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Staying Connected with Scholarship Donors
Episode 5923rd May 2022 • Connected Philanthropy • Foundant Technologies
00:00:00 00:32:24

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In this episode, we discuss how to stay connected with your Scholarship Donors, through thank you notes from recipients, donor impact stories, and setting donor expectations. 

Topics:

  1. Having scholarship recipients sending thank you notes to scholarship donors.
  2. Scholarship recipients sharing the impact of scholarships from donors.'
  3. Establishing donor expectations.

Connect with other members of the philanthropic community at Community.foundant.com

Transcripts

Lucy Rosenthal:

Welcome to Connected Philanthropy. In today's episode, we talk about staying connected with scholarship donors. through thank notes from recipients, donor impact stories and setting donor expectations. The first voice we hear is Lauren Rennie, who's joined by Mike deHisler Let's join the discussion.

Lauren Rennie:

I'm Lauren Rennie. I'm a client success manager here at Foundant. Some of you know me from your implementations and all of that. Thank you for being here today. We know there's two sides to the impact that can happen with scholarships. Obviously, the main one is with students, but it can also be incredibly impactful and wonderful for donors to see what their dollars have done and how they've helped these students.

Lauren Rennie:

So today we want to talk about what you're doing to foster those relationships with those wonderful donors and how we help them to understand the impact that it has on the students. With that, I'm going to hand it over to Mike to introduce himself and get us started on our great topics today.

Mike deHisler:

Thank you very much, Lauren. I'm Mike deHistler. I am a client success manager on the community grants and scholarships team and so I'm just curious, so how are you setting expectations with your donors? And, you know, somebody offer us up something to talk about. We've got fund agreements, you know, evaluation, involvement. Are you giving your your donors that are coming in with new new agreements, a new new money, a menu of options for your scholarship applications, or you're letting them kind of craft their own.

Trisha:

Hi, everyone. My name is Trisha Taylor. I'm from the Atmospheric Foundation here in D.C., Canada. We have a funding agreement in place and we actually have two options for our donors for scholarships. One is an annual award where they make the donations every year and can change their requirements for the scholarships annually. And then we also have, of course, our endowment because of COVID.

Trisha:

We actually switched to online evaluations, which has been fabulous, our donors. I think we only have one donor that still makes the paper copies, but the rest we send them a Dropbox link. So everything is still confidential. They can review their applications online and then they have a two week window to provide it back. So we've actually been very thankful and we've actually had the best year in scholarships ever this year.

Trisha:

We're up almost $100,000 in scholarship funds this year, and we had nine new scholarships. So it's been surprisingly a very good year. And it's the second year of very good year.

Jamie:

So, okay, so we definitely have fund agreements, which is pretty standard obviously. And so I guess you could kind of say we have sample agreements that are provided to our scholarship or the individuals who are interested in creating an endowed scholarships through our Mount Pleasant Yearly Community Foundation.

Jamie:

And so really we try to involve them as much as we can. And so here at the foundation, I oversee grants and scholarships obviously. So we always invite them to participate in scholarship review. We have in event it's been a little bit more difficult with COVID, but we used to have an in-person event, so it provided them the opportunity to meet the recipient.

Jamie:

So really we were making that touchpoint for them. And so really we, yeah, I feel like we're we're doing pretty good with setting our donors expectations. But obviously with the impact that COVID is had on our community, it's been a little bit more difficult to make those connections for our donors and in the recipient.

Mike deHisler:

Yeah, it's it's really interesting the impact that certainly I mean, obviously the pandemic has had an impact on students going to school and including college and, you know, and donor outreach as well. And I think maybe it's been an opportunity for scholarship administrators to kind of herd some more people on into online systems and get those efficiencies and hopefully keep them.

Mike deHisler:

But I certainly would be curious to hear more about those those COVID changes and what you'd be keeping or why you wouldn't be keeping those changes. Does anybody else want to talk about maybe, you know, how evaluations, you know, have have changed or how or what you're doing with your evaluation committees and how you're setting those expectations around around that activity?

Hailey Brazier:

Hi there. I'm Hailey Brazier. I'm at Central Carolina Community Foundation in Columbia, South Carolina. And we do offer whenever we're in discussions with our donors we do offer them if they'd like to have one spot on our evaluation committee. We do offer that. And I learned I'm new here and I learned after talking to a new scholarship, we kind of we're very fast and loose about, you know, oh, yeah, y'all can have a couple of people on.

Hailey Brazier:

We're always recruiting people and all of that. And then they came back months later saying, oh, yes, we would like to add two people to the committee. We would like this and this and this based on our conversation and so I think your point about setting expectations is, is a good one, because really what we try to do is we don't have a lot of donor involvement on the evaluation side, but those who wish can.

Hailey Brazier:

But we really only want one person represent representing that particular scholarship. And then because we have two people review, at least two people review each application. So we would want one person from the donor, but then someone else because we don't want the donor to hand select the individuals who are going to become the scholarship. So we had to have kind of a conversation about about them having two people on, only one of them would be reviewing those applications and then the other would just be a general volunteer.

Hailey Brazier:

So that was a lesson learned.

Lauren Rennie:

Imagine that during that all of you were going through a whole range of emotions as we have all dealt with that with the excessive donor control issue. So I, I have a, in my imagination what everybody's face is really throughout that. So thank you so much for sharing that because that is not a problem unique to you and your foundation.

Lauren Rennie:

So it's everybody deals with that.

Mike deHisler:

What are IRS regulations? That can't possibly? Okay. Yeah. Now that's a really important point.

Mike deHisler:

Thank you.

Lauren Rennie:

Anybody have any other ways that they're helping donors to understand that aspect of it?

Trisha:

For our donors, we actually have part of our agreements that they can't discriminate based on gender, ethnicity. And so when they create their scholarship requirements, we actually go over with them to analyze. For that, they can make a preference towards, say, a female, but it's open to all candidates is how they do it is how we word it.

Trisha:

And most of our well, probably 90% of our donors, we haven't actually had any pushback on that. If anything, the breadth of our scholarship has been increasing and there's been a shift towards more trade scholarships, which is lovely. And we I don't know if it hit the news there, but we had some significant flooding here in Abbotsford. They're saying up to $3 billion worth of damage if all the bikes are over our one of our valleys was underwater for about three weeks.

Trisha:

So we've had a lot of shifting because some of our schools were affected as well. And many of our donors were as well. So it's been an intriguing year. So we've also, when we're communicating with donors, have to be aware of any changes in our economy. And our community. So it's been definitely a a shifting focus. But we've been lucky in that even despite all the the tragedy and luckily no loss of life, that we've been able to sort of come together as a community and still be able to offer the scholarships and that hope for the students for in this hard times.

Mike deHisler:

That's amazing to hear. Thank you for sharing. Yeah. All the best to you and your community. You know, I'm starting to hear more about, you know, how you're helping them formulate their application specifically as anybody else have, you know, thoughts on this kind of menu of options, or are you still letting donors have the application that they want?

Mike deHisler:

You know, either in SLM, you know, with with you, it would be a little bit trickier to do that, of course. But how is that evolving for you all?

Rachel Watikins:

We actually have I truly have enjoyed having of the universal process available because I feel like it's been a nice way to just kind of take super customized application off the table with most of our donors. So sharing with them what that looks like and then giving them the option to customize as a few little pieces of it, like what the essay prompt would be, or if they want to have letters of recommendation, that kind of thing, but that the majority of the application is already predetermined by our process has helped streamline those conversations hugely from where we were before, where we started from scratch with everyone.

Rachel Watikins:

And so every application was a little bit different when I came to the foundation in 20, 15. My biggest first push right away was just to do away with that, even though we were still in paper format way back when. But, you know, having the UI available has really streamlined that conversation. So I don't even go there with donors anymore.

Rachel Watikins:

You know, a pass to the essay or past letters of recommendation, I don't even bring up that. That might be a possibility just because we have this available and it's built in. It is what it is.

Darah:

So yeah, I just echo, I think what Rachel just said. SInce this. This is our third year with the UA and since then we haven't even given people that option to have another application, which has been really nice. But now we're also realizing kind of back to the previous conversation how much all the options with criteria is making it the world's longest way, or at least it feels that way.

Darah:

It's like it.

Darah:

So now that everything's together in one, it can you can kind of really see how cumbersome it is in some ways that we are. There are so many different options. So that's kind of our next move is to then streamline. But yeah, donors for the most part have seemed fine with just you get your special essay question and that's your place to, you know, have your customization all right.

Lauren Rennie:

So I'm going to start talking about this impact reporting as we see here. So we talked about, you know, how do we set expectations with donors? And now we want to talk about the other side of how do we use what we gather from the students to help the donors to understand that their dollars are going towards because of being used in an impactful way?

Lauren Rennie:

What really cool thing are you doing that we don't have listed here, too? So I would love to hear kind of about unique ways that you're using the software because as we all know, that you can use the software in a million different ways. So I'm excited to kind of hear about that. All right. I'm very interested to see.

Lauren Rennie:

Let's talk about that first one, the annual report. We're going have a battle of the annual reports among everybody since we are split. So who wants to take the pro and who wants taken? Just kidding. This is a loving space. So anyone want to share why they do or why they don't do annual reporting with scholarships? If they find it impactful, don't find it impactful.

Jamie:

So our approach with scholarships within our annual report, we don't do a massive impact report when it comes to our scholarships, but we do highlight those in our annual report. So we kind of take the middle ground here but I still wanted to to touch on that, that we do at least highlight the scholarship impact. And obviously the students that we have to the donor part of it, donor aspect.

Jamie:

And then also the recipient aspect of it reported in our annual report along with everything else that we do in our annual report. So.

Lauren Rennie:

Excellent. Thank you.

Mia:

Hi. My name is Mia. We have one school that we specifically work with that we host all of their scholarships for. And then then we have ones just for the community. So for our community ones, we highlight each award winner and we put them in our newsletter for usually it's our fall newsletter. And then of course we highlight them and we don't highlight them individually, like with pictures and stuff in the annual parade, but all the names are listed and then we usually choose one scholarship to talk more about, like talking about why the scholarship started and then highlight maybe one of the recipients from the past year and you know, what they're doing in their

Mia:

career and our college and things like that with our word recipients because we have 425 awards we're unable to do just list all of them. But what we do is when students submit their claim for their award, we actually request them to provide us a picture of them with their notification letter and then we post it on our social media and our we've actually and just like Instagram, Facebook, such like that, and our reach has, I think we had an extra 10,000 followers from it and the kids love seeing themselves kids the students love seeing themselves on social media highlighting what they do, the donors love it.

Mia:

And then because our youth haven't been able to meet the donors in person, so we do offer donors a chance to actually present their awards. So because they haven't been able to we offered it to the donors to provide either a short video or a note that we send off to the students. And so that way they had that chance of being able to sort of highlight and thank the students, which again we've been finding is quite impactful.

Lauren Rennie:

I love that. I absolutely love that. That falls under the cool new thing that we haven't even thought about because I it's I think very commonly that we asked the student to provide a thank you note, the student to provide the picture, which is really wonderful. But I haven't ever heard of anybody going the other way and also having the donor do that.

Lauren Rennie:

That's really, really cool. I love that. Thank you so much for sharing Anybody else using social media? Because, I mean, they are on it. I don't understand half of it, but I'm I'm there. I try it. Give it the old college try. I tried Snapchat for about 5 seconds and it overwhelmed me, and I never, ever went back So is anybody else using social media for this kind of outreach, either to the donor or to the student or to highlight the student?

Jamie:

So we actually we do use social media. We only at the at our foundation, we have Facebook and Instagram. We don't have Twitter, we don't have TikTok. We do not have Snapchat. Although we might have Snapchat. I'm not sure we don't use it in scholarship. But regardless, we we have realized that the students that we are trying to reach out to are not on Facebook.

Jamie:

They're not more so they're on Instagram, but they're not really, you know, following us on Instagram and all that fun stuff. And so we have really started to target more so of the parents when it comes to our social media. However, we have been reaching out like we utilize we have our youth advisory committee here at the Foundation.

Jamie:

And so we actually I've asked them multiple times, okay, what do you guys use for social media if you don't use Facebook? And right now, the biggest thing is Tik Tok or Instagram. And so at least we have one of those two channels covered. But I am curious to know if there's anyone is there any other like software that we should at least look at?

Jamie:

I just feel like it's always constantly changing. And yeah, I just want me being me. I just want like something stable that we can keep using for the next ten years. I know that's not not going to happen.

Lauren Rennie:

Yeah. No, I think that's great. It is constantly changing. I also have never been on TikTok, I'm sure get my six year old niece to show me how to use it.

Kelly:

I actually had a question to see what everyone was doing around thank you notes from the students to the donors I'm at. Like I said, I'm new at our foundation and but I've heard stories that it's just a very cumbersome project every year that I think our interns typically do. But I wanted to probably take a big role in that.

Kelly:

And we're new to SLM as well. So I wanted to kind of get an idea of what's the what are some of the ways that people have taken the will ask and the follow up question. Basically, write your thank you note, provide a picture is what we do. So what's the best way to get that from SLM? To to the donor?

Kelly:

So what we actually do, we are we have a pretty small community foundation here. So we actually have our the past few years, it's been an optional for the thank you notes, but we did require like one or the other. So they either had to do a thank you note or thank you video. So with our thank you notes, we had the students they had to in the past, they had to fill out a scholarship payment form and they had to mail that back to us.

Kelly:

So with that, we always received the thank you notes. And what we would then do is we would mail it to our donor. And so, yes, it's cumbersome on us, but our donors loved that piece from us, which is we are we're going to be bringing it back again this year. But it's a little cumbersome. But we do have the thank you notes being delivered here to the foundation and then we then, you know, we put it in an envelope, we stamp it, and then we send it on.

Kelly:

We also do I don't know if this is something because I know you mentioned your newer we do review the thank you note just because sometimes they can, you know, misspell maybe it's a memorial scholarship and they've misspelled the name or just we do review it. We don't make any changes. But if it's absolutely no, we cannot send it, we will contact a student and let them know and just ask them to resubmit something.

Kelly:

But we do. It's a cumbersome I will absolutely say that. But it's something that our donors love in. So we want to make sure that we're obviously keeping them happy along with our recipient.

Lauren Rennie:

So you know, when I started at the foundation 12 ish years ago, we did all the handwritten thank you notes as well, you know, passing them along to the donors. We had it baked into the agreement that they had to send a thank you note knowing that, you know, we'll see what we get, that kind of thing. So it is impactful yet cumbersome.

Lauren Rennie:

So so thank you for sharing. I think I see we've got I think a couple of raised here. So let's kind of go down the list. Keep sharing. This is great.

Rachel Watikins:

I was going to share we actually this is one of our covered changes that we made not specifically related to thank you is because we don't push that. If we get them we will for them along but we make you know 500 awards every year. So that would just be super cumbersome to us to have to do if we required it from everyone.

Rachel Watikins:

But what we have done related to COVID is ask the students to upload a headshot and also a brief blurb about their career and academic goals. And from there we actually created like a little one shaped insert thing for each scholarship fund so that each scholarship fund holder receives not only our scholarship brochure that lists all of the awards, but then also receives headshots and personalized information about each of their recipients.

Rachel Watikins:

And that was in place of our annual reception where we hosted folks for a couple of years, obviously due to COVID. But we have determined that we're going to continue making this piece and sending it every year because it was so well received by the donors. They loved receiving the headshots specifically from the kids.

Lauren Rennie:

Absolutely. That's really neat. I like that. I think that's a great idea. Yeah. Pictures just head to make it a little bit more personal. Thank you. It's our fantastic. But the information about the suit is fantastic. But including the picture, really, it's I mean, we could see the face of what? Of the suit that we're impacting. So that's really neat.

Lauren Rennie:

I love that. Thank you for sharing. All right. Let's go on to the next raised hand.

Rachel Watikins:

So I knew I just started in August as the program coordinator. So scholarships and grants, and we've always required handwritten thank yous. And we're going to continue doing that. Because quality of the message is a little bit better just in conversations with the kids, even the quality of what they handwrite because they put some time into thinking about it versus that email that they send but I did make the follow up.

Rachel Watikins:

So the follow up or other things, you know, is just that they complete the thank you note and send it to us by a day earlier. Than when their first their first semester bill and things are due to us so that, hey, make sure you get that in the mail so that I can have that checked off before we'll send your check.

Rachel Watikins:

Our donors really, really like having that think, you know, and I do think that's important, especially for some of these kids that end up getting quite a bit of money like that. Thinking it's just really important.

Lauren Rennie:

Is anybody having them handwrite a thank you note and upload it to the follow up? If you save the system in that way instead of the because I know we've talked about it's very cumbersome and it's not that it can easily be shared stuff to print it out but.

Jocelyn:

I think you I'm Jocelyn Real. I work at the Quad Cities Community Foundation. My role is donor engagement and storage app. And I just wanted to share with you that one of the ways that we make sure thank you's are written is that when students log into SLM to confirm where their payments are going to their school, there's a required field that is that is there for the use.

Jocelyn:

They cannot exit out of that without writing a thank you. And Lauren, related to your question about handwritten thank you notes, I would just share that my experience is that's great information to expert with the ability to edit it, partly because some of our students receive multiple awards. So they might be thanking the wrong donor and partly because for the donors good feelings, I go through and corrects typos and capitalized sentences and stuff like that.

Jocelyn:

I don't change the contents of the student's message, but I am careful to make sure that the donor is like, you know, some of our some of our donors are pretty old school. And that feeling of how did this kid even get into college?

Trisha:

Was something that I heard some feedback on. And so so I do make that change. So the way that we do that then in terms of engaging the donor with the students information, when the students are awarded, we send very similar to another speaker. A few minutes ago, we sent their essay and a photo. We make sure that the donors and the scholars have the story of either the scholars background or the background for why the fund was founded and then a back to school time when those students do log in to get that school information and they fill out.

Jocelyn:

I required thank you field. That gives me an opportunity for a second touch so I say, okay, it's back to school. It's August. Your your scholar is leaving home and going off on their journey. Here is a thank you note from them. And once again, here's that photo. They are fridge worthy, which is like my favorite thing. So the donors really appreciate those and Slim makes that really, really easy for me.

Jocelyn:

You achieve those touches without having to be an expert in that product because I am not on the grantmaking team, so I'm definitely not an expert that's big.

Lauren Rennie:

Thank you so much. Yeah, no, that's wonderful. That's really great, Rachel. I like that a lot. If I love the fridge worthy picture that just that makes me happy.

Kelly:

So I just sign in the chat that somebody also kind of use. It utilizes the same process, but we send out an award letter in June and ask the student to send back a thank you note to the donor and do that kind of cumbersome process that everybody talks about. It's a little bit of a slower time for us in the summer, so it allows us to kind of take the time to make that personal touch with a donor or committee member, whomever.

Kelly:

And then at follow up time, which is typically for us at the end of December, beginning of January, we asked them in their follow up form to submit a thank you if they haven't done so already or share a success story of their first year or their first semester in college. And then at that time they can also upload a photo and they give us permission to share within.

Kelly:

So our social media as well at that time. So I have utilized reporting to export that information out of the follow up form and also then kind of make it into a word document kind of template and send it off to the donor as well kind of feel like more touches the better so.

Lauren Rennie:

That those are all such good ideas. I love all of that and I thought like a few like kind of like keep an eye on the chat too. So lots of photos, a few videos. So which I feel like I would want to gather for my own entertainment because those have got to be so much fun to watch.

Lauren Rennie:

From applicants like I would absolutely could be fun. Could be a little disastrous sometimes, as you know, talking about, you know, the grammar sometimes that you're mixing. So be interesting with the videos. Is anybody doing anything with videos or do a lot more videos? Because we've seen, you know, they take a lot of space, so maybe not an upload, but asking them to put it on YouTube or something like that shared do a URL question on question, type on the follow up form is how who's doing videos.

Lauren Rennie:

Let's talk about that mostly just I just want to see all your videos. So we feel like some of my my recipients are pretty hilarious and it would have been funny to capture that in video form.

Jamie:

Yeah. So we the past two years, I think I've already mentioned it. We do. We've been asking the students to upload a thank you video. So they do this, they send it to me. And so it can kind of be a long process, but we love it because we can highlight them on our social media. But also we have you know, we have a pretty small handful of scholarship fund founders.

Jamie:

Sorry, that are not on like I think we have maybe eight and the rest of them are all like we have emails for them or something. So what we would do is we would just shoot these videos over to the donors to let them know, hey, like here's, you know, a really a great thank you. The videos some of them are absolutely hilarious.

Jamie:

Like we had one student who ended up going to Harvard and she submitted the wrong video in just the it was it was fantastic. So it definitely made for a pretty good, laughable moment here at the foundation that day. But yeah, so it's, you know, something that we're still going to offer is the videos. They do take up some space, but we just have them sent to us and then we will upload them.

Jamie:

Last year, we did upload them, I believe, to our YouTube channel and so we kind of just have like a playlist that we were able to use in. So for our virtual celebration that we ended up having so it was it, it built the thank you videos were great because we could use them in multiple different aspects.

Lauren Rennie:

So yeah, cool I like that you use them during your virtual like your virtual event. That's really great idea. That's super neat. And I mean, I had students upload their homework instead of their transcripts I can only imagine getting their own video would be even more hilarious if you could even like on the form, ask them if they want to upload a video and use a branch for that.

Lauren Rennie:

And if they say yes, use that URL so you're not taking up space. They're just providing the link to the video that they created on YouTube. You like that? Something to think about with all this conversation? Oh, go.

Jamie:

Ahead. Oh, sorry. Oh, no. I just wanted I because I remember we do provide prompts for them. So if that is something that you're looking at doing, I mean, we had a follow up that was created in the asylum where it just like explained like what we were looking for with the videos. So if you are anyone on this call ever thinking of doing videos, 100%, make sure you provide prompts because they're not going to know what they're talking about.

Jamie:

And we also like ask them to keep it, you know, quick, don't go over, you know like a minute was really what we were looking for, mainly because we just wanted to make sure that they didn't just go off on a tangent, but most of the kids did pretty good with the prompts. And so if you are thinking of doing it 100%, make sure you have just some talking points or things that one thing we learned the first year, don't tell them what not to say because nine times out of ten they're going to say what you tell them not to say.

Jamie:

So that just give them prompts and what they can say.

Lauren Rennie:

Very good advice. I know if somebody asked me to do a video, it would be awkward and too long if I was not provided with any prompts because I just will keep talking as I'm sure you've got has you guys are picked up on today, so excellent. So this has been a really incredible conversation, especially on the follow ups in the pictures and then make you notes would be really awesome.

Lauren Rennie:

Encompass definitely encourage you to continue this conversation or share like Jamie if you'd be able to share in those prompts, things like that. That would be awesome because I think a lot of our clients and a lot of scholarship providers could really benefit from this conversation to those who are able to join us today. Thank you so much for sharing it.

Lauren Rennie:

Really appreciate everybody being open and helping us with this discussion and share because scholarship providers, they don't get to talk to each other very often, especially in these pandemic times. So this has been fantastic. I appreciate your time. I appreciate all of your insights and I hope you all have a wonderful day by everybody.

Mike deHisler:

Everyone, take care.

Lucy Rosenthal:

And that was our discussion. New episodes of Connected Philanthropy released every other Monday, so be sure to subscribe if you'd like to hear more conversations like this. Join with other members of the philanthropic community, a community that founded dot com from all of us here founded. Thank you for connecting.