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Students as Changemakers: One Scholarship Approach to Creating Resilient Programming

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 is the final post in a three-part series that highlights lessons learned and promising practices.

Triangle Community Foundation (TCF) already had multiple student-centric initiatives in its program development pipeline when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. As its scholars began evacuating college campuses and started incurring unexpected expenses for travel home, immediate housing needs, and more, TCF fast-tracked the launch of its Student Assistance Fund to provide students with a much-needed cash infusion. TCF’s team worked diligently with their staff, board members, and donors to implement the Fund three years ahead of schedule, and learned a great deal about how to work with organizational leaders and supporters to create responsive, resilient strategies that are in students’ best interests.

Watch the webinar Foundant recently hosted with TCF and other scholarship providers to hear more about their experiences, and read on for a high-level summary of resilience practices they employed.

Focus on Students

All of TCF’s stakeholders care deeply about students and their successes. When speaking with executives and donors, TCF’s Senior Scholarships and Education Officer, Sarah Battersby, said, “You want to help students. We want to help students. How can we do it together?” Regularly revisiting organizational and programmatic intent helped maintain focus on scholars and ways TCF could help.

Collect and Share Stories, Data

The TCF team discovered that leadership is highly motivated by real-time information. Staff shared both quantitative and qualitative data about individual scholars, as well as about the collective group of students. This information helped to make the case for--and generated excitement about--creating programming that better responds to student needs. Using application and follow-up form fields such as GPA, extra-curricular involvement, and leadership experiences, they were able to describe how accomplished students had been and how much promise they held. TCF staff also tracked average financial need and compiled responses to questions about financial circumstances. They used all of this data to create at-a-glance views of scholars’ situations, as well as documents and presentations to illustrate the importance of interventions like the Student Assistance Fund.

Involve Students Directly 

TCF has long involved scholarship recipients in meetings with organizational leaders and donors. Battersby describes this as a vital donor engagement strategy that has aided her team in building donor support for proposed initiatives and ideas. Both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, members of TCF’s Scholarship Recipient Advisory Committee joined board and committee meetings virtually, recounting their own experiences and describing issues among the broader student community. In advance of meetings with executives and donors, the TCF staff prepares students to share their stories, encouraging them to be open and honest. During the pandemic, TCF began compensating Committee members with a small stipend for providing the Scholarship Team with guidance and decision-making advice about student-centric issues.

Making Your Program More Student-Centric

Want to ensure that your stakeholders have students’ best interests in mind? Consider using one or more of TCF’s tried and tested tactics:

  • Regularly remind staff, board members, and donors of your collective mission, vision, and values.
  • When creating forms and communicating with students, collect information about demographics, academics, involvement, leadership, and financial circumstances that will help motivate your stakeholders to make meaningful change.
  • Create reports that list individual and aggregate data that can be used for storytelling.
  • Invite scholars to tell their own stories during board and donor meetings.
  • Invite your scholars to be advisors on program and organizational priorities.

Learn More

Read the first two blogs in the series for more practical advice from fellow scholarship providers:

Also watch a recent educational webinar,  Increasing Access for All Students through Data-Driven Practicesco-hosted by National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA) and Foundant Technologies (click the link in the slide deck to access the video recording). 

About the Author

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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