Donors are the lifeblood of an institution’s scholarship program. Their generosity can change the path of students’ lives—whether the award they fund enables students to go to college, or helps them graduate with a smaller debt load. In short, scholarship donors are #awesome.
Keep Your Scholarship Donors Engaged—You May Reap Extra Benefits
Keeping donors engaged, and creating a donor-friendly culture that attracts new philanthropists, are vital but ongoing efforts. Scholarship offices, and schools in general, need to help donors feel connected to the school and students they serve. They also must feel confident that their funds are being used appropriately and awarded fairly.
5 Tips to Drive Engagement Among Scholarship Donors
There are efforts both systemic and small that can help your school become—and remain—donor-friendly for generations to come. Ken Downs, at The University of Arizona (UA), says his institution has had great success in keeping donors engaged. He offers these suggestions:
- Keep donors informed. If you aren’t already sending out a donors’ report, start doing so. If you are, take a look at the contents. Is it simply reporting names and numbers? In other words, is it boring? If so, give it a makeover. Make it eye-catching, easy-to-read—and most importantly, tell inspirational stories of students who donors have helped.
- Engage alumni. Former students often want to help current students. Are you reaching out to them? It pays to maintain that relationship: A Council for Advancement and Support of Education study showed community colleges experience an increase in giving when they track and engage alumni.
- Get students to apply. Donors deserve to know that their money is going to the right people. The larger the pool of applicants, the more likely it is that the right student will receive that donor’s funds. How do you increase the applicant pool? Publicize awards vigorously. Make sure each student is fully aware of relevant institutional scholarship opportunities. Make it easy to apply, too. Students are time-strapped, so simple, intuitive applications can make the difference between them applying or not. Even better, use a system that automatically matches students to opportunities for which they are qualified.
- Be fair. Donors are entrusting you to award their money fairly. Be as unbiased as possible in your process. Opening up the pool of applicants, as described above, is a great first step in this process. Make sure you establish policies that ensure review committees make decisions in a fair and ethical manner, too. Be transparent about your process—it both demonstrates, and encourages, fairness.
- A simple thank-you goes a long way. Donors who feel connected with students are more likely to continue giving. Something as small as a note can facilitate that connection. In fact, UA is not alone in this practice, Downs says. Barton College doesn’t even release award funds until a student sends a thank you. And St. John’s University told Inside Higher Ed that some donors give more after receiving a personal thank-you note. Encouraging award recipients to send a personal thank-you note to donors is a small but powerful way to drive home how their dollars are changing lives.