Funding Your Makerspace

funding your makerspace header
Congratulations! You have started a makerspace. Now let’s talk about makerspace fundraising methods and processes. If you have ever attended a workshop or event with the Digital Harbor Foundation, you have have heard these wise words:

“You can’t buy a makerspace; you have to make one.”Shawn Grimes

Truer words have never been said! You have to make the space to make it your own.

However, sometimes you are going to want to buy some cool new toys, no? Maybe you want to add a Sphero robot or a Parrot mini-drone.

Maybe you want to simply keep up your supply of LEDs, colored straws, and markers. Maybe you want to have a few options of different color filaments for your 3D printer. Either way, having some money for your organization to spend will certainly be helpful. Let’s discuss a few effective fundraising methods and a process to keep your supply lines running as well as King’s Landing:
after all, Winter is Coming…


Getting Administrative Support

It is extremely important to have the support of your superiors, especially working within your school system. Be clear, be transparent. Tell them what you plan on doing. Keep them updated and in the loop. Have them approve everything before you do it. You don’t want your funds refused because you didn’t follow appropriate guidelines.

Methods of Makerspace Fundraising

In my mind, there are three traditional ways to gather funds for your makerspace. Each have their own pros and cons, so let’s quickly take a look at each.

  1. Traditional Fundraisers
    Car washes, bake sales, and canning. Remember standing outside of Wal-Mart asking for donations? While all these work just fine, this is (in my opinion) the least effective method of fundraising. There is a time factor to think about in your cost/benefit analysis. These events take enormous amounts of time to plan and execute, and unfortunately the return on funds you make for these events is not always as much as you would hope for, considering the amount of planning time that goes into each.If you are going this route, I would recommend delegation. Your time is more effectively spent in other places, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore these methods. Ask parents, volunteers, or others to work one of these methods, while you focus on the two methods below (and mostly on method 3).
  2. Crowdfunding
    In terms of your time consideration in your cost/benefit analysis, this method probably clocks in as the winner in terms of ease of setup and possible return on time spent. There are multiple platforms you could choose, but the idea is you set up on a site, share on social media, and watch the donations pour in from family, friends, and members of the community.One of the most popular is GoFundMe. Sign up with an email address, put in a description and some pictures, and you are ready to share on Facebook! Donors easily make donations with their credit cards and share your campaign.A few notes here:

    • This is GREAT for getting lots of small (10-30 dollar donations), but BAD for receiving big donations because GoFundMe holds 5% of your donation for using their service. WePay (payment processing company) holds 2.9% of your donation. It’s a good idea to CLEARLY state this information in your description, and encourage those making a larger donation to do so directly to you or your organization.
    • If you are working with a school system, again, be sure to be as transparent as possible and tell them what you are doing. Many school systems have rules against using crowdfunding (for social media reasons, tax reasons, and community relations reasons). In many school systems, school employees are not allowed to request funds on social networks. HOWEVER, there are ways around this. If you have a trusting parent (not working for the schools) they can run the fundraising site, have the check cut to them, and make a personal donation at the end of the campaign. Again, be careful and transparent with your Principal or other administration. Get approval to ensure all your funds will be legitimized.
  3. Corporate, Service, and Organization Sponsorships
    Herein lies the most effective method of acquiring funds for your makerspace: Ask for money. It seems simple, but there are a lot of things to think about in order to receive the “Yes” you are looking for. However, if you follow these suggestions, you might hit the motherload here. The rest of this article is focused on this methodWe will cover the who to ask, what to ask for, and much more to help you get the funds you need to support those kids in the best way you can.


Getting Organized

Before you start, get organized. Create a spreadsheet where you can put your target audience contact information. Sending out these letters and making phone calls is much easier to do all at once, and you are going to want to keep track of who and when you reached out to different organizations.

Leave room to note when you sent out the letter, when you did your followup phone call, and any notes you might want to take about the conversation you had.

Crafting your letter

For most organizations, in order for their secretary or treasury department to cut a check, many will require a letter of request from you. Here are some tips for writing your letter:

  • Use official letterhead. It’s important for these organizations to know you are legitimized. Use school letterhead, or if not at a school, use the official letterhead for your organization. If possible, use a better quality paper as well.
  • Start the letter using the person’s name you are writing to. Make sure to change it for each letter.
  • Send a picture of kids along with your letter (with parental permission). It is important for them to see the faces of the students they will be making an impact on. You can get hundreds of standard photos printed up by Walgreens very very cheaply (in the area of $10-$12 for a 100).
  • In your first paragraph, introduce your organization and use BUZZ WORDS. Tell them exactly what students in your makerspace learn about. Use words like STEM or STEAM.When organizations hear about all the great work you are doing, especially using words they have heard in the news or on social media lately, they are more likely to get excited about being a part of it. Here is an excerpt from the first paragraph of my letter:
    • In DI, students learn about 3D printing, coding, app development, drones, virtual reality, and more. It is a program that trains the future engineers, developers, inventors, and leaders of our country.
  • Make sure to BLUF. BLUF stands for Bottom Line Up Front. Don’t bury the lead; tell them at the top of the letter you are seeking a donation. You will be writing to the CEOs, Presidents, and heads of companies. Many don’t have a lot of time to dig all the way through your letter to figure out what exactly you are writing for. State it clearly:
    We are seeking to raise $8,760 to support our organization moving forward.
  • Ask BIG! No…. bigger! Ask for way more than you are sure the organization will give you. First, arrive at a legitimate number. Do this by creating a wishlist of items you want; include how much it might cost to support those items moving forward. Use that number.
    • Most organizations will not fully fund whatever number you put there. So if you go in asking for $500, maybe you will get $100 or $200; they know you are seeking help from multiple places, and are fine with that, but usually reluctant to fully fund any one organization asking for help. However, if you tell them you are seeking to raise upwards of $10,000, you are more likely to get something like a $1,000 donation
  • Tell them how to donate. Don’t forget to include important information like where to send a check, and who it should be made out to. Make sure to include your contact information as well. Include email! Many organizations would prefer to finish the details via email than phone since it is quicker and more efficient for them.
  • Identify if they are tax deductible donations. If you are working for the school system, most likely their donation will be tax deductible. If so, include this information on the letter.
    • Be sure to talk to your Lead Secretary about this. You are going to want to ask her for the school system’s W9 form, or at least the school’s Tax ID number. This is what you give the organization after they donate; don’t include the number directly on your letter, just the fact the donation is tax deductible.

“If you ask for the moon, you’ll be surprised by how often you get it.”John Green


Selecting a Target Audience

So you have written your letter, now who do you send it to? Great question. Your first step is to hit up Service Organizations. These are organizations in your community whose sole purpose is to provide service and support to the community. Here are some examples:

  • Lion’s Club
  • Rotary Club
  • American Legion
  • VFW

Did you further know, that many American Legions and VFWs have gambling for their members? Usually just small slot machines or card games for entertainment. However, did you further know that any organization that houses gambling must make monthly donations as per state and federal law?These are great places to send requests.

Do a google search for “rotary clubs near me”. Put the name of the organization and address on your contact sheet. Find the person’s name in charge of the organization, and jot that down too. Also make sure not to just send a letter to the one Rotary Club/VFW/etc. representing your town, but the towns surrounding you as well.

Here are some other places to go:

  • Ask your town. Send a letter directly to your mayor about what you are doing in his community. A mayor usually has the power to delegate funds from his own “Discretionary Fund” not requiring approval from a board. Also, mayors want to look good, and wouldn’t funding your space make him look?
  • Ask your school system. Let them know what you are doing with the official letter. Even if the standard feeling is they don’t have much money, you might be surprised about initiatives that support STEM or STEAM.
  • Ask the BIG corporate companies that use technology. Are their any large corporations around your town that employ hundreds of people? Something like Aberdeen Proving Ground? WL GORE? Siemens? These companies are going to be the hardest to get from. BE PERSISTENT. Keep calling and follow up. You will have to do some research as to who to send the letter to. Generally, it will sit for a while as they hold a meeting once every couple months for this type of thing. However, this is where some of my biggest donations have come from in the past.
  • Ask for help and advice! The people living in your town know it far better than I do. Ask around about companies that might be a good idea to send a letter to. Compile a list. Get addresses and contact.
    • These smaller businesses might have less to give you, but are often easier to get from as there are no corporate headquarters to go through- the decision is made right there with the person who owns the business.
  • Send A LOT of letters. You are going to get a lot of rejection – deal with it. Rejection is a part of life. You teach middle school; you aren’t in middle school! When I do a round of fundraising, I generally send out about 50 letters and get maybe 15 yes’s. This is a pretty standard ratio of what you can expect. However, those 15 are generally $250, $500, or $1,000 donations. That’s what we are aiming for here.


Follow-Up and Follow-Through

This is the most important part. Start strong, end strong. You can do all the preparation in the world, but if you don’t follow through, none of it will matter. Use your excel spreadsheet to help you along the way here.

“Start Strong, End Strong”

  1. Send out your letter, writing down the day you mailed it out. Through your online research, if you can’t find an address, email works fine. Scan your letter and picture, and note the day you sent out the initial email.
  2. Follow-up phone call. It is important to speak to a human! If you sent letters USPS, wait four days to ensure they got the letter and had time to read it. Don’t put this off longer than a week or two! If you wait, your letter might just end up in the circular filing cabinet. You will want to call right away.
    • Ask to speak to the person you sent the letter to. Asking for money can be awkward at first, but you have to just do it. After some practice, it will feel more natural. Give yourself a script if necessary. Something like:
      “Hi, this is ____ from _____. We sent you a letter last week requesting a donation for ______. I was wondering if you received the letter? Are you going to be able to support us at this time?”
  3. Take notes and follow up! Often they will have gotten the letter, but it might have to go through a committee or board first. If that’s the case ask the date of meeting. Call back and follow up after.


Thank You’s and Recognition

Once you have received donations, make sure to send thank you’s. You want to keep a good relationship with your donors, so when you go back in a year or two they are still happy.

  • Be sure to send a thank you letter. Let the students write this one! It will be much more impactful. Ask them to talk about all the awesome things they are learning and doing.
    • Give them guidance as to what to talk about, but do not edit their letter. Let there be sentence structure and grammar errors. It will be more truthful in showing the thank you is actually from the students.
    • Include more pictures! Make sure to document your students using the materials and equipment you raised funds for.
    • Continue to follow up throughout the year. Make offers to visit the organization to share and show all the cool stuff you are doing. Invite them to your Make-Nights or other events. Be sure to maintain contact and a good relationship.

If you have any questions about fundraising, please ask. I would also be willing to read your letter and give suggestions and tips. Send me an email or find me on twitter. Let’s work together to provide access to as many kids around as possible!