How to Start a Scholarship Fund in 9 Easy Steps
I never envisioned myself starting a scholarship fund. But as I became financially stable, I wanted to find the best ways to give my time, energy, and skills to help others.
In my pursuit of giving more, I’ve realized that it’s hard to find good ways to give back.
The reality is that no one teaches you how to donate, and it’s not as simple as writing a check to a random charity. Being unthoughtful about your donations is like being unthoughtful about deciding the direction of your life – it leads to suboptimal feelings and outcomes.
After being inspired by Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save, I decided to start a scholarship fund for students. I started with a $1,000 scholarship for first-generation students. After reading the incredible stories in the initial applications, I decided that I wanted to create more scholarships.
After creating and managing nearly 20 scholarships, I wanted to share how you can create a tax-deductible scholarship in nine simple steps.
1. Decide who you want to help.
The first step to starting a scholarship is thinking about who you want your scholarship to help. In general, start by choosing a group of people who you genuinely want to help. You can help students who are like a younger version of yourself, who are in underrepresented communities, who are working on causes you care about, or who represent values that you find important.
Choosing a group that resonates with you will help you enjoy the process. For example, I’ve created scholarships for:
- Elevate Black Entrepreneurs: To support an underrepresented community in my field.
- Financial Freedom Scholarship: To help people become more financially literate.
- Life Reimagined First-Gen Scholarship: To help low-income students like my younger self.
- Elevate Mental Health Awareness: A memorial scholarship to honor my mom.
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.
Once you’ve decided on who to help, you need to think about your budget.
2. Determine your budget.
There is a common misconception that you need to create large scholarships to have an impact. This idea stops many people from creating scholarships. The reality is that you can start a scholarship for as little as $500, and that amount is incredibly meanginful to a student in need.
When thinking about your budget, ask yourself: How much do you want to give and how often? For example, I decided early on that I want to give ~$5,000 per year through scholarships. Keep in mind that if you setup a scholarship correctly, all of your donations are tax-deductible.
When starting my first scholarship, I chose a $1,000 award. That way, I could test if I liked giving scholarships. I now have nearly 10 scholarships, all of which award $500-$2,000 every year or every 6 months.
You can also increase your scholarship by sharing it with friends, family, and your network. There are platforms that make it very easy for people to donate in tax-deducible ways.
3. Set Your Scholarship Deadlines.
With your scholarship idea and budget decided, you need to think about when you want to award the scholarship. A good rule of thumb is to keep your scholarship open for 3-6 months to ensure that you allow students the time to apply and have a competitive applicant pool.
Many people wonder if they should award scholarships during a specific time of the year to align with when students are paying tuition. The reality is that students apply to scholarships all year round, and there is no “best” time for awarding the funds. So pick any date, and it will work out.
4. Choose your scholarship management platform.
Once you have an idea about who your scholarship is for and how much you want to give, 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:
- Should I start a non-profit?
- How do I raise funds?
- How will I find students?
- How do I manage applications?
- Are there legal considerations?
This point in the process can be overwhelming, and many people give up here. Thankfully, you don’t need to create a nonprofit or do everything on your own. There are platforms built for creating scholarships that take care of the logistical and administrative work for you.
By far, the best platform for creating and managing your scholarship is Bold.org. Bold is a platform that helps everyday people create scholarships with ease.
With Bold, you can:
- Set a tax-deductible scholarship for free
- 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
- Access to hundreds of thousands of students who can apply to your scholarship
- Get support reviewing and selecting the best applicants
- Ensure that the funds get to the winner
The best part? Bold.org is completely free for people who want to create a scholarship. At no cost to you, you can easily navigate the scholarship creation, management, and awarding process.
I’ve run 20 scholarships through Bold.org and I’m so grateful it exists.
5. Setup Your Scholarship.
Go to Bold.org and get your scholarship set up on the platform. The site is pretty intuitive, but below are the basic steps in the process. You can get it live in a few days.
1. Create your donor profile. Go here and select “Create a grant.” You’ll answer a few basic questions to get your donor profile set up. Verify your email.
2. Submit your scholarship proposal. Once you’re logged in, you submit a proposal for your scholarship with the rough details. The Bold team will help you clarify everything.
3. Schedule a call. Bold has you get on a 5-10 minute call with the philanthropy team. They answer all of your questions about the scholarship, process, and platform.
4. Fund your scholarship. Once your proposal is ready, you fund it. It goes live within an hour. At this point, students can apply, and you can share it with your network to get more donations.
6. Promote your scholarship.
Once your scholarship is live, you can start sharing it. This is the fun part.
Bold.org has a database of millions of students, and they promote your scholarship to all of the students who are eligible. This means that you’ll likely get may applicants in the first week.
If you’d like to do additional promotion, consider sharing the scholarship on your social networks, with schools who have students, or with people you know who might be a good fit.
You can also create pages about the scholarship on your website, like I’ve done.
7. Choose your winners.
Once your scholarship announcement date is about 30 days away, you can begin reviewing applicants. What’s helpful about Bold is that their team reviews 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. You receive 10-50 recommended applicants.
So instead of reviewing 1,000 applications, you can review 25 to find a winner. When choosing finalists and a winner, look for students whose stories resonate with you. The best part about scholarships is that you get to give money directly to someone who you want to help.
8. Award the scholarship.
Once you’ve reviewed applications, you hit “Award Scholarship.” From there, the Bold team will notify the winner and ensure that they receive the funds. You can ask to connect with the winner if you’d like to chat with the person or feature them on your social channels.
9. End or renew the scholarship
If you enjoyed your scholarship, you can renew it with the click of the button. You can also make changes to your scholarship or create new ones for different groups of people. It’s up to you.
Starting scholarships is the most rewarding form of giving that I’ve encountered. And with the technology available, it’s easier than ever to get started and begin helping people in need.
If it’s your first time, I’d consider using Bold.org because they make the process incredibly easy for you, which allows you to focus on the fun parts.
Finally, as you think about getting started, you can check out these resources for ideas.
- You can check out all of the scholarships I’ve created here for inspiration.
- Learn how to create a memorial scholarship for a loved one here.
- Check out what scholarships other people are creating here.
- If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].