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Local Affiliates Get a Big Boost through Renewable Awards, Matching Grant Program

When you have an ambitious goal, it’s vital to have a mentor or support network to turn to for assistance and advice. That’s why, three years ago, Scholarship America created the Dollars for Scholars Matching Grant Program – an initiative to help Dollars for Scholars affiliates offer more renewable scholarships. By providing matching (challenge) grants, we’re hoping to expand the impact of our awards, defray the rising costs of postsecondary education and ease the burden of student debt across the country.

bank-on-books.jpgAccording to a 2011 Harvard study, just 56 percent of students who pursue a bachelor’s degree complete their program within six years. And a survey by the Pew Research Center indicates that lack of financial resources can be a major factor: Nearly half of survey respondents (48 percent) said they could not afford the expense. Scholarship America advocates for renewable scholarships, which provide sustained support to students over multiple years – and we offer more than just lip service. To date, Scholarship America has awarded over $300,000 in challenge grants to local affiliates.

Willington Scholarship Foundation Dollars for Scholars (Willington, Connecticut) had already been exploring the idea of establishing a renewable scholarship when Lynne Zervas, Scholarship America Director of Community Engagement & Partnerships, encouraged them to apply for the 2015 Matching Grant Program. While they’re now excitedly raising funds for their $5,000 matching (challenge) grant, the affiliate found even the initial application to be a great springboard for launching their need-based renewable scholarship program.

“Our need-based study group used the Scholarship America application process and form as a way to organize and structure our thinking about developing our own multi-year need-based scholarships, the student application process and requirements, as well as the multiple fundraising events we’d need,” said board member Chopeta Lyons.

In addition to raising the matching funds, selected affiliates agree to participate in a capacity building program, which includes online training webinars as well as individualized consultations. The Willington volunteers capitalized on the webinars by using them to inform their group meetings.

“Our need-based study group met in-person for all three webinars and used the time after each session for further strategizing and organizing,” Lyons said. “We used this time to refine the parameters for administering the award, such as providing a larger window [of opportunity] for the recipient to use the award since many students are not able to complete their degrees in four years.” Based on their learning from these webinars, Lyons said that the affiliate was also able to tweak some of their earlier thoughts about the administration of their need-based scholarship funds.

Scholarship America also provides advice for keeping renewable scholarship programs sustainable into the future. That advice was welcomed by affiliate president Gary Freeman and his fellow board members at Stamford Dollars for Scholars (Stamford, Connecticut), a 2014 Matching Grant recipient. Upon affiliation with Scholarship America in 2011, Stamford had established 10 four-year scholarships of $8,000 each for students in area high schools. While renewable scholarships were not a new venture for the affiliate, they were able to dig deeper thanks to the webinar on financial management provided by Scholarship America’s Chief Financial Officer Rick Greene.

“I took Rick Greene’s spreadsheet model to predict fundraising revenue and modified it for our use, and have been using that tool ever since,” Freeman said. “We use it to plan cash flow for multiple-year scholarships to make sure we have enough money available to fund them.”

Stamford Dollars for Scholars Vice President and Fundraising Chairperson Cathy Drenckhahn agreed. “I really appreciated the matching grant model for planning purposes,” she said.

According to Freeman, “We use that model to make decisions and track investment performance versus investment projections. We’ve gotten a lot of use out of the model.”

The affiliate used their $10,000 grant and the matching dollars they raised through fundraisers like their annual golf tournament to create a new multi-year award called the Aspire Scholarship, adding to the overall number of renewable scholarships they offer students.

Vivian Whitaker, secretary for Cloverdale Dollars for Scholars (Cloverdale, Indiana), is a strong proponent of renewable scholarships and sees them as a win-win for both the affiliate and the students they serve.

“I totally agree that renewable scholarships are the way to go, if at all possible,” Whitaker said. “Not only is it important for our recipients to know we want them to get their degree, but also helps us maintain contact with them. We hope they will become future donors and board members.”

As with Stamford Dollars for Scholars, Cloverdale was already awarding renewable scholarships, but their 2014 Matching Grant motivated them to broaden their scope. According to Whitaker, “This grant has enabled us to expand our renewables, in addition to being our first scholarship which uses financial need as a major component for selection.”

With need-based scholarships being a new undertaking for the affiliate, Cloverdale Dollars for Scholars relied on consultations with Scholarship America staff to help navigate the process. “My takeaway was reassurance that we were on the right track in setting up the scholarship,” Whitaker said.

Now in its third year, the Dollars for Scholars Matching Grant Program will offer matching (challenge) grants in the amount of $5,000 or $10,000, in addition to capacity building training, tools and support to selected applicants. Grantees are selected based on compatibility with program qualifications, selection criteria and availability of funds. If you’re interested in learning more or want to support the Matching Grant Program, contact your nearest regional director here!

Today’s post comes from Nicole Alexander, Director of Community Engagement & Partnerships at Scholarship America. Nicole serves the Central and Southeast regions of the U.S., advancing the organization’s programs and services that directly impact students’ accessibility to and successful completion of postsecondary education.