Associations exploring scholarships for emerging talent

For many associations, scholarships are a way to create the next generation of members, serving as an entry point for people just entering the field that will define their career.

And for associations working in a niche area, offering a scholarship to potential candidates can expose them to an area they might not otherwise have considered. For example, the American Association of Candy Technologists offer a scholarship for those interested in the field of confectionery.

Jackie Bright, executive director of the National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA), said scholarships are often valuable to both the recipient and the organization providing them.

“As the cost of attendance continues to rise, scholarships are a crucial element in bridging financial gaps and/or removing barriers to student access,” she said. “Therefore, by providing scholarships and recruiting strategically, they can play an important role in raising awareness in organizations and professional sectors.”

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If you have decided to start a scholarship, you will want to make sure that it can meet the needs of your organization and the beneficiaries.

In a article published on the ASAE website last fall, Erica Orsulak, special projects consultant for NSPA, remarked that it was important to consider the intent of the scholarship program as a whole.

“This will determine which students to support and how best to support them,” Orsulak wrote. “It will also help define the specifics of the program, such as the resources needed, the activities to be pursued and the potential benefits for the beneficiaries.”

Orsulak goes on to explain the different parts that go into administering a scholarship, including recruiting, creating an application process that gathers the right kind of data, creating a selection process that reflects the program intent and rewards offering that impact program objectives.

“There are a lot of variables that students consider, ranging from award amount, selection criteria, ease of application, and timing of the award,” Bright added. “The renewable scholarships are particularly attractive for students.

Offer “soft” benefits

While a financial reward is appreciated by the target audience, there are other ways to achieve the dual goals of supporting emerging talent and deepening the path to membership. It takes time to develop additional resources that meet the needs of potential members, but it can be an effective way to keep the conversation going after student scholarships are awarded.

“We find that scholarships that provide students with additional avenues to receive support, whether through networking or industry connections, can be powerful parts of the higher education equation that drives to student success,” said Bright.

Another way to bolster scholarship benefits is to create alumni groups for scholarship recipients, which Bright says can help build industry engagement.

Other ideas from Bright include:

  • Mentoring programs between active members and laureates
  • Free association membership for winners
  • Invitations or recognitions at organizational events
  • Student job fairs

All of these initiatives help establish Fellows as the future of the field and anchor them in the world of your association. Another way to cultivate the next generation of members is to add a level of membership that prioritizes the needs of people emerging in the field. While not all scholarship recipients are young, many will be, and finding ways to grow membership with them in mind is another way to cultivate the next generation, whether or not they have won a scholarship. After all, people who have received a scholarship have a concrete reason to maintain a relationship with your association, but you cannot offer a scholarship to everyone.

Pitfalls to consider

While scholarships are valuable resources for students, as well as a way to avoid some of the pain of student loans, they can create unexpected headaches in the form of scholarship taxes.

As the Scholarship America website explains, scholarships that go toward living, travel, and research expenses may be taxed under U.S. law. Although there are some exceptions, such as in health, this can cause difficulties for students who did not expect their scholarships to be taxed.

“These consequences are most glaring for the student: when more of their scholarship funds go to taxes, they have less to pay for their education,” writer Matt Konrad explained. “To make matters worse, most federal financial aid calculations are based on the pre-tax value of the scholarship, which means they risk missing out on aid when they can least afford it.”

Another consideration is accountability in the process, to ensure that the rules of the scholarship program are followed.

“Associations that offer scholarships must also adhere to the highest ethical standards,” Orsulak wrote. “In particular, ensure ethical conduct in the areas of collection and protection of student information, conflict of interest, bias, fairness and selection. Also document policies, procedures, and examples of exceptions to these rules.

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