Problem: Paper Application Process
Hamilton Community Foundation, in Hamilton, OH has been using a paper-based scholarship program since its first award in 1954. As the Foundation and the community it served grew, so did the problems associated with paper applications.
The paper process shortcomings really came to light on application deadline dates. High school students were often unable to get their applications into the office on time. In some cases, school counselors ran into the foundation office at the closing hour to ensure that their students’ applications were received.
Once the paper applications arrived, a team of volunteers and staff was required to copy applications and create binders for reviewers. Reviewers then had to juggle multiple binders during review.
“Donors within the community have the money to give, and we have a large population of students who need the money,” says Katie Braswell, Vice President. “We needed a tool to help us better connect these two groups.” Braswell wanted a scholarship technology that would make the application process easier for students and reviewers.
The AcademicWorks Solution
Braswell chose AcademicWorks because of its functionality and value. She particularly liked the easy application process for students, the review process, profiles to highlight donors, and the ability to export information to their foundation management software.
“AcademicWorks is easy to work with and very thorough as they helped us move from paper to online,” said Braswell. “It was important to fully complete the worksheets provided by AcademicWorks during the implementation process,” continued Braswell. “The details they ask for were very helpful in the migration process.”
“Students now go to one website to apply for all scholarships,” said Braswell. The applicant selects whether they are a high school senior, current college student, or non-traditional student. This selection prompts additional relevant application questions. The system automatically matches them to all the scholarships for which they qualify.
Once applications are received through AcademicWorks, reviewers log-in to review online. Reviewers are set up to view and score all of the eligible students for a particular scholarship and provide final scores back to Braswell. She then makes the final awarding decision after verifying each student’s qualifications.
Students receive notification of their awards through emails sent from AcademicWorks. When students log-in to accept their award, they are prompted to submit their thank-you letter to the donor, a photo, and RSVP for a donor reception.
Once the awards have been made, all donors receive an information packet about their scholarship’s recipients from the Foundation. “We include a select set of answers from the applicant’s submitted application, a thank-you letter, and a photo,” says Braswell. All of this is compiled and sent to donors at least two weeks before the scholarship reception.
Results: More Applications, Better Donor Communication
In the first year with AcademicWorks, the Foundation saw an increase in applications, so in their second year, they added some 20 reviewers to help with the workload. “We did not lose any reviewers when we moved to an online review process,” says Braswell.
The new process is easy for students because they no longer have to submit a separate application for each scholarship. The process is also much easier for high school counselors to support students who are applying. “Since we made the switch to AcademicWorks, I have received fewer questions from counselors and students than in years past,” noted Braswell.
The reviewing process is also running smoothly, and the reviewers love the ability to review scholarship applications from anywhere without the need to lug around paper scholarship applications. Braswell is particularly fond of the “Set Communications and Reminders” features that are available in AcademicWorks since it frees her from worrying about having to remind students and reviewers of deadline dates.
Donor stewardship has also benefited from the tools offered in the AcademicWorks platform. For instance, it is very important to the Foundation to get information to donors quickly. “Because it is a small community, announcements made by students on social media sometimes made it to the donors before the Foundation’s,” says Braswell. “With AcademicWorks, that no longer happens.” Donors also appreciate the ability to see all the scholarships and donor profiles in a single location.
Best Practices in Promoting Scholarships from Hamilton Community Foundation
While school counselors know to direct students to the website to apply for scholarships, the foundation still mails information to the homes of high school seniors when possible. They want to inform as many students and their parents as possible about scholarship opportunities.
The foundation hosts many informational sessions for high school students and parents throughout the year. This includes FAFSA Informational sessions where the Foundation brings in an outside consultant to help students and parents complete the FASFA in the school. The consultant is also available to help them understand their financial aid packages once they receive them from their college or university. During these events, the foundation makes sure to promote their scholarship website.
Simplify Scholarship Management
Braswell highly recommends AcademicWorks to other community foundations looking to upgrade their scholarship process. “AcademicWorks listens to their clients and makes improvements that will help their customers succeed.”
AcademicWorks continues to transform the way the Hamilton Community Foundation manages their scholarships. Please contact us to see how we can assist your organization.