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Funding Your Teams
As robotics is an expensive club to run, as shown by the financial breakdown in the previous section, sources can be gathered to help fund your organization.
The most direct way to receive funding for your team is through a parent organization, such as a school or umbrella organization. When forming your team or teams, it is important to reach out to school or organization administration, to inquire about the status of club and team funding.
Collecting member dues is another way to raise funds from within your team. Charging a set amount for each team member to join very likely will not cover the full cost of running a VRC team, but can provide a smaller cushion to help with various costs. Especially among larger teams, where the dues can be a smaller amount paid by more members, member dues can add up to enough to help eliminate expenses.
With the increase in costs for many V5 parts, especially for electronic components, teams will certainly need to fundraise more. With thousands of dollars being spent on parts, registration, and not to mention travel, it is a major investment. Raising such a large amount of money can certainly be daunting and bake sales alone likely won’t help to achieve this goal. Asking parents and friends for donations might work, but your results will vary.
When companies donate, they will usually only donate to teams that offer a tax-deductible option. This automatically applies to public schools, but private teams would need to apply for the 501(c)(3) status using Form 1023-EZ, which is faster and shorter than the previous Form 1023. While the application fee is $275, it is the single best step you can take in fundraising.
This packet should include a welcome letter, contact information, what VEX is, awards, budget for the upcoming season, sponsorship levels, and any other relevant information about your team. Most of these categories are self-explanatory, but should also discuss sponsorship levels and a budget in more detail.
Companies want to have different options on how much they would contribute to your team. For instance, they may start with $250 the first season and give $500 the next season if they see the team is performing well. Also include the benefits of each level (logo on the team shirt, website, banner, etc).
A budget is often overlooked. Companies will want to know how a team plans to use the money. The more detailed the budget is, the more likely it is for a company to contribute to the team for the long term. The main categories to include are parts, registration fees, tools, and marketing.
Be sure to always attach a sponsorship packet when you email a company.
Companies nearby will be the best shot at gaining a sponsor. Not only this, they will usually respond faster, as there are typically fewer steps in determining whether or not they want to donate. Additionally, don’t limit potential sponsors to tech companies. Reach out to law firms, dentists, banks, etc, and try researching which companies donate to other nonprofits in the area as a starting point. The majority of a team’s sponsors will likely be within a ten-mile radius of their headquarters.
Larger companies and nonprofits will typically offer grants which robotics teams (or any organization) can apply for. While these may result in gaining more funding, the review process for these applications can take four to six months, or even longer. Be sure to start early if the team chooses apply for grants and take note of the deadlines.
Have a former team member who works at a notable company? Does where a teammate’s parents work offer donations? Don’t be afraid to pull connections from team members.
The best way to get a response is by sending an email first, waiting three weeks for a response, and then following up with a phone call/email. Don’t worry if very few companies reply at first. Just be persistent and keep trying. The truth is that you’ll never know who will sponsor your team.
To build long-term relationships with sponsors, updating them about build progress and performance at competitions will make it more likely they will choose to sponsor the team in the following seasons. If possible, inviting them to competitions or meetings to showcase the team is also a good way to keep the relationship intact.
Grants and scholarships are one of the fastest ways to gain large amounts of funding for new or expanding organizations. These often come from large companies (Fortune 500, S&P 500, DOWJ index, etc) as well as nonprofits or schools.
The best way to find these is to look at a company that has a presence in the local area (office near organization, funding other local organizations or programs) and to a few internet searches for grants that they fund. Once a grant or scholarship is found, look for application schedules, application requirements, and goals of the funder. From there work through the application process while focusing on achievements of the organization seeking funding, and community impact of the organization (educating students, volunteering, larger research projects, etc.).
Another way to get grants is to find a person at a company that will fund you personally. Lots of large companies will either match donations from an employee or make a direct donation to an organization. To find an employee, find alumnae, parents or involved members in the community that either work for a large company, or may have a connection. Reach out to them and ask if their company has any programs for funding student organizations or other educational grants. Be super friendly, and again focus on the goals and achievements of the organization seeking funding.
Competitions are a great supporter of organizations. They both help gain name recognition, qualify teams for other competitions (regional events, signature events, and worlds), and can provide lots of funding for a club. This is done in many ways. Registration fees paid by every team attending the event are split between REC Foundation and the hosting organization. A VRC event will range from $60-$85 per team most of the time where the majority of this will go to the event organizers. Concessions can also be a large source of funding (especially for larger competitions) with both snacks throughout the day and larger lunch orders by team (Pizza, hoagies, etc.).
The best way to get the most funding from the competition is by planning ahead and asking for favors. If a team is coming and they own a field, ask them to bring it, waive their registration for a team, and save the money from buying a new field. Ask for donations for concession foods (bake sale, local stores, etc.). Get corporate sponsors. Lots of companies love seeing students learning engineering and computer science so reach out to some to see if they will help out by giving a location for the competition to be hosted or by funding or donating to cover costs.