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Scholarship Planning: What worked, what didn’t, and how to move forward.

Many scholarship administrators wear multiple hats. And busy days make it difficult to spend time assessing current workflows. But taking time for assessment and planning can be instrumental in creating strong yet flexible processes that can help the coming years run smoothly and efficiently.

These three basic steps will help you move in the right direction:

1. Identify pain points.

Keep notes. The best way to figure out where the pain points are in your process is to keep a notebook or sharable online document to record frustrations. Remember, if you make no changes to your workflow, those frustrations will reappear each year.

Brainstorm with your calendar. Look through your calendar and brainstorm a list of areas that could use improvement. For instance, if several days are blocked on your calendar to allot point values to students’ GPA, SAT/ACT Scores, and Financial Need, take note. You may be able to use inline evaluation or reporting formulas to speed up the process.

Ask your co-workers. If you haven’t documented your pain points as you experience them, there’s a good chance they have been brought up in conversation with co-workers. Whether in formal meetings, or Zoom venting sessions, your co-worker may remember the things that drove you crazy last scholarship season, even if you don’t.

So, now you have a list of pain points. In my early years of scholarship administration, this is where I ended. Overwhelmed by how hard things can be, I would get busy moving on to the next piece and never use the list to act. Remember, action is where the change happens. A well thought out action is what makes the next cycle smoother.

2. Create action items. Consider the following solutions to alleviate pain points:

Utilize different question types to receive information in a uniform way. If you spend time adjusting high school names that students have entered for an award letter, take time to enter in the names of eligible high schools into an alphabetized drop-down menu. Spending extra time setting up questions to get answers in the format you want could save you hours in correcting applicant input information later. As a bonus, you will easily be able to pull accurate reports using that field.

Add instructions to question groups or individual questions to preemptively answer the most common applicant questions. This can be particularly helpful when asking students financial questions. By including a link to a sample 1040 Tax Form or a Student Aid Report (SAR) highlighting the location of the desired information, you can cut down on inaccurate information and calls to your office.

Remove questions that are not used in award selection. Many application questions are asked out of tradition rather than necessity. For example, are you really using all three letters of recommendation to determine if a student is worthy of a scholarship? Would one letter suffice? If you’re awarding based on GPA and the student essay, do you even need a letter of recommendation? This change may need additional discussion with your team or donors so start the conversation early.

Provide additional information in automated emails to help students and evaluators perform their required tasks with fewer questions. The automated emails within the system have probably already made your life easier, but you can maximize them by providing information about what’s coming next, links to other scholarship providers, helpful hints, and instructions. Don’t forget to add the log-in URL in every email to help students, evaluators, and staff get back into your scholarship site quickly and easily.

3. Take Action. Now that you have identified your pain points and action items, you must TAKE ACTION! Addressing even one or two items on your list will strengthen next season, making it much more fluid.

Schedule time to take action. We all have great intentions when it comes to improvement, but you must remember the value of assessment and action. An hour today could save you 10 hours during your busy season.

Consider who else needs to be involved and in what areas. You probably don’t need to discuss changing a question type with your entire team, but you most likely need to discuss removing a question entirely. Schedule time to address items that need input to appropriate teammates.  

Talk to your Client Success Manager. If you're a Foundant client, schedule time to talk with your CSM about your pain points. They can help you identify some strategic changes in your workflow or use of the site that will create efficiency. They may also be able to show you features you’re not using that will ease the problem or make it disappear completely.

In the world of scholarship management, it’s easy to focus on the immediate. Helping students, families, donors, and board members with their current needs is enough to fill any day. Now include the rapid expansion of these needs from this past year and suddenly it’s much more than just a day's work.  I encourage you to spend time in assessment to care for yourself and create a more enjoyable day-to-day. Never forget that your emails, spreadsheets, meetings and workflows are changing the lives of real people all around you. You are providing a great service to your community and an amazing opportunity to students. Keep up the great work!

Photo by Sam Mgrdichian on Unsplash

About the Author

Born and raised in Bakersfield, California, Alyse has deep roots and strong connections to the nonprofit sector. Having worked 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. Before joining Foundant, Alyse spent three years with the Kern Community Foundation managing their grant and scholarship giving, as well as nonprofit relationships. Alyse joined the Foundant team in 2017 as a Client Success Manager (trainer, consultant, and emergency support provider) for Grants and Scholarships. After training and advising hundreds of clients, she led the Community Foundation Grant/Scholarship Client Services Team. Her passion for community building, professional development, and real-world impact has helped form the service philosophy for Foundant’s Client Success team. Areas of expertise: scholarship and grant process best practices, team building, remote work, and demystifying complex systems to foster accessibility.

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