up on the cold call method, and instead do the “networking” thing.

do you just walk into the corporation or do you make a call and schedule an appointment. If the latter, what do you say that convinces them to give up some time to hear you out?

When you are looking at larger companies with the potential for larger donations, you have a much better chance if you can find some connection to set up an appointment and try to convince them why they should give money. We have done that with a number of businesses. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We have a fortune 25 company whose HQ you can see from our school (and who makes robots) and have not gotten any money from them in three tries. We also have some other big corporations in the area which have given us multiple donations of $2000-3000 over the years. We also drew in almost two thousand last year just sending our brochures and fundraising letter to a lot of local businesses, pulling in mostly $50 and $100 donations. But it generally works better if you can find someone who works at a company or is a client of a company to make the first approach.

As for the hard times, try to focus on companies which are doing better. That is pretty easy information to locate online. If you happen to be near an oil company HQ for example, you might be in luck. Other energy companies are doing well too. AEP gives a lot of teams (including ours) a lot of money every year. Another thing you should do is find out what kind of charitable foundations exist in your area and the kinds of things for which they give money.

It can go both ways, but it probably depends mostly on the size of the business. With a larger business, you would probably be more inclined to set up a meeting, but with a small business, where someone who makes financial decisions is more easily accessible, it is more reasonable to walk in at any time of the day. Also, if the business you are approaching is a potentially very large sponsor, perhaps a potential main sponsor, you might want set up a time to make a presentation with a group of team members at the business.

I can’t say from my mind what exactly is said in a phone conversation as such, but I would suggest that you, as a team, have a meeting and develop an organized strategy, and appealing phone pitch to deliver to the business. Give them something that draws them in, tell them that they have no obligation to give now, just that you want to give them this presentation. Try not to give off a real “telemarketer-y” vibe, either. Remember that it is easy to hang up on, or say no to, a voice on a phone.

Even if a business is unwilling to talk over the phone, remember, they can always be visited in person. If you can’t directly talk to a manager-type figure, I would suggest making fundraising packets, and have these be passed on to such a person. These might include information about the program, about your team, about how to contact you if interested, and about how one might donate to your team and the benefits of doing so (helping a local organization, advancing engineering education in youth, advertising space on shirts and bots, etc.). These packets can convey what a phone conversation simply can’t about this program, and may be a better tool in this situation.

Some businesses do turn you away, in good times and in bad. In that case, just keep looking, and don’t get down on yourselves. You’ll find someone out there, but persistence, along with planning, is key.

Good luck, and I hope this helps!

I have noticed your approach really should vary from business to business. I’m no expert though.

For larger corporations, don’t waste time calling and asking people. Find out if they have a grant program, and apply for that. If a larger corporation doesn’t have a grant program, I guess call until you find the person who can help you with that. Each time you talk to someone there that isn’t the right one, try to get as much advice and info as you can from them. They can provide a lot of tips on what to say to the correct person if you just ask them to. It may sound weird, but it’s worked for me.

Have you considered trying service clubs? Kiwanas, Rotary, etc… usually have grants you can apply for, and if not a grant, you can just ask them to support your team.

In recent times I’ve been contacting machine shops and they seem to require an entirely different approach. They don’t like having their time wasted, so call, give a very brief line and ask them exactly what you want (Don’t say, can you assist with manufacturing, say can you make parts for us). I’d assume small businesses would require a similar approach as they are usually busy as well.

We are more than willing to share some suggestions on the “approach.” Our team takes pride in working with businesses and other types of sponsors.
We have done much less personal/team fundraising and more of the “partnership” approaches.
This is what I spend the majority of my time as the lead person of our team doing.

All I can say is that sustainability is a tough issue and teams should have dedicated people focusing on those tasks.

Being a non-profit organization helps. Companies like the tax advantages. Form a parents booster group, incorporate as a non-profit and have the donations go to them. The non-profit pays the bills.

Check with your school first to make sure they don’t have a problem with that.

Managers and executives are typically charged with maximizing profits for their shareholders. Thus ‘giving’ away money is counter to their job.

In order to counter this, you need to understand the needs of the company and ‘sell’ what your team has to offer. This could be as direct as advertising space on the robot, website, etc. Or it could involve educating the company as to why it would be benefitial (especially in the long run) to the company to support the teams endevors.

Basically you have to know your customer, know what you have to offer, and have a plan for presenting this information quickly and in an easily undersandable way.

Here’s a thought, instead of approaching a business and flat out asking them for money, get them involved first. Expand your team to their children (if they have any) so then they feel obligated to help out (Networking as mentioned above). Work with them, maybe start a committee who you report to what you have done and ask for any and all suggestions. I’m guessing that if a company is involved in the organization, they will have a lot more want and need to help it. Finally, make sure you award them back at the end of the year just to say “Thanks” for helping you out.

I haven’t had to do the fundraising thing in a while, but here goes are some ideas.

Like the post above mentions, few people like to talk to people looking for hand-outs. Instead ask if you can do a presentation to their technical/engineering department. Include a couple of your better video clips from thebluealliance.net, and let interested tech people drive it around.
End your presentation with an explanation of the grant that you are looking for and how it has a $6k requirement. If you put an hour into each one of these presentations an 9/10 companies turn you down, but the 10th give you a $1000, you just made $100/hour. Not bad. While this sounds like a lot of work, that is what the grant is looking for. A second year team willing to put in the effort.
Most people are used to measure success as a 90% or better (homework, exams,…). In fundrasing or selling, it is more a matter of playing the odds. Maybe only 10% will be interested, but that means you have to make a lot of calls.
For our solarcar team we did an adopt a cell program. Imagine trying to raise $80,000 at $25/cell.
Most importantly, if you do get a sponsor, keep them involved. Send a little news letter on how you are doing.

Something we did on my team in high school was we made a pamphlet (Granted our main sponsor, Hamilton helped us out with printing it) and businesses could buy space in the pamphlets to put advertisements. But besides the ad spaces, we had info about our robotics team. There was a page dedicated to each robot that had a list of regionals and offseason we attended and the awards we won for each year. It also had like a description of the team and an explanation of FIRST and how the program works. We made a lot of copies of the pamphlet and handed it out at FIRST events, demos, and other fundraisers we had. And it made us a good amount of money. And it was easy, each kid would bring information with them when they went to go talk to the business and they’d ask at the end if they’d like to buy an add space. So maybe you could give that a try?

Also something that I just thought of after I last visited Clinton and some members of 126. Tim Baird was talking to me about how the local paint your own pottery place does fundraisers for groups like us. You get a bunch of people to go, and you get a portion of the proceeds. I think it’s a better more original and fun alternative to the have people go out to eat at this restaurant so you can get a portion of the profit.

Just some ideas :slight_smile:

Over the years, one of our biggest investment towards sustainability is having a Robotics Open House tour during the last week of build season.
Most teams would probably not do this, since they are busy with the robot.

We do this so that the invitees and potential sponsors can see our students in action trying to finish up the robot, programming, testing, etc.

Our students create the program and run the whole show. Sponsors dont want to hear us talk, they want to hear what students have to say and how FIRST is impacting their lives and career choices.

I cant emphasize enough how that has propelled our team in getting larger and larger donations year after year. It leads to partnership type activities that your team and the sponsoring organization can do.

We also have had a harder time than usual raising money. We are a low-budget formerly FVC/FTC team (now Vex team), operating on about $400/year (the original equipment was purchased when a student declined a robotics camp scholarship in exchange for equipment for a school team). Team expenses had previously been earned through an annual car wash that typically netted $400. This year’s car wash only brought in $95, and one of the parents attributed it to hard economic times – gas prices were as high as $4.69 for cheap unleaded, and our county is 2nd in the nation in foreclosures (the #1 is the county just north of us). An additional yard sale brought in another $100.

Rather than having 10 people laboring 6-8 hours to bring in small sums, we made the decision to ask the students and parents to ante-up. If they can afford $25 for a used video game, they can afford to make a contribution to the team.

We will also be buying fewer new parts this year. This will most likely be “the Year of Bent Metal.”

Incidentally, even in good times, we’ve never been able to get corporate sponsors, despite doing over 15 fund-raising/awareness-raising events in our early years. The students once got a hearing with the local Manufacturing Council, but no one was biting, and individual corporations wouldn’t let us in the door (none of the kids’ parents worked there). I think it has to do with the very low educational level of our region (only 7% of students at a local high school have parents with BS degrees or above) and lack of vision that comes with it. Also, almost all the industry here is food-related, and most of the college degree holders are “service” professionals, like teachers, lawyers, and medical personnel, rather than “industry professionals” like engineers.


an important piece of information here is the company that the inquiry was made to and who you actually spoke to. I personally know who both were but shed some light on who you spoke with and the relationship of said company to your team’s location.

Those factors were the most important reasons why I recommended that you speak to those specific people and also why I was insanely surprised by this person’s response to 2554. It was upsetting for me to hear :frowning:


P.S.- The company in question is a market giant…this was why I was surprised by the response.

My team gets people like this all the time. We have found that sending people hand written letters is the best way to get someone to respond. Another thing that works welll is to learn about the companies, maybe ask them to show you what they do as a company. Once you gain some sort of relationship or familiarity with the people at the company it is easier to get them to give.

I’ll be honest, this has happened to me. We tried to get Delta Airlines interested but everyone knows the Airline industry is in a decline, so that didn’t go to well.

But, try to target mid sized companies or smaller companies. These are the companies that are smaller and are more willing to look into advertisement and community involvement. The larger companies are used to sponsorship hassles and stuff. But the smaller companies haven’t experienced that yet.

As for phone calls, it’s OK, but not good, I would prefer a personalized letter. Face to face can get a little hectic, like, all the traveling, and at times, maybe a little bit awkward.

So…:D. Where are you guys located?

We’re located in Edison, NJ home of the wizard of menlo park…lol
We approached Siemens, whose Foundation is literally 5-10 minutes away from our school (though they are in a neighboring town called Iselin, NJ, the home of Little India)
We also approached BASF Catalyst which has their HQ near the Siemens Foundation HQ, but they said we weren’t “in their community”
so yeah, we’re going to try Goldman Sachs since one of our mentors on the team is an employee there…though I fear the same “not in our community” answer…hmm
we do have a Loreal Branch near us who we intend on approaching
we also have a Thales branch near us

thanks for all the feedback!


Hey guys today team 2554 did baggging at a local grocery store to get some money. In total we got about $426 from customers. I just wanted to know how much you guys rely on volunatary activities and how much you rely on sponsors. Also is this amount of profit the norm for such events or were we just lucky? Oh and we also found a potential mentor or two :slight_smile: :slight_smile: