How Can Foundations Improve Scholarship Programs?
By Scholarship America
For corporate, community and private foundations, scholarships are fundamental programs. After all, you’re trying to make a positive impact in the world, and very few things have as much positive impact on students and families as a college degree.
A successful foundation scholarship needs to carefully balance the goals of your donors with the needs of students, all in the context of a rapidly evolving world of higher-education funding. Even if you’ve been awarding scholarships for years, there are still new challenges that crop up with every school year. To ensure that your programs make the biggest impact where it’s needed most, it’s crucial to think about these big-picture struggles.
More awards and scholarship criteria mean more complications.
For donors, foundations are often perfectly simple giving vehicles. They endow a scholarship, advise you on the award criteria and smile for a photo on Awards Night with the student they’ve helped.
But when your foundation has 25 or 50 or 100 supporters like this, life can get complicated pretty quickly. Each donor may want to reward wildly differing kinds of students, and even slight differences in eligibility criteria can create big headaches when it comes to evaluating applications. Your donors rely on you to find the student who best fits their wishes, and getting that right means a lot of staff or volunteer time spent checking and rechecking applications.
How do you find your target students?
Having a variety of scholarship criteria also means finding students that fit those criteria. If they’re wide enough—public-school students with financial need and a 3.5 GPA, for example—that may not be difficult.
But what if a donor wants their funds to go only to someone attending their alma mater, or playing the same instrument that they played, or pursuing an uncommon major? To ensure you have qualified applicants, you’re going to have to do a little more focused outreach. This means researching department contacts at colleges, email lists, message boards and social media accounts for all sorts of groups, so that each of your donors’ funds go to the best possible candidate.
Staffing a foundation scholarship program remains a major challenge.
This outreach is the prologue to all the hard work that starts when your application deadline closes. Evaluating applications, reading essays and checking references can all be full-time jobs in and of themselves. If any of your scholarships are need-based, financial evaluation and verification will take more time. And there aren’t many shortcuts you can take when disbursing funds and working with college admissions and financial aid offices.
On the other hand, when the scholarship process is closed, your program won’t need the same level of staffing that it will at crunch time. It’s a tough choice: do you add the administrative work of scholarship management to someone’s more strategic full-time duties? Rely on volunteers or temp staff that you need to re-train every year? Or outsource the nitty-gritty details to a third-party manager?
Is your foundation using the right technology for scholarship applications and evaluation?
Today’s high school and college students live online. It’s where they talk with friends, engage with class assignments and find news and information. And it’s where they’ll be looking for scholarships. So, while it may be easier for you to mail posters and paper application forms directly to high schools and colleges, you’ll be missing out on a huge part of your outreach if you’re not offering an application directly to students online.
Of course, that can create complications as well. An online application needs to be engineered, programmed and tested. Someone needs to be on hand to fix problems when they crop up. And data-security regulations around student information are extremely strict. In general, online applications require a bit more forethought, even though they’ll make your scholarship more popular and your evaluation job easier.
Find the right partners to manage your foundation scholarship.
These challenges are daunting, but they’re not insurmountable. And with scholarships becoming an ever-more-important component in the struggle to pay for college, your foundation can’t afford not to focus on awarding deserving students.
At Scholarship America, nearly 40 years of experience has taught us plenty about creating and managing scholarships with an impact; as you consider these challenges, we invite you to download our free e-book, “10 Secrets To A Great Scholarship Program.” We’d also love to talk with you about your program goals.