Building Robots at School

September 15, 2008

Fundraising and Sponsorships

Filed under: fundraising,Robotics Competitions,teaching — dtengineering @ 6:18 am

This summer our team ran a car wash at a gas station near the school.  Over the course of a weekend they raised over $800.  Afterwards one student observed, “If we do this 27 more times we can afford to go to the Hawaii Regional!”

Trobotics ran a car wash fundraiser one weekend in July.

Trobotics ran a car wash fundraiser one weekend in July.

While I wouldn’t put it past some FRC teams to do 27 weekends of car washes to meet a fundraising goal, it quickly becomes evident that fundraising is only part of solution to funding a robotics team.  Developing relationships with the local community: businesses, governments, professionals, tradespeople, community service organizations… everyone, is part of the challenge.  While our FRC team has been fortunate to have the support of one of the most generous sponsors in all of student robotics (yes, General Motors, we mean you!) for the past four years… we didn’t start out that way.

We had to hit up our school’s Parent’s Advisory Council, and went on a campaign of cold calling local businesses and anyone we could think of to try and get their support.  We did okay, thanks to some help from the folks at FIRST Robotics Canada opening some doors for us once they could see we were serious, but we could have done better if we’d known about some of these resources:

FIRST NEMO (Non-Engineering Mentor Organization) has some good tips about all sorts of non-technical things, including fundraising.

Chief Delphi, the unofficial discussion board for all things FIRST has some great tips.  You can search for yourself (sign up as a member and you don’t have to type in all those goofy codes) or start here and here.  Or even better, go to the white papers and search for sponsorship or fundraising.  Oh, and sign up as a member.  It is a really great, supportive, on-line community.

FIRST provides some supporting materials for FRC teams, FTC teams and FLL teams, (if those links don’t work, just go to the FIRST website and look up “Communications Resource Center” under the “quick links” heading) and I will always direct people to the archives of FIRST workshops and conferences, although this time I’m not linking to anything specific as I haven’t really gone through a lot of the “non technical” stuff.

Finally, my tips… set up different sponsorship levels, “Gold, Silver, Bronze” and be prepared to offer up naming rights to your top sponsors.  In fact, it is pretty much required for FRC teams to have their sponsors’ name as part of their official team name.  We’re pretty darn proud to be “General Motors Canada and David Thompson Secondary School” on the official lists.  Realize that sponsors take you more seriously when they see you doing a lot of the hard work yourselves.

Presenting a "thank you" photo to Maryann Combs, of General Motors

When you DO land a sponsor, make sure you take VERY good care of them.  Keep them posted with news about what your team is doing, how your design is coming along and what you are learning because of their support.  They want to know that their support is having an impact.  At the end of each season we like to take a team photo, frame it with a nice border, have the students write “thank yous” on and sign the border and present it to one of our “champions” at General Motors.

Remember that it IS possible to do this.  There are 1300 FRC teams around the world, and each of them has figured out a way to come up with thousands and thousands of dollars to play the game.  We didn’t really expect to make it our first year… and yet here we are looking at a sixth season coming up!  Last year, when two FTC teams from our neighbouring school, Gladstone Secondary, qualified for the FTC Championships in Atlanta, it was a complete pipe dream for them to ever make it there.  Yet their community came together in just a few short weeks and both teams made it to the quarter finals of the world championships!  It wasn’t easy… it won’t be easy… but it can be done.

My final word of advice though, is to find someone who can do for your team what Pat does for ours.  Pat teaches business education at our school and runs the communications/business/marketing side of our team.  She is the team’s real expert where money and corporate relations are involved.  A robotics team, just like a technology business, needs a wide variety of expertise in order to thrive.  Maybe for your team it will be a parent, or someone in the community, but we’d be lost without Pat.

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