A guide to starting your team’s portfolio of outreach events.
What Do You Care About?#
A concerning amount of teams see outreach as a means to obtain awards. While it is true that the Motivate and Connect Awards rely on outreach performance as award criteria, outreach is so much more than that, and as FTC teams, we are poised to make a unique impact. In order to make the most of your potential, you should target outreach that you care about.
From a judging perspective, it is also easier to talk about topics you care deeply about and are invested in.
Many teams often hope to create large-scale programs that impact tens of thousands. However, many smaller outreach programs can often be more impactful than one big, unwieldy program that may never get off the ground. Consider what your local area needs - maybe your library needs volunteers to teach STEM, or your local FLL team requires mentorship. Maybe there are no other FLL or FTC teams in your area. Regardless, your goal should be to advocate for STEM and FIRST in your area.
Create a plan! Any set of outreaches should be outlined in a business plan, documenting how they serve as a way to expand your program’s reach. This plan should also contain your team’s vision, budget goals, and growth objectives.
Spreading The Word#
Once you’ve zeroed in on the programs you’d like to create or contribute to, figure out who you need to contact and what you need to pitch. See Pitching Your Team for more tips on how to write your pitch out.
Let’s say you’ve decided to go with hosting weekly STEM nights at your local library.
The Pitch: STEM night hosted by x members of local robotics team on x weeknight, for x weeks.
Write an email to your library’s administration and CC (carbon copy) a librarian you know, introducing your team and describing your idea. Stress that you will dedicate team resources and members to this idea and see it through for the timeframe you specify.
Assign specific members to this program and loop them into the conversation as well.
Work with the library to determine a time each week to host your STEM night.
Finally, assigned members work together to write lesson plans in advance and create promotional materials to share on social media and with friends/family.
Your team has a fundraising idea to bag at a local supermarket.
The Pitch: Support local STEM students by allowing local robotics team to bag at your store!
Visit your local supermarket and talk to a manager or customer service rep to politely introduce your team.
Respectfully ask if they would be willing to let you bag for customers and set up tip jars.
Obtain contact information of the person you spoke to, and write a follow-up email to them thanking them and confirming a date and time.
Assign members to create promotional materials to share on social media and with friends/family.
Outreach to create connections and obtain sponsorships are relatively similar. Send lots of emails to local companies asking for either help or sponsorship. You should try to tie the engineering problems you are encountering in the season to the specific company you are requesting aid from; this can make it easier for the company to justify donating their money or time.
A great way to find businesses to reach out to is through your local Chamber of Commerce (use Google to find their website), who generally will provide a large list of member businesses in the area. Try to send one email to every business on that list. In addition, target companies in the nearest metro area.
Promotional materials should be striking and feature your team’s branding, with an emphasis on succinct design. Your goal is to maximize information delivery using as few words as possible.
General Outreach Tips#
Reach out for donations early. Companies are most willing to donate money from September-November, when they are closing out the fiscal year. Reach out for sponsorships and donations around this time, as you will encounter more success.
Raise more money than you need. You never know when you’ll need to buy parts in an emergency, or qualify for the World Championship unexpectedly. Having extra money is never a bad thing.
Be consistent. It is easy to let outreach fall by the wayside when building a robot. However, programs that survive long periods of time are defined by their consistent outreach, as it creates inroads into their community for recruitment and funding.
Be persistent. If your idea doesn’t work the first time or doesn’t find the success you hoped, don’t give up! Evaluate what went wrong and try again.
Diversify. Try to do as many unique outreach events as possible, as it’ll be fun and enriching!
Maintain your relationships. Send thank you notes to organizations who host you and work with you, and keep them updated about your team’s progress. It is easier to ask for a favor from an organization that likes your team.
(Respectful) email spam always works. Send lots of emails. Your fundraising, Connect, and sponsorship email target should be 100+ a season - per category. The more emails you send, the higher the chance you will get a response.
Visit in person. It is much harder to ignore an in-person visit you pay to a company than it is to ignore an email. Prepare a one-page flyer and elevator pitch, and remember you have a limited amount of time to make an impression on the person you’re talking to.
Keep a list of the programs your team has created or contributed to. Ensure you take photos at every event with team members. Keep track of your Reach (tangible interaction or observation of your team), Engagement (how many people interacted with your team/you interacted with, e.g. by attending events), Impact (how many people are directly impacted by your outreach events), and Conversion (how many people get involved with your program.)
If looking to include these statistics in your judged presentation or portfolio, ensure you adhere to the “Awards Definitions” located in the appendix of Game Manual Part 1 that outline terms relating to outreach. These terms are: Started, Mentored, Assisted, Provided Published Resources, Ran, Hosted, Reached, and Advocated.