Competing on robotics teams is impossible without funding. Robotics is an expensive sport, and fundraising allows teams to do what they do! This being said, the process of fundraising can be difficult to start and to continue. So here are some tips on how to start and what to look for when setting up and running fundraisers.
How to Start
- Utilize your off season: The best time to fundraise in when your team is not mid competition season. Working in the off season gives time to fundraise well, and helps your team hit the ground running in your upcoming season.
- Budgeting: Writing a budget is the best possible place to start in the offseason. Budgeting allows teams to anticipate costs and create a fundraising goal. Plan for no surprises! Good budgets should include the costs of everything your team spends money on in a season. Include robot hardware, parts, electronics, motors, servos, anything that needs to be replaced, tools, materials, FIRST’s registration fee, tourament registration fees, team branding materials, cost of running events, travel costs if your team competes out of state, and probably a lot of duct tape.
- Business Plan: Writing a business plan not only checks off one requirement for your season, but it also helps teams outline their goals for said season. Your budget should fit your goals---teams that want to do more have to spend more. Along with goals, business plans are a home for your preliminary budget as well as actual team income and expenditures. Example business plans are available on the FIRST website.
Once you’ve set the groundwork for raising money, your team is ready to go! But how do you find sponsors and fundraising opportunities?
- Fundraisers are an easy way to raise quick money for teams. However, fundraisers are usually one-time opportunities, and do not carry the potential for long-time relationships like sponsorships do.
- An easy way to set up fundraisers is to look at what local school sports teams are doing, and hop on opportunities wherever possible. In my team’s school district, restaurants like Chipotle, Chick fil-A, Culvers, and Leeann Chin offer fundraisers for sports teams wherein a percentage of sales within a certain timeframe go back to the team. These have been quick commitments that yield a few hundred dollars apiece. Not bad!
- Teams I’ve been on have also made good use of crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe. These sites will take a small percentage of money raised, but they can be incredibly beneficial and low-commitment. The value of GoFundMe lies in how easy it makes small donations. Often, families of team members want to contribute to their loved-one’s teams, and GoFundMe makes that simple.
Setting up Fundraisers
- Once you know where there are opportunities for fundraisers, the next step is to get in the door!
- A great first step is to make phone calls. This will take some prep work as well. Your team should write a brief script before making any actual calls. Call scripts should include who your team is, where you are from, what you are looking for, and ways of contacting you back. Prepare for this to take no more than 30 seconds, or you risk losing the attention of the person on the other end of the phone call. When calling, have an idea of when your team would be able to be present at a fundraiser too.
- Emails work when trying to set up fundraisers, but they make less impact than calling or showing up to a business physically. Same as with phone calls, emails should be concise and get the point across early.
- Any way your team decides to get in touch with fundraising opportunities, remember to talk to the person in a company that actually makes decisions and can schedule your team. Talking to a part-time Chick fil-A cashier about your team is a great start, but then you depend on that individual to relay your information to a higher-up. When at all possible, talk to and email managers and supervisors.
- All of this aside, the most important tip when looking to fund your team is persistence. There will be a lot of companies and individuals who turn you down, and that’s ok! Keep finding new opportunities, leaving voicemails when no one answers your calls, and keep trying!
(tune in next week for part 2: Sponsorship)
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