How to Start a Memorial Scholarship Fund in Minutes

Reading Time: 10 minutes

My mom passed away on my 25th birthday. To celebrate her life and cement the wonderful legacy she left behind, I wanted to create a memorial scholarship for her.

Three years later, I’m proud to say that I’ve run the Elevate Mental Health Awareness Scholarship multiple times. It’s been an extremely rewarding way of memorializing my mom and helping deserving students.

If you’ve never done it before, creating a scholarship can seem confusing and overwhelming. But once you know what you’re doing, starting and managing the scholarship fund is quite easy.

In this article, I wanted to share what I’ve learned through creating and managing nearly 20 scholarships. You’ll learn how to create a tax-deductible memorial scholarship for free in six simple steps.

  1. Why create a memorial scholarship?
  2. Who do you want to help?
  3. What are the scholarship details?
  4. How do I set up the scholarship?
  5. How do I get started with Bold.org?
  6. What else should I know?

1. Why create a memorial scholarship?

As someone with first-hand experience losing people who are close to me, I understand how difficult it is to lose a friend, family member, or mentor. The loss leaves a permanent hole in your life, and it begins a grieving process that can endure for years.

There is no easy way to deal with loss, but I’ve found it helpful to find ways of continuing the positive legacy of the person. When I lost my mom to suicide in 2017, I wrote a public eulogy focusing on her positive qualities and got a tattoo that symbolized the values that she taught me. When I lost a mentor, I wrote a story about his impact on my life and committed to continuing his mission to pay it forward.

I don’t think of all the misery, but of all the beauty that remains. – Anne Frank

More recently, I’ve created memorial scholarships to cement the legacy of loved ones. From thinking about the idea, to getting the scholarships live, to awarding funds to deserving winners, these scholarships have helped me discover rays of light in the darkness of loss.

While there are many reasons to create scholarships, memorial scholarships can help you:

  1. Continue spreading the values, qualities, and ideas of the person you lost
  2. Transform loss into a courageous act of helping others
  3. Help you find more meaning as you navigate the grieving process
  4. Allow friends, family, and others to contribute to carrying this person’s legacy forward

Once you’ve decided you’d like to create a scholarship, the next step is figuring out who you want to help.


2. Who do you want to help?

What is your scholarship about, and who is it for? To answer these questions, it’s helpful to think about the the person you lost. What qualities did they have? What did they care about? What did they teach you? These questions will help you understand what pieces of this person’s life you can cement in a scholarship.

For example, I decided to focus my mom’s memorial scholarship fund on mental health awareness. My mom struggled with mental health for most of adulthood. She never received the care she needed. She never felt understood. And ultimately, her challenges with mental health led her to take her own life.

I also knew that millions of other people (including me) struggle with mental health, so it seemed like a relevant and important topic. I decided to make it available to anyone who has experienced mental health challenges or who has had someone close to them experience mental health challenges.

I could have chosen another direction, but mental health felt right.

To give you a sense of the breadth of options, I’ve helped people create memorial scholarships for:

  1. Haitian students studying civil engineering
  2. Every day students interested in computer science
  3. First-generation students pursuing a STEAM degree
  4. People looking to attend a trade school
  5. Black students who want to attend HBCUs

Remember, there is no right answer to what your scholarship is about and who it is for. Scholarships are awesome because you can customize and personalize them in ways that resonate with you.


3. What are the scholarship details?

Once you figure out a general topic or group as the focus of your scholarship, there are a few more details to think about before getting the scholarship set up. You don’t need to know everything before starting the scholarship creation process, but it’s helpful to think through these areas.

  • Name: What do you want to call the scholarship? It’s common to use the person’s name in the title, like the Jacques Borges Memorial Scholarship. I went with Elevate Mental Health Awareness Scholarship, and I wrote about my mom in the scholarship’s origin story.
  • Targeting Criteria: Who can apply to the scholarship? You can use targeting criteria like race, gender, school, desired profession, major, GPA, economic background, when someone immigrated, and so on.
  • Educational Level: What ages and educational levels are eligible to apply? Is it open to high school, undergraduate, graduate, or non-students?
  • Award Amount: How much do you want to give and how often? It’s common to award memorial scholarships annually. For example, I give between $500-1000 every year. Keep in mind that you can increase your scholarship amount from contributions via friends/family.
  • Scholarship dates: When do you want to award your scholarship? You could do a meaningful date like when the person passed or their birthday. Or you could do it around the holidays so your family can participate in the winner selection process.
  • Submission Requirements: Do you want applicants to submit an essay or video to learn more about them? If so, what do you want to know? For my mental health scholarship, I ask applicants to write an essay about how their experience with mental health influenced their beliefs, relationships, and career aspirations?

4. How do I set up the scholarship?

Once you have a rough idea of the details of your scholarship, you can begin the scholarship creation process. This part is where most people run into trouble. If you’ve never done it before, you have many questions:

  • Do I need to setup a website?
  • Should I start a non-profit?
  • How do I raise funds?
  • How will I find students?
  • What does it cost?
  • How will I find students?
  • How do I manage applications?
  • Are there legal considerations.

At this point, you may wonder if it’s worth it to setup the scholarship. Many people give up at this stage. Thankfully, there’s an easy and reliable way to get your scholarships started and have all your questions answered.

Enter Bold.org. Bold is a platform focused on fighting student debt by connecting students with scholarships and by allowing donors to easily create scholarships within minutes. It’s built for everyday people like me and you who want to create memorial and other scholarships without worrying about all of the logistical details.

bold.org: fighting student debt
Bold.org makes creating a scholarship easy

With Bold, at no cost to you, you can:

  • Set a tax-deductible memorial scholarship within a few days
  • Get help in translating your idea into a well-crafted narrative
  • Have a dedicated scholarship page where friends and family can contribute funds
  • Get all of your questions answered by a team that sets up scholarships for a living
  • Have immediate access to hundreds of thousands of students who can apply to your scholarship
  • Get support reviewing and selecting the best applicants
  • Have Bold award the scholarship funds to the student

Bold is awesome because it takes the difficulty out of the scholarship creation, management, and awarding process. The platform allows you to see your idea come to life in a relatively frictionless way. And while taxes have never been a motivation for my scholarships, because Bold.org is a registered nonprofit, all of the funds you contribute and the funds that others contribute are fully tax-deductible.

I’ve run 20 scholarships through Bold.org and I’m so grateful it exists. It’s the best option currently available to everyday people who want to create scholarships. While there are quasi-alternatives to Bold, they’re all very expensive and give you a much worse user experience.

One reason you not use Bold is if you wanted to do something more sophisticated like setup a nonprofit that does more than create scholarships. But for most people who want to memorialize a loved one without the hassle, it’s the perfect solution.

If you can’t tell, I’m a massive fan of Bold and what the company is doing. I set up my first scholarships before Bold existed, and it was literally 5x more difficult to do so. Next, I want to discuss how you can get started using Bold to make your memorial scholarship a reality.


5. How do I get started with Bold.org?

The Bold website is pretty intuitive, but I’m detailing the process below so you understand how it works from the moment you create a profile to when you award the scholarship.

1. Create your donor profile

Go here or here and select “Create a grant or “Create a scholarship fund.” You’ll answer a few basic questions to get your donor profile setup. Make sure you verify your email as a final step to get access to the platform.

2. Submit your scholarship proposal

Once your email is verified, you can create your scholarship proposal. Click “submit your scholarship idea” and answer the questions. If you’ve done the ideation work outlined in section two and three of this article, you will have most of the information you need for your proposal. If you’re unsure of something, you can always skip it or put your rough ideas. The Bold team will help you clarify everything.

3. Schedule a call

After you submit your proposal, you’ll get an email from the Bold philanthropy team to schedule a 15-minute call. These calls typically last 5-10 minutes. The Bold team member will answer all of your questions about scholarships, the process, and how to make your proposal work on the platform. If your scholarship is a good fit, the Bold team will shape your proposal into a well-crafted narrative. That process takes 2-3 days.

4. Review your proposal

Once Bold’s team creates your proposal, you’ll receive an email. You’ll be able to preview what your scholarship will look like before it goes live and be able to make any changes. This part is when the scholarship really comes to life.

5. Fund the scholarship

Before a scholarship goes live, you need to fund it. You can do that directly on Bold’s website via ACH or credit card. Bold holds your funds in its nonprofit foundation until your scholarship winner is selected. Once you’ve funded your scholarship, it goes live on the Bold site within an hour. You’ll receive an email with your dedicated scholarship page, which you can share with friends, family, and anyone who knew the person who passed. That page will also have a “Contribute” button where people can add to the scholarship fund in seconds.

The elevate women in technology scholarship
It’s very rewarding once your scholarship is live.

6. Review applications

While your scholarship is still open or when the deadline approaches, you can begin reviewing your applicants. What’s awesome is that the Bold team will review your applications as they come in and recommend the best candidates based on the quality of the applications and the criteria you set for the scholarship. Practically speaking, this means that instead of reviewing 1,000 applications, you can review 25 to find a winner. You’ll have access to the full list of applicants, but I always start by reviewing the recommended ones.

7. Choose finalists and a winner

After you’ve reviewed the applications, you can choose finalists and a winner for your scholarship. Finalists do not win any funds, but they do receive recognition on their Bold profiles. In terms of choosing a winner, everyone has a different process. The beautiful part about scholarships is that you get to choose someone who has a story that resonates with you and the legacy of the person you’re memorializing. So do what feels right. Once you’ve chosen a winner, Bold ensures that the funds are distributed to the winner.

8. End or renew the scholarship

If you liked the scholarship experience and want to open it again, you can hit the “Renew” button and get it going again in within minutes. You can also make changes or change the direction of your scholarship. It’s designed to be flexible. My recommendation would be to do it once, see how you like it, and decide what to do from there.


6. What else should I know?

What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, For all that we love deeply becomes a part of us. – Helen Keller

I genuinely believe memorial scholarships are one of the most helpful ways to begin navigating the grieving process and to ensure that the legacy of the person you lost is continued. It’s incredibly rewarding to give funds to deserving students who meet the criteria that you’ve set forth. It’s also a great way to engage friends, family, and the community in finding ways to support you and themselves through the process of loss.

While you can go many routes in creating a memorial scholarship, the process I’ve discussed is designed to help you do that in a few days, at no cost, and with minimal time and effort. This process has worked for me in creating many different types of scholarships.

Just to recap what we covered:

  • Once you decide on doing a memorial scholarship, think about the general scholarship idea. Who is it for? What is it about?
  • With the broad idea in mind, think through some of the specifics. Who can apply? What’s the award amount? Is it an annual award? When do I want to give the award? What’s the essay about?
  • With the scholarship details, go to Bold.org and go through their brief signup process. Then, submit your scholarship proposal and schedule a call with the philanthropy team.
  • Once the Bold team shares the proposal with you, review it and make sure it aligns with what you’re looking to do. Once it meets your goals, fund the scholarship.
  • You can then share the scholarship with your family, network, and community to increase the impact of the award via additional contributions from others.
  • As your scholarship deadline approaches, review applicants and choose finalists and a winner.
  • As you go through the process, pay attention to what the experience brought to your life. If you enjoyed the experience, consider renewing the scholarship. If not, consider dropping it.

As you think about getting started, here are some final thoughts:

  1. You can check out all of the scholarships I’ve created here: https://calvinrosser.com/scholarships/. It’s honestly my favorite form of giving. You can see what many of them look like by clicking on them in my Bold donor profile.
  2. If you decide to use Bold, check out their Donor FAQ here. You’ll get most of your questions about the platform answered
  3. If you want ideas on what other people have done, browse the full list of scholarships on Bold and type “memorial” in the search bar. You’ll see a number of memorial scholarship funds.
  4. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected] Please use the subject Creating a Scholarship Fund – [Your Name] or something similar.

I hope you found this helpful! This is the article I wish I had read before starting my first scholarship.

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