Planning for a Universal Application Move

Have you ever seen a college student moving home after a year in a dorm or apartment? Complete and utter chaos is not an overstatement. The rush of finishing finals, squeezing in time with friends, and a tight moving timeline usually means there’s little to no preparation involved. They collect some boxes and bins and toss in everything they own to transport back to mom and dad’s. Once back home, the most needed items get unpacked. Clothes and linens head to the wash, some gifts from friends transition to a bedroom shelf, and their laptop reclaims its place on their old desk.

Somehow, there are still 3 full boxes of stuff to stash in the closet. What’s in here? Is it important? Will they tear up their room at the start of next term looking for it? Will they miss the opportunity for an amazing Fall internship because a business card is stuck in a notebook... in a box... in the closet, never again to see the light of day? More importantly… Why am I talking about college students moving habits when I should be telling you about transitioning a scholarship program to a Universal Application?

Be a Hero in Student Stories

Moving is moving is moving. 

Moving a college student, moving a family, moving jobs, and moving a scholarship program into a new era all have the same basic components. If forgotten, you’re left with stress on the other end that could have been avoided, or at least planned for. Any successful move requires three main elements: Take Stock, Make Plans and Communicate, and Get Others Involved.

Taking Stock 
Getting to know your scholarship funds in preparation for a universal application is probably more in-depth than what you have to remind yourself of on an annual basis. You’ll need to look at the different applications, requirements for each award, possibly review decades-old establishing documents, and dig into the fund advisor/donor information. 

Assuming you’ve already looked at the applications and believe you can get the donor what they need through a Universal Application and a few supplemental questions, it’s time to dig into those establishing documents and notes on the fundholder. Here’s what you’re looking for:

  • Is the application tied to establishing documents that will need a Board action to change? 
  • What information will be important to them as you work to win them over? 
  • Who is best talked to in a group and who will need a one-on-one, in-person conversation?

Make Plans and Communicate
Once you know who you’re dealing with, you have to craft your narrative. Every donor and stakeholder will want to know why you are making the move to a Universal Application. It’s important to have a clear and consistent answer. This mix of data and storytelling (your narrative) should be drilled into everyone at your organization. If you speak with one voice, you will be more effective in your communication. 

Here are some questions to get you started and some tips on first steps:  

  • Is the change for ease of administration? Pull some data about processing time and committee management from past years and convert those hours into dollars. 
  • Does the change create a benefit for students? Interview one of your students from last year about how much time they spent applying for scholarships. I believe you’ll find that it became a part-time job for your students that Spring. 
  • Will it help donors find the students they want to fund? Provide comparison numbers for one fund of the actual number of submitted, qualified applicants from last year and those who submitted an application with you that would have met their criteria. 

Once you have some facts in place, it’s time to start building stories around them to make them easier to identify with. Need some help coming up with a narrative for donors, students, and other stakeholders? Check out How Universal Application Helps Create Super Scholarship Programs.

How Universal Application Helps Create Super Scholarship Programs

Don’t forget, the more you can tell people what to expect, the more likely they will be to feel at ease with the change. Provide a timeline of the year’s scholarship events. It may not have changed from years past, but it will help set their minds at ease that you have a plan.

Get Others Involved
When transitioning your scholarship program to a Universal Application, you will probably be taking on several, if not all, of the following types of activities:

One-on-One Donor Meetings: Whether at a pre-scheduled quarterly fund statement review or a last-minute glass of wine after work, having a conversation covering why, how and when can go a long way towards turning your donor into a promoter. 

Small Group Meetings: Once you have a few donor champions, including them in groups of like funding scholarship holders to discuss the change that the Foundation is making can make your rollout go more smoothly. Providing a printed mock-up of the application and some of the benefits of the change can be a great take away. If you’re accepting feedback on the application, be sure to include a deadline for this feedback that is tied to your go-live date for applicants. 

Public Announcement: Draft a press release to highlight the new way you’re working and how it will benefit students. In some areas, a press conference or announcement at a well attended public meeting with a showing of student and donor support could also be beneficial. 

I don’t know anyone who’s idea of a fun weekend is moving. Whether moving homes, moving jobs, or transitioning programs there’s a lot of work involved. Don’t be the crazed college student. Schedule time to go through each of the three steps: Take Stock, Make Plans and Communicate, and Get Others Involved. You’ll be glad you did. 

About the Author

Alyse Braaten

Alyse has been working in the field of college access and scholarships for over 10 years with a focus on students residing in California’s Central Valley. She believes in the power of scholarships to uplift students, families, and communities. Born and raised in Bakersfield, California, she has deep roots and strong connections to the nonprofit sector. Before joining Foundant, Alyse spent three years with the Kern Community Foundation as they transitioned from limited paper-based scholarships to extensive online scholarship portfolio through Foundant. This exceptional experience allowed Alyse to work directly with students and school staff prior to application, build relationships with donors and community volunteers during selection and follow-up, and support awarded students throughout their college career; maintaining awareness of the entire path of success.

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