Building Student Resilience into Scholarship Program Management

As part of its Resilient Philanthropy series, Foundant recently hosted a conversation with three scholarship providers about what they learned during the pandemic and how they used that information to create greater impact for the students they serve. This blog post is the second in a three-part series that will highlight lessons learned and promising practices. 
 

Triangle Community Foundation (TCF) has always made it a priority to listen to and learn from the students it serves, but this has never been more important than during the pandemic. TCF’s team used the information they gathered to make significant changes to scholarship administration, focusing on four key stakeholder groups: current recipients, new applicants, selection committees, and donors. While COVID-19 inspired these new practices, TCF anticipates continuing to use many of them for years to come.

Watch the webinar Foundant recently hosted with TCF and other scholarship providers to hear more about their experiences. Also read the following summary of practices TCF employed to increase student resilience and consider how these could be implemented within your own organization. 

Current Recipients
TCF made numerous changes to further support current scholarship recipients. TCF began by allowing students whose GPAs unexpectedly dropped below eligibility requirements to maintain their awards. TCF launched the Student Assistance Fund—its version of an emergency fund—years ahead of schedule to help scholars cover unanticipated costs such as housing and food. TCF will also host virtual student gatherings this summer in response to student requests to connect with each other. To learn from current recipients, TCF began paying its Scholarship Recipient Advisory Committee members cash stipends to provide regular guidance to TCF staff. And they added a number of questions to post-award follow-up forms, including questions about how COVID-19 impacted students’ financial circumstances and learning experiences. 

New Applicants 
The TCF team also updated application requirements and procedures to provide increased flexibility to new scholarship applicants. Instead of requesting GPAs from the most recently completed academic term, TCF allowed students to provide their highest GPA from any of the three previous terms. TCF included several new questions about unanticipated impacts on income, wealth, and work hours; academic outcomes; and extra-curricular participation. And, to help reduce the burden on individuals who receive multiple recommendation letter requests, TCF allowed applicants to request letters via Third-Party functionality within SLM or to upload letters themselves. 

Selection Committees and Donors
TCF altered the way it works with both volunteer selection committee members and donors. TCF extended committee evaluation periods by as much as four weeks. The TCF team also spent additional time educating decision makers about the many ways students were impacted by the pandemic, emphasizing an organizational commitment to trust students to honestly represent themselves and their needs. Staff also prepared themselves well in advance of meetings by writing and seeking approval on discussion agendas, creating new email templates in SLM, and building data sets and reports to ensure quick transmission to committee and organizational leadership. 

Want to learn more from fellow scholarship providers? Read the first blog in the series, Understanding Student Needs and Building Responsive, Resilient Support.

About the Author

Erika Orsulak

Erika Orsulak, MPA, is a consultant and advisor to scholarship providers. Using expertise in organizational leadership, program management, development, marketing, and communications, she guides clients on strategy, program administration, technology, and stakeholder engagement. Erika has worked in the scholarship industry for ten years and in philanthropy for the entirety of her 20-year career.

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