California State University San Marcos


  • Location: San Marcos, California
  • Organization Type: 4-Year Public
  • Enrollment: 10,600
  • Number of Scholarship Funds: 100

California State University San Marcos was founded in 1989. Although they are a relatively young campus, they are experiencing rapid growth. In the past 10 years, the number of students and donors has doubled, and the endowment has increased exponentially.


While many scholarships were available for students, the entire process was managed using a handwritten paper process. Applications were also completed, reviewed, and awarded using paper. After an award was made, students were required to submit a paper thank-you letter to the stewardship office. The office forwarded the letters directly to the donor. However, the quality of these letters would vary from student to student because there was no thank-you letter format from the stewardship office for them to follow. Because of a lack of digital record keeping, it was difficult to track which donors had and had not received communications within an award cycle.

AcademicWorks Solution

When Mike Hele became Director of Donor Stewardship for the University, the AcademicWorks Solution was in the process of helping the University transition away from this paper process. To maintain and improve donor relationships, the institution wanted a better record of each scholarship fund, the primary donor for each fund, the relationship manager within Development, and the linking account information for finance. To accomplish this, Mike was tasked with compiling, recording and centralizing all of the scholarships on campus. At the time the Financial Aid office and the Stewardship Office each maintained separate databases, the AcademicWorks Solution enabled them to compile and share important information in a comprehensive database.

As each office began inputting scholarship information into AcademicWorks, however, the campus quickly realized that they had data that needed to be corrected. The campus used the implementation period to not only clean up data, but to create a more formalized process and workflow for their scholarship process. After examining their existing process and deciding how they wanted to improve it, they found a way to coordinate the previously separate procedures. Now, Development sets up new scholarship funds when a new donor agreement is created. Financial aid accepts applications and awards students. All student communications go through the Financial Aid office. If Financial Aid has any challenges filling an award, they work with Development to reach out to the donor to loosen the award criteria. Finance then completes the accounting side of awarding the scholarship. With the post-acceptance process through AcademicWorks, the development team has all of the information they need to steward donors. This cross-functional team meets monthly to review outstanding items and funds that they are having difficulty filling. The clear line of Financial Aid communicating with students and Development communicating with donors has been very helpful.

Benefits to Students

Students learn about scholarships through the Financial Aid website. With AcademicWorks, it is much easier for students to apply for and receive funds on campus. Students love that they can see all of the funds on campus in a single website and complete multiple applications at once. The AcademicWorks site is also a great tool to show donors how their funds are almost immediately able for students to use. While the institution is still awarding scholarships throughout the year, they are working to standardize a specific timeline throughout the year when all scholarships are awarded.

Robust Stewardship Efforts

Once a student is awarded, the student is prompted to complete a set of questions before their funds are distributed. These leading questions are intended to be thought-provoking for the student and provide more in-depth and impactful information for the donor.

Questions may include:

  • When did you decide the CSUSM was the university for you?
  • What are your career plans/aspirations?
  • What kind of difference would you like to make when you leave CSUSM?
  • How will this scholarship benefit you?
  • What you want donors who made this scholarship possible for you to know?

When asked about the biggest change on campus because of the implementation of AcademicWorks, Mike says, for him, “It’s the ease of communicating with donors.” Because of AcademicWorks, “I have access to all of the information I need to communicate with donors.” He also has a great toolkit to provide to other development officers when they are in the field building relationships with donors. With the help of AcademicWorks, Mike sent out 125 impact reports for his 125 donor funded scholarships. The transparency and accessibility to information made creating these reports possible.

AcademicWorks is also working on additional functionality to improve the donor stewardship process. Mike exclaims, “I would say AcademicWorks is two years ahead of the curve on improving the donor reporting process. We cannot wait to take advantage of all they have to offer.”