Top Problems with Student Awards in Higher Education

November 16, 2017 Charlie Davenport

The ability to provide student awards, scholarships, bursaries, and prizes is an important element to attracting and retaining top talent and international students. While awards are important, the process of administering them is rather complex and leading to some big problems for institutions of higher education. While you may not be directly involved in making awards, the impacts of these problems go all the way to Supporter Operations and Fundraising efforts. Here are the top three problems with awards and how they impact you including Fundraising, Supporter Operations and Student Funding.


  1. Decentralised Operations and Accountability of Student Awards


What is the problem? For most institutions, student awards involve many people across departments without anyone responsible for the process from start to finish.  Each person may play a role but it is difficult to understand the entire process and the negative impacts a disorganized process can have.  For example, Student Funding may manage hardship awards and bursaries but Academic Departments may be responsible for prizes and merit-based scholarships but need to involve Student Funding to make the payment. Each group has a unique process of asking students to apply, notifying students, and stewarding donors. All along, communication between key stakeholders is disjointed, inefficient, and insecure taking the form of spreadsheets and emails.  Without central oversight of this process, many institutions find it difficult to ensure all awards are fully spent.


Why does it matter?  With a disjointed process, students find it difficult to find awards available for them. This can deter students from enrolling or from returning to your institution if they need financial assistance. If students are unable to find awards the results are low application rates and small applicant pools, making it a challenge to find a student that fits within award criteria.


As a result of this, donors suffer because of the amount of time it takes to receive information about the recipient of their award. This can cause frustration among donors and delay the time before you can make an ask for their next contribution.  As we are seeing a general increase in number of awards available, these problems will only continue to get worse and it will be important to track and manage how and to whom these awards are made.


  1. Too Many Disjointed Technologies


What is the problem? We have already established that a lot of people are involved in process of making student awards and they are all working independently with different technology. Student Funding may use a student information system to make awarding decisions, Supporter Operations may use a donor CRM such as Raiser’s Edge to communicate with donors and Academic Departments may use an application form to make awarding decisions.  Since none of these groups have a technology that works together, it is a challenge to award students based on current information and is also difficult to communicate in a timely and efficient way across campus.


Why does it matter?  Awards should be made to students based on the current information per their student record. This ensures that award applications are accurate and judgement of applications is fair. Significant donor relations challenges (and in some cases, lead to legal implications) can arise If an award is accidentally made outside of the criteria set by the donors.  


Another challenge with working from disparate technologies is that supporter operations has little to no access to the information about award recipients to collect acknowledgements and produce donor reports and updates. Anything that slows down stewardship efforts in turn slows down fundraising efforts. This is why it is important to have open technologies that speak across campus.


  1. Disorganised Stewardship Practices


What is the problem? Once or twice a year, there is a scurry among Supporter Operations. Rapid emails are sent to Student Funding, Academic Departments and others involved in awarding. They are looking to find award recipient information so they can ask for a donor acknowledgement from the student. After some time, it could be days or weeks, they receive a spreadsheet of award recipients via email. It is then their job to reach out to these students and collect a donor acknowledgement to share with the donor. This can involve several emails and maybe some phone calls before all of the information is collected. These acknowledgements then must be proofread and sent to the donors. Matching the right donor with the right student can take weeks to hours.


Why is this important? Aside from the fact that sending student data via a spreadsheet over email is not the most secure practice, there is another major reason why it is important to improve stewardship practices.  Stewarding donors to understand the impact they are making on the lives of students is extremely valuable for retaining donors and growing their contribution for the future.  It is much easier (and cheaper!) to ask existing donors to give more than it is to attract new donors.


Are you interested in learning how Blackbaud can help improve these challenges on your campus?

Ask for more information today!



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