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 finding and recruiting sponsors
Sponsors are individuals or organizations that provide funding or other resources to teams. Sponsorships differ from fundraisers in that sponsor relationships are meant to last throughout a season and multiple seasons if you’re lucky! Unlike fundraisers, sponsorships are also meant to be reciprocal. There are four big steps to obtaining sponsorship: setting groundwork, identifying potential sponsors, reaching out to sponsors, and maintaining sponsor relationships.
The first thing teams should be doing is documenting what needs their season will entail. Creating a projected budget for your upcoming season is a great way to start (see previous blog for details on preliminary budgeting). But needs of teams aren’t exclusively financial. When looking for sponsors, it is important to recognize that sponsors can do more than provide financial support. Sponsors are also great sources for materials, mentorship, and services.
This all plays into the groundwork your team should be doing. When looking at the needs of your team, look at things your team can be sponsored for instead of buying yourself. Teams spend a lot of money on branding materials, team shirts, and printing a new engineering notebook every single year. These are needs too!
Another great way to start a season is by writing a business plan. Optimally, business plans should be a great house for your early budgets. They are a great tool when setting short term and long term goals, looking at your team’s strengths and weaknesses, creating a mission statement to outline what motivates your team, and documenting budgets and expenses. Business plans help to make your team seem professional and organized, and are impressive to companies that will have business plans of their own.
Sponsorship letters are similar, but more condensed. Letters should be only one page, and include brief team history, financial needs, what FIRST is, and contact information. Having all of this written beforehand will come in handy later...
But before any money comes into your team, there needs to be a plan for how money will be funneled. Does your team have a bank account? Is money run through your school? Are donations to your team tax deductible? The worst thing would be to receive money but have nowhere for it to go.
Identifying Potential Sponsors:
Once your team is fully ready, budget and business plan in hand, now is the time to find companies or individuals that may be able to sponsor your team.
As earlier mentioned, don’t limit your focus to just monetary sponsorship. There is a world of experts and resources that are willing to help out teams if teams find them. This is to say, don’t narrow your focus to companies who could give you money. Find companies and individuals who also specialize in things you need done: printing, machining, 3D printing, plastic work, etc. A great example is finding a printing sponsor willing to make business cards, posters, and print new versions of an engineering notebook before tournaments. Or finding local manufacturing companies that are willing to cut sheet metal or plastic.
When finding companies, start by looking at parent companies and companies that are already aware of FIRST. The businesses team member parents work for are often a great place to start. Your team already has a connection, and parents will know who the right person to talk to is for sponsorship. From there, look at companies that sponsor other teams. Some bigger businesses sponsor multiple teams, already know the values of FIRST, and are committed to supporting teams in their communities.
From there, start a giant list! List all of the STEM companies in your city, all of the companies who might be able to provide you with something other than money, and anyone (like a local chamber of commerce) that might be able to get you in contact with companies you might not have been aware of. The bigger the list--the better!
Reaching out to Sponsors:
Here is where all of your groundwork documents come into play. With your giant list of potential companies, start writing down contact info for each. Now is where you can start emailing your sponsorship letter around.
But what has been most valuable is making phone calls…….dun dun DUHHHH. Calling to ask for sponsorship or to set up a time to talk to someone about sponsorship is terrifying. Again, some preparation is needed before picking up the phone. Cold calling scripts should include your name, your team’s name, where you are from, what you are looking to do, a phone number to call you back, and if you’re setting up a meeting over the phone, include dates that would work for your team. The important thing about these scripts is to keep them concise. You don’t want to lose the attention of the person on the other end. Here’s an example:
Hi, I’m ______ from FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Team from _______ High School, we’re fundraising for our season. I was wondering if we could come in and give a sponsorship presentation for your company.
+Wait for response+
Great! Does sometime next week work after 4?
Note how this script asks to set up a presentation. If at all possible, set up face to face presentations for important individuals within a company. Your team is a lot harder to ignore when you are in front of someone talking to them. Here are some tips for scheduling sponsorship presentations:
Maintaining Sponsor Relationships:
Sponsors are most valuable when they continue to support your team over multiple seasons. The brunt work of making this happen is on your team. Sponsorships are more than fundraisers and donations in that they are also intended to go both ways! Teams should be providing for sponsors in the same way sponsors provide for them. A lot of teams do this by plastering sponsor names and logos on their robots, shirts, websites, pit areas, and pretty much everywhere. This is a great start, but there is more that you can do to keep up with your sponsors and keep them engaged in your team!
First of all, send thank you notes! Handwritten thank you’s go a really long way, especially after presenting to a company and you are fresh in their mind. Send thank you notes early and often!!!
Secondly, focus on updating your sponsors with your team’s progress and how you are utilizing their support. My team sends monthly newsletters, and updates before and after every single tournament. It is also nice to invite sponsors to come watch your team at competitions (again, handwritten is best)!
Thirdly, offer to demo for your sponsors! It’s another great way to keep your sponsors in the loop as your team and your team’s robot changes throughout a season.
With these tips, your team is all set to hit the ground running for the upcoming season!
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